Re-thinking Youth Ministry

Check out this video put together by Brett Kunkle:

I know what you might be thinking: “this guy is a bit over the top.  C’mon!  ‘Who’s waiting for our kids.’  This is just scare tactics.”

Don’t write Brett off.  He works with youth and has a circumspect angle that gives him a lot of insight into the state of youth in the church.  Also, I can vouch for the atmosphere of the college campus.  Lastly and most importantly, take a look at the stats (some of which he references).  If that doesn’t convince you he’s not hyping things up, nothing can; he has sociology research backing him up.

Some will also cheer this, as if it’s a sign that the Christian worldview itself is weak.  That is not the crux of it.  Watching the youth Brett trains engage with atheists and agnostics will show you that (see the testimony in the first link).  The evidence has been tried and found substantive.  In the last 30 years, for example, the Church has seen a renaissance in apologetics and philosophy from a Christian perspective.  Philosophy departments in universities are seeing more and more Christians–many of them evangelicals–produce first-rate work that cannot be ignored.   Moreover, witness the many debates between Christians and atheists.

This might seem paradoxical, since Brett points to the hostile environment on college campuses.  The number of Christians entering the philosophy field and doing great work is astonishing, but it has not reached a tipping point yet.   Furthermore, anyone with experience in any field where prestige and influence is at a premium knows how politics can play a part in who has control of the microphone (church is one of those fields!).  Hence the secular environment continues.

It’s a problem not of substance but of engagement.  Parents, youth leaders, and adults are not engaging youth in theology, apologetics, and deep things.  They are blinding themselves to the challenges their youth will face once they graduate (heck, they even face these challenges in high school!).  For example, Brett recently wrote about an exchange he had with a youth leader.  This youth leader told Brett that he was not teaching his youth group apologetics and theology, choosing instead to focus on “practical Christian living.”

The youth leader’s remarks reveals a very misguided false dichotomy.  His tack is, rather than being practical,  wholly impractical.  Why?  Because, as Brett puts it, “you are what you think.”  Much sociological and neurological research confirms this.  What’s more, the Bible confirmed this well before sociology and neurology were born (Romans 12:1-2, Phil 4:8-9, 1 Tim 4:16, and a host of other verses): solid thinking is at the heart of discipleship unto Christ.

Again, take a look at the youth Brett trains.  After he teaches them and takes them on one of his apologetically-focused missions trips to Cal Berkeley, they come back on fire.  Far from being made into overly aggressive devotees with big brains but dead hearts, their faith is alive.  They are living for Jesus.

The most practical thing that adults can do for Christian youth is teach them logic; teach them Church history; teach them theology; teach them about the reliability and transmission of the Bible; teach them about the claims of other worldviews and how to interact with them; teach them how to recognize a bad argument (there’s plenty of it out there on the university campus).

Why is it practical? Simply, when (not if) the challenges come their way on the college campus, they will be ready.  As C.S Lewis once said, “To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The learned life then, is for some, a duty.”

Ignore the outdated wording (e.g, heathen).  Lewis’ point is a good one.

There is a wealth of  knowledge out there that will adequately prepare our youth for the challenges of a secular college campus.  The question is: will adults give our youth access to it?  Like Brett says, it’s time to re-think the way we do youth ministry.

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5 responses to “Re-thinking Youth Ministry

  1. I didn’t view it as scare tactics at all. The guy is right: We’re out there waiting and, even better, we’re winning! More and more people of ALL ages are turning away from myth and superstition to engage the world in the here and now. My hope is that, within another 3 or 4 generations, the religious in this nation will become a distinct minority.

  2. Great post, Rich! What a find!

  3. Rambling Taoist, have you ever seen a debate between your guys and William Lane Craig? Hint: you are not winning.

    Check out this one:

    If you’re winning, it’s through stimulating the desire to sin, ridicule, and peer-pressure. And sometimes by firing your opposition, as in the movie Expelled. In an academic debate, you lose. Which is why academic debate is so strongly forbidden on secular campuses.

  4. Pingback: MUST-SEE: A magnificent video on the challenge of youth ministry « Wintery Knight

  5. Rich, I can also vouch for what you’re saying and the statistics about atheist groups on college campuses growing rapidly at places like ASU. Youth groups need to become less about social clubs and more about equipping to make disciples and church planting on their high schools to prepare them for college. Discipleship is happening in college by atheist professors. I would also challenge churches to become more actively involved in reaching college campuses and planting churches on campuses, not “parachurch groups”.

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