Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church

The other day I posted a comment by Ryan Bolger in which he said “that position (Youth Pastor) does not translate into the emerging church.” I said that I thought his comment was based on a misunderstanding of the role of the Youth Pastor/worker in the Church and I also said I’d place an argument to the comment when I had time…

Well, what follows is my reflections on what I think the misunderstandings are, I’ll do this by reviewing the book “Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church”.

I think the book presents us, as youth workers with 4 very decent models of youth ministry in which the youth worker is seen as more than someone who organizes programs for one group of people in the church community, This article tries to describe each model as I understand it and refers to mutated versions of the models that I’ve seen in the church over my years of ministry.

I think that what Ryan’s speaking about in his comment about the Emerging Church being an all ages gathering is what the book calls an “Inclusive Approach” to youth ministry in which the church has decided that young people are an integral part of the whole community, as are all people, and as such are never set apart as a separate group from the church. I guess that while it’s not my favorite model of youth ministry I see where it’s good points are, the family oriented, all inclusive church community.

Unfortunately as it’s emphasis is on including everyone it can miss out on spiritual formation and faith developmental needs of young people, and it’d also possibly lack in it’s dialogue with popular culture. That being the case it does not mean that the role of the youth worker ceases to be useful in this kind of church, instead it’s role is there to continually push the community to be inclusive, to address culture, to mentor others in the art of spiritual disciplines and to educate people about faith development models, mentoring roles, youth spirituality…

I guess that this is not the role that Ryan would consider to be the traditional Youth Pastor role, but it’s a model based on an alternative model of ministry and the church.

I wonder if the model which Ryan based his assumptions on is the role of a Youth Worker in what I’d think is a mutated version of the “Preparatory Approach,” a model that I think most churches tend to default too, even if it is a mutated version of the model…

What follows is my review of the book and description of each model that is portrayed within the book. When we originally put this workshop together we set four people up, much like the book to debate the issues and merits of each model, this became a great way to allow others to understand the models as discussed in the book.

The Preparatory Approach

The preparatory approach to youth ministry, is (well, I believe that it is) probably the default model for most youth ministries. I wanted to start here to outline a few of the mutations of this model that have been perpetuated by churches either intentionally or unintentionally.

When thinking about this model the phrase “the young people are the future of the church” pops to mind, because in this model young people are prepared for ministry, fellowship and mission. Everything the church does in it’s youth ministry is to prepare young people to be involved in the church (fellowship) and in it’s outreach (mission) of the existing church after they move from adolescence to adulthood.

“A specialized ministry to adolescents preparing them to participate in the life of existing churches as leaders, disciples or evangelists”

The church becomes a laboratory in which young people are invited to experiment, practice, learn and be educated as disciples in training. The youth ministry in these churches revolves around a number of mentors and educators who work with the young people as they develop from apprentice to disciple and also member of the worshiping community. Programs in this model are to develop disciples, and so they may include mission trips, bible studies, courses, prayer groups…

“Youth ministry is a laboratory in which disciples can grow in a culture guided by spiritual coaches…

One purpose of a laboratory is to allow learners to fail in a safe context and discover specific skills in the process. A lab is a hands-on place where involvement is essential to learning.”

I guess the strength of this model is that it’s aimed at the faith and spiritual development of the young people within it’s ministry, it’s reliance on mentoring by other members of the community and providing spaces for the young people to practice their faith and learn makes the model attractive to many congregations.

The drawback for this model seems to be that young people who want to be seen as a part of the community and mission now may begin to feel left behind, another drawback is the model’s reliance on programs. The model also seems to be focused more on those who are already a part of the church and doesn’t focus as much on the evangelization of the community, and as young people are usually separated from the life of the community until they “graduate” from the laboratory, so lacks a community of people who worship together as a whole.

I think that this tends to be the default model of youth ministry for most churches, however I also think that it would be rare for most churches to actually be operating on a mutated version of the model.

I say mutated as these churches rarely move from “the youth are the future” to handing the church over to them, in a mutated model young people are rarely able to graduate from being “young” to being a fully fledged participant in the life and ministry of the church. It might be common to see young people graduate into young adults who are then encouraged to become a part of the youth ministry as leaders of the program that they’ve been a part of for the past number of years…

A mutation of this model could also include a program based model of youth ministry that has long since been focused on the development of leaders and disciples. These kind of ministries seem to be more focused on entertainment than being focused on ministry, and as such rarely produce disciples or leaders who are able to participate in the church as the preparatory approach would have them.

“The activity based approach is built upon a series of youth activities, a programming approach…

A ministry based approach is radically different in key areas. It grows out of the ministry of the church and is consequently related to the purpose of the church…”

In these mutations the phrase “the youth are the future of the church” can be translated to “the church is ours and we’ll give it over when we’re through with it.”

So, to add to the list of drawbacks is the ease at which the model can mutate within a community that doesn’t adopt and own the ideal preparatory model.

