This week, I'm going to share some of my thoughts on youth ministry. Some stuff I've learned during the last 5 or so years of doing this beautiful task of reaching a new generation during their prime years of dedication to Christ.
My first thought about youth ministry SHOULD be obvious, but we generally don't think about it in this regard. As youth pastors, we do YOUTH ministry. I know what you're thinking - "Duh Steve!" But is it really a duh thought? If so, then why are we trying to make Christian teenagers behave like Christian adults?
Teenagers do teenager things. They are trying to figure out who they are. They are trying to figure out how this whole friend thing works. They are curious about relationships and dating. They are trying to figure out themselves sexually. Too many times we force them to behave like adults, better yet we want them to act like US when it comes to these matters instead of teaching them what the Bible says about the issue and then letting them look at their lives through the lens of scripture.
I remember being a teenager in the youth ministry I came to know the Lord in. It was some great Holy Ghost stuff happening! It was awesome. But every year, we would take a few months and cover the subject of dating. Then, the youth pastor (whom I respect greatly to this day) shared that he was on the journey of finding his wife. He talked about not dating anyone that wouldn't potentially be his wife. That's a GREAT idea for a 28 year old man who was promiscuous in college because he was basketball star and his previous experiences with women were mostly sexual. He went on to say that ultimately, dating was outside of God's will - and anything outside of God's will is sin.
So let me get this straight - I'm trying to figure out this whole relationship thing (I was 17 at the time) and you're telling me that dating is sin (because breaking up and dating and breaking up is "practicing divorce." Aye Carumba!)? I wasn't saying I wanted to have sex, I know what the Bible says about that and I don't need a girlfriend to do it either. I was just trying to do what all healthy, attractive 17 year old boys do - try to figure this whole dating thing.
So, secretly I had a "girlfriend." Well, more like a "special friend." That was our way of saying we had a girlfriend without being in sin. My relationship was STRAINED at points because we were trying to explore our relationship but at the same we were told our teenage curiousity was a sin.
Now, I see some of the people who were in the youth minsitry at the time and in regards to relationships, many of them went crazy because they were relationally stunted. They were forced think like adults (and instead of dating prepare for marriage) while we were teenagers and when they became adults, relationally they were teenagers. So they went wild and it took a few years for their relational IQ to catch up. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think a 12 year old should date. But I don't think we should give the same advice to 12 year olds that we give 18 year olds about dating.
That's just one of MANY examples I could use. Listen, we pastor YOUTH. So let's pastor them where they are. Let's teach them to navigate teenage issues as teenagers equipped with scripture. "Train up a child in the way that he should go so that when he GETS older he won't depart from it." Notice when he GETS older, not when we make him older.