I tried to keep my skepticism in check. After all, my friend pastored this new church plant, and we wanted to be there for their first Sunday to support him. But the focus on “family-integrated worship” definitely took some getting used to—especially for those of us with small children. They had no youth classes, no kids’ church, no nursery. Everyone worshiped together in the small chapel.
Here's how he describes it:
"The goal is to keep the generations together at all points in the Sunday morning service. We sing together, we pray together, we listen to the sermon together and then we celebrate a fellowship meal after church together…. Most USA Protestant pastors see the value of the family unit. We do not imply that we have a ‘corner on the market’ in this respect. However, we do believe that those models that divide the family on Sunday in every venue possibly do a disservice to the spiritual life of the family unit."
Despite a few cries and some wiggles, the service went well. And the model has resonated with the community, as the church has grown out of two buildings so far.
Tension over this same issue popped up recently in a rather unexpected way. When Pastor Joe Gibbes published a rather benign article on the qualities to look for in a youth minister over at The Gospel Coalition, the discussion about the article on Facebook turned from expected characteristics to existential questions. Many Christians questioned Gibbes about the biblical nature of youth ministry.
First, here's what Gibbes says we should look for in a youth leader:
One Who Loves God and His Word
While this may seem like a given, that's not always the case. Churches need to dig into the person's relationship with God. Too often, youth ministers see their youth groups as a place for affirmation and fun, not a place to disciple young Christians.
One Who Loves God's People
Again, this should be expected, but true love means having the humility to be more concerned with sharing the gospel than just being liked by the students.
One Who is Professionally Aware
Being a youth minister isn't an excuse to be unprofessional and stay young forever. The best will lead their youth by offering an example of maturity. They'll also be punctual and responsible.
On the Facebook discussion of this topic, however, some Christians had their own list of three characteristics to look for, and they were much different:
- Get rid of youth ministry.
- Stop looking for a youth minister.
- Be a family-integrated church that doesn't create any staff position not mentioned in the Bible.
Others also expressed concern that "separating" youth into their own worship time isn't biblical. According to them, parents (alone?) are called to teach their children about God's Word, and leaving that to a youth minister can lead to family divisions. That's because siloing different age groups may actually hinder the growth of the church, and we parents can become lazy in our responsibilities when we assume that someone else has taken on that job (even though statistics show that many families choose a church home based in part on the strength of the youth program).
In response, others say that while the Bible does not lay out a specific plan for youth ministry, a solid, gospel-centered one can greatly assist parents in discipleship and give the youth time to share and learn organically among peers. Scripture provides few clear guidelines for specific ministries within a local congregation, these defenders say, because while the gospel message never changes, the context does.
On BibleStudyTools.com recently, Pearson Johnson echoes this sentiment in calling for churches not to abandon children's ministry:
Parents have the responsibility to evangelize and train their children, but it is also the responsibility of the church to evangelize and disciple people of all ages, and a well-organized children’s ministry can help accomplish these goals.
Now it's your turn. Do you think youth ministry is biblical and healthy? Or do you think family-integrated worship better fits our mandate to make disciples? Did you have a positive or negative youth ministry experience growing up? Are the church leadership positions mentioned in the Bible prescriptive, or merely descriptive of the first-century culture?
John UpChurch is Senior Editor of BibleStudyTools.com.
Publication date: July 31, 2015