Youth ministry is easy to criticize, deserved or not. Many youth pastors who serve out of a gospel-fueled desire to see the emerging generations find their identity in Christ while growing as faithful disciples. So as churches and parents continue to prayerfully seek faithful ways to minister to teenagers, we must resist stereotypes.
I offer the following comments to begin dialogue around dinner tables and staff meetings to help us think constructively and positively about youth ministry.
1. It is real ministry.
Do not ask your youth pastor when he's going to become a "real pastor" unless you want to test his sanctification. Youth ministry is real ministry, filled with teaching, counseling, leadership development, and most of the other challenges and blessings other areas of ministry enjoy.
2. Gospel-centered youth ministry aims at seeing youth become committed to Christ and the local church.
This is a goal your entire church can (and should) get behind. Ministry to teenagers is not the sole responsibility of the youth ministry.
3. Teenagers make easy targets—please remember their lives are as complicated as yours.
You wouldn't want teens to make broad generalizations about what adults are like. So do not speak of them this way, especially from the pulpit. If you use teenagers as an example in your sermon, please make it a positive one—otherwise you risk making them targets who will tune out anything else you have to say in the future.
4. Invest in your youth pastor.
Most youth pastors are young, and most young adults have never been intentionally mentored. Take care of him and his family (spiritually, personally, and financially). There are many reasons the turnover rate for youth pastors is so high; I am convinced if more churches were intentionally investing in the youth pastors, there would be far more stability.
5. Don't lock the youth in the youth room.
Too many students grow up going to church and then attend "youth church" and never make the transition to "big church" once they graduate. Do not train them to think they only belong in gathered worship once they become parents. Otherwise they may never make that leap when they are.
6. Fun is not the enemy.
Sure, many youth ministries build on fun the same way many churches build on entertainment and self-help. Just because there are games involved as part of the youth group meeting, do not jump to the conclusion there is no spiritual depth.
7. Attend a few youth ministry events per year.
Let the youth pastor know you will be coming ahead of time so he is not too surprised, and so he does not feel like he is being scrutinized. Go to support and encourage! Show the youth that they matter by just being there and learning a few students' names. Pastors, if you are just a talking head up front on Sunday, then how will you know how to preach to them? And why do you think they will listen to you?
8. Your youth ministry probably reflects your church's culture more than you realize.
The same way that trends in youth culture both reflect and foreshadow where the broader culture is heading, your youth ministry probably reflects the same thing in your church. Do not expect to see greater things in the youth ministry than are happening in the church in general and homes in particular.
9. Strong youth ministry will build up families.
Parents cannot afford to delegate their spiritual responsibility to the youth ministry. Youth ministry cannot afford to ignore the significant effect parents have (for good and for bad) on their kids' spiritual development. Parents also cannot afford to neglect the need for other godly adults to influence their teenagers. Youth ministry ought to be the bridge that connects the church and the home.