Why do you want to be a youth worker? Why is the church involved in youth ministry? Often when I ask questions like these of my college students they give good answers, like “to contextualize the gospel for adolescents” or “because that is the Great Commission” or “to help kids find the good life.” Those are good answers.
But if the Fuller Youth Institute is right, and roughly 50 percent of young people who are involved in youth group leave the church after high school, have we been successful? Are you satisfied with the church losing half of the young people from graduating seniors each year? I’m not. I’m certainly not claiming to have all the answers, but I do think youth ministry, although its intentions have been the very best, has succeeded in connecting young people to youth groups, youth ministries, and youth pastors while failing to meaningfully connect them to the larger body of Christ. When young people graduate high school, they also graduate youth group, and if they have nowhere to go because they learned to love youth group but never learned to love the larger body of Christ, then of course we will lose them!
What if, instead of arranging a program for youth that is separate from the life of the rest of the congregation, we found ways to connect young people to adults in the congregation? What if, instead of always leading classes, retreats, games, events, and activities that are for young people, we started leading classes, retreats, games, events, and activities whose purpose was to young people to older people? Can you imagine the potential impact on the future connection of young people to Christ’s body if they developed over the course of their youth group experience a few relationships with adults that had the potential to last beyond youth group?
What if, instead of being motivated to seek “success” and “happiness,” we helped them develop a vision to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
That’s the beginning of what I mean when I talk about getting young people integrated into the body of Christ, but it’s still not enough. Getting kids saved is too low a bar for the vocation of youth ministry. Getting kids integrated into the body of Christ is an improvement, but let’s go further. Let’s get them saved, and let’s get them meaningfully integrated into the body of Christ, and let’s help them develop a vision for their lives that moves beyond personal successes. What if, instead of being motivated to seek “success” and “happiness,” we helped them develop a vision to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor? That was the vocation of Jesus according to Luke’s Gospel, and that is a telos for youth ministry that I can give my whole life to. How about you?
This is the vision behind my newest book, Making Room: The Purpose and Practice of Youth Ministry. In it I share my own journey and process of learning and imagining how youth ministry can become a vibrant part of the whole body of Christ, rather than a separate subgroup that shares building space. Making Room may help spark your imagination too. I hope to encourage your youth ministry passion and sharpen your focus so that when you are asked, “Why do you want to be a youth worker?” and “Why is the church involved in youth ministry?” you can formulate an answer that works beyond high school toward the meaningful integration of young people into the body and mission of Christ.
Making Room: The Purpose and Practice of Youth Ministry is now available for purchase on TheFoundryPublishing.com