In order for a church to really adopt the preparatory approach to youth ministry their:

  • Youth ministry must become comprehensive
  • Youth ministry must become a shared ministry, the entire church communtiy must adopt it, it’s goals and the young people…
  • Youth ministry must begin to bridge the gap between church and home, we need to realise that faith formation is not done apart from the home, but as a part of the home life, we must involve parents and family.
  • Youth ministry must become ministry based… It’s easy to mutate into an entertainment based ministry, and while social interaction and entertainment is good it’s important to make sure that it doesn’t take over the youth ministry.
  • Youth ministry must begin including the parents, family, minister and the church… as in all ministries with young people “Anything we wish for among our young people must first be true among our adults” our ministry needs to be a part of the larger community.

The Missional Approach

“the church that ministers to young people must embrace the culture in which the adolescents live…The goal is not to simply focus on those who already are involved in a given church’s youth ministry program”

The Missional Approach sits in the mission now / fellowship later section of the scale, so it wouldn’t be hard to see where it’s emphasis sits.

“this approach recognises that there are cultural barriers that separate adolescents from adults. This is not only true of the secular world, but also the world of churched young people”

The missional approach recognizes that the church has long thought that it’s program, music and ethos is enough to convince young people to attend and overtly disagrees with these assumptions. The missional approach understands youth ministry as mission and is focused on going where young people are and working with them in their community, in their culture.

This model is more concerned with those who the church has no contact with rather than those already in the church and sees its ministry as a part of the great commission. It’s strengths are that it’s usually grown out of a strong passionate response to the scripture to go into the world and make disciples. It’s passion tends to attract other young leaders who are equally as passionate about reaching the community and culture around them.

“Missional youth ministry seeks to present the community of the church as the end, not simply another (and often less desirable) community…

A missional ecclesiology must clearly identify and resist all attempts to equip the church merely for its maintenance and security”

Para-Church organizations like Young Life and Scripture Union (at least in Australia) are prime examples of a missional approach, as their mission is to the schools, campsites and community around them. Similarly these organizations seem to attract young leaders from a variety of churches and denominations who are passionate about reaching young people where they are. Other examples would include churches that have intentionally set up programs or mission workers inside schools, skate parks, music venues, shopping malls or other places where young people frequent.

In a perfect world we’d see these approaches linked with a congregation as a “welcoming destination” for those who have been reached by these organizations and missional outreaches, unfortunately this is not normally the case. A mutation of this model might see young people never leaving the missional program, or even leaving the missional community when they grow up and not connecting with another faith community. In these cases the model has mutated in a way as to remove the “fellowship later” from the ministry model.

“we have become convinced that our programs, music and ethos of youth ministry are enough to reach the lost, uninterested and disenfranchised…

Very few churches see youth ministry as their missional mandate…”

One of the drawbacks of this kind of approach is it’s reliance on training leaders in “appropriate” or “incarnation” models of mission and faith formation. These approaches also tend to be finance and leadership intensive and rely on a constant growth of leader numbers to coordinate and staff programs in order to continue the ministry.

“Every youth ministry must constantly ask itself… Who are our targets? How do we best reach out to them? Where do we want these students to end up after they leave the program?”

The Inclusive Congregational Approach

“So, what do we want to happen in our youth ministry? Honestly, as a church we have treated young people like foster care, not family. They’ve become problems to deal with, rather than flesh and blood to love. We keep thinking that they have to change to fit into our church family. Instead we should be adapting the family to include them, just like we did as children were born into our own families.”

The inclusive congregational approach to youth ministry is a holistic approach in which young people are an active and participating members of the community in every aspect of it’s life and mission, they are infact partners in the congregation’s ministry. It’s emphasis is on inclusion, finding ways that young people can be included in the church’s worship, politics, ministry, studies, training, education…

In this model we’d not see separate youth churches, youth groups, youth council, youth bible studies, instead we’d see a community who try to do everything together. There may be some need for age-centred activities, but they would be as a part of the whole and not the norm in this community.

Drawbacks may be that since a lot of energy is focused on inclusion of those already in the community there is less energy and interest in the evangelization of those who are outside the congregation.

Youths themselves are a part of the total congregational ministry and not a separate entity. It is an integral part of the congregational whole, in that the whole is never complete without youth ministry”

Mutations of this model might include churches who haven’t completely understood the model of inclusion, this may lead to young people being given token roles in the church, it may also lead to young people feeling left out if there are a number of activities for adults that don’t include or interest young people. Young people may also start to long for separate activities/programs, especially if they are seeing other communities offering a consumerist approach to their ministry and offering a large number of social events.

