Youth Ministry and Winging It. . . .

A youth worker posted this yesterday in a youth min group we are both part of on Facebook. . . “Visited a church while out of town this weekend. The Pastor expressed how glad he was that the Holy Spirit was allowed to move in that church. Then he said and I quote, ‘I can’t believe these churches that have signs telling you what’s being preached next week or a bulletin telling you the message and songs for that morning. If you ever walk into a church and they give you a bulletin, throw it away or burn it and never go back to that church again.'”

It’s a great excuse for laziness and a recipe for heresy. In the end, immaturity and irresponsibility is reproduced in sheep who have been pastored to be immature and irresponsible. We can only take people as deep as we’ve gone ourselves.

Youth workers, pastors, and everyone who teaches. . . your study (both noun and verb) is essential. The Holy Spirit uses our study. But I wonder if many of us. . . including those who are put off by the pastor’s words yesterday. . . might not be functioning in similar ways to this pastor without even knowing it?

Truth is, the distractions that the enemy uses to keep us from doing our best (or “studying” as some translations say) in order to be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) are many. Our churches push for the kinds of results that lead us to spend way too much time curating ourselves, our youth rooms, and everything else in our youth ministries in order to be relevant to those we’re trying to reach. Many of us are married with children. . . and the demands of family are very real. Way too many of us get sidetracked as we spend way too much time on social media. The list goes on.

One sad and distressing shift I’ve seen collectively in our calling and craft since I got started in youth ministry 40 years ago is a kind of dumbing down. Now nobody I know sets out to intentionally do youth ministry in a dumbed down manner. Rather, it’s just morphed into that over time. What it’s yielded is a youth ministry landscape marked by loads and loads of activity, but little or sometimes no personal study and preparation on the part of the youth pastor. Sure, pre-packaged curriculum has always been around, but the glut of stuff available to us know makes it possible to never study, plan, or prepare in ways that lead not only to our own growth, but to the growth of our kids. When we regularly depend on the preparation of others in our own lives and ministries, we tend to become lazy (someone else is doing the work for us) and shallow (we are not teaching/leading out of the depth of our own growing well of knowledge). Sadly, our passion for the Word will dwindle. And, I believe, we will fail to teach with the kind of passion that comes when our own discovery of the riches of God’s Word creates that excitement that comes when we are given opportunities to lead kids to discover the same! In addition, without the kind of discernment that comes when we are immersing ourselves in our own study we are prone to enlist teaching materials that are theologically suspect. . . or even way off track.

As the youth ministry year begins, take stock of where you’re at in all of this. Stand back and really take stock. Then make the necessary adjustments. . . and watch what God does in your own life and in the lives of your kids!

When I shared the words from the pastor on my Facebook page this morning, I got some insightful comments. . . and here are a few. . .

From my friend Rich Chamberlin: “Word alone, dry up. Spirit alone, blow up. Word and Spirit, grow up.”

From my friend David Keithley: After nearly 25 years in student ministry (5 of that now as a solo pastor and ongoing work as a youth ministry coach)… That mentality is alive and well among student workers who fear that the vitality of their ministry will dry up if they actually plan something. Many of them (including me for years) have tried to replace planning and purpose with extra passion. But pathos without logos (and ethos), is just… well, pretty pathetic.

From my friend Brian Hennon: “I’m going to just let the Spirit lead this morning…” is typically code for “I couldn’t be bothered to study, so I’m just going to wing it this morning.”

From my friend Bruce Bradford: If we serve a god who is only able to work and be active in our lives when we act without discipline and structure than we are have a relationship with a neutered god.



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