Some mutations may end up looking more like the preparatory approach while, and other mutations may look like a church where the young people have long since left due to lack of participation and ownership while the rest of the church professes to hold to the model of youth ministry…

“Youth ministry is not about finding an extra place for yet another ministry, but about finding a place for young people to serve within every ministry and amongst the people that the ministries are designed to serve…”

Implications for churches that adopt this model include:

  • Young people will not become a separate group within the congregation
  • In any decision of the church the wellbeing, opinions, faith life and needs of the young people will besought after and considered
  • Young people will never be neglected or ignored
  • The congregation will never think of the faith life of young people separately from the faith life of adult members.
  • Young people will be the congregation’s responsibility, not merely the responsibility of the “youth leaders”

It has to also be understood that the entire congregation has to be involved in the adoption of this model, this cannot be a vision that is adopted by the pastor, or teh church council without consultation with the young people in the community, that would be an incorrect way to kick off an inclusive congregational approach. Perhaps this is one of the more difficult models to hold to and understand, but I’ve seen it work in a number of cases, particularly in very stubborn, all aged family churches that have stuck to their vision like fly to flypaper forever asking how young people are participating in the community…

“Leadership and parents must return to the drawing board – this time with the young people. Together, an Inclusive Congregational approach and it’s consequences must be thought through and worked out…”

The Strategic Approach

by large young people are mere spectators in a middle age church… In these cases young people live on the margins of the church…

The Strategic Approach to youth ministry is probably my favorite model out of the four described in the book, I like it because it’s probably the most removed from the traditional church view of youth ministry, it sees youth ministry as about creating a faith community rather than spiritual daycare. In this model we move beyond the typical factory based ministry in which we see young people passed through the church as a car would pass through a manufacturer’s conveyor belt. In a factory an item is passed from one area to another as small pieces are added or tightened or checked until the finished product is complete, similarly in a factory-like youth ministry we see children passed from preschool to junior school, into youth group, into the young adults ministry and then out of the factory floor comes a fully completed mature Christian.

“factories utilise an assembly line to create a product, an automobile moves along the assembly line, workers contribute towards the finished product by inserting a part, tightening bolts or welding a joint into place. At the end, a car rolls off the conveyor belt ready to be sold.”

The problem that a factory-like approach has is that the youth ministry only gets to work with young people for a particular length of time, the discontinuity of this approach will sometimes see young people come off of the factory floor and find themselves without a community that accepts them and leave the church .

“The church must view youth ministry not so much as a means of turning out models of Christian living in order to perpetuate existing church ministries, but as the best opportunity to launch a vital Christian witness to shape the faith community for the next generation.”

The strategic approach starts with the vision of planting a community of faith, it starts with a youth pastor and ministry team that works with a group of young people as they grow up through primary and high school ages to disciple, train, encourage, apprentice, mentor them into a mature faith. Unlike the factory floor the youth ministry doesn’t pass the young people from one station to the next, instead the youth pastor and their community works with a specific group of young people over the space of time until which time they are able to move from the parent congregation to plant another church/faith community.

“Youth pastors should become spiritual midwives and assist in birthing new churches. They would begin as age group specialists but would be chosen to work with a group of students from the time the young people entered high school until they reached their mid-20s. The primary objective would be to develop a team of spiritually mature young adults and plant a new church”

Rather than youth ministry’s role to be to look after a number of young people until they can join the rest of the congregation the ministry’s aim is to nurture leadership, faith, mission so that those involved can assume roles of leadership in a new church plant. Rather than being on the margins young people are seen to be completely involved in the life and growth and mission of a church.

One of the possible outcomes of this kind of approach is that leaders and young people may pick up a sense of something greater than just the normal youth group activities. In a program based ministry young people and leaders may start to wear out, but if the end journey is that of a church plant then ministries may find that leaders and young people may make choices to stay at local universities and work places so that they can participate in the vision. People in a factory ministry however may see a better option, or get tired of their job and seek to leave.

“Church leadership has treated youth workers as novice adults rather than permanent parts of the church’s strategy of discipleship and evangelization.”

This model also sees the role of the youth worker/pastor as something more than a caretaker of young people, instead it sees them as a minister in training, an apprentice in the ministry team who will soon be sent out to pastor and plant a new congregation.

If this model is adopted by congregations then these are a few changes that will need to happen…

  • Adult congregations, like parents must prefer to sacrifice their own lives so that the next generation might live and grow
  • Youth ministry must not be seen to be at competition with the existing church
  • Youth Workers must be viewed as Pastors/Ministers
  • Young people must be seen as people who are shaping the church and being shaped
  • Young people must lead in mission efforts

It’s possible that the strategic approach could be seen as giving up on reforming the existing church… We’re talking about pouring new wine into new wineskins…

Well, I think that lists many of the strengths, weaknesses and mutations of each of the models of youth ministry and the Church, if you really want to dive into it more I’d suggest giving it a good read through.

You can also download a presentation based on the book that I put together a while back to help churches explore each of the models and their own particular understanding and living out of their youth ministry.

Download: 4 Views of Youth Ministry and the Church (pdf)

Download: 4 Views of Youth Ministry and the Church (pps)

Download: 4 Views of Youth Ministry and the Church (keynote)
This book is essential reading