Growing Oaks from Seeds
A guest post by Doug Milne, M.Div. ‘11, youth pastor, Grace Church of the Nazarene. Rochester, N.Y. and Mike Kuhlkin, D.Min. youth pastor, Pearce Church, Rochester, N.Y., about the value of youth ministry in a church context.
There has been some recent discussion in ministerial circles about the value of youth ministry in the church. In fact, there is a new film documenting youth ministry as a “failure” because of the results of specific, carried-out philosophies by churches and their youth pastors.
Despite this suggestion, there is tremendous value in incorporating youth ministry into the church context if done in a biblical and communal way. There are four basic values of youth ministry in the church context.
Energy and Excitement – There is no doubt that teenagers bring energy wherever they go. Churches can quickly become stagnant, but youth ministry seldom allows this to happen. Although we often hear of the stereotypical lazy and bored adolescent, it could not be further from the truth. Students are often the catalyst for mission trips, social action, and “outside the box” thinking. This generation is excited and passionate and they are looking to put that energy into something. Most of our teens are not satisfied with simply talking about today’s problems—they want to participate in opportunities for change. This excitement and energy is infectious and is needed to move a congregation from a state of observation to a state of motion.
Leadership – Youth ministry is training leaders for today and the future, but we have to keep in mind we are training them for the Kingdom not just for our congregations. Fostering leadership through youth ministry is two-fold. First, it builds young leaders. Our churches are filled with plenty of places for leadership development—worship leading, teaching, preaching, service, and so on. Second, youth ministry provides training for lay leaders. They have opportunities to serve, to work directly with a trained pastor, and it allows them to hone their ministry skills.
Builds Healthy Community – Mission and community are close kin. Without mission, community suffers and the reverse is just as true. The church is diverse, filled with all sorts of people from various backgrounds—that is the beauty of it. Multi-generational congregations with families worshipping together are part of a healthy church community. Students who learn the value of community at a young age become adults who value community. Knowing that teenagers are part of the current church and empowering them to participate as such, helps defend against the old adage that they are the church of tomorrow.
Seeds Become Trees – Churches have “Sunday School” classes and discipleship groups for younger generations because there is the strong belief that we must train children in the way they should go. It is most beneficial to start early with biblical and theological training. Children’s ministry and youth ministry supplement parental guidance and teaching. These ministries work at getting the attention of younger parishioners to help raise them in the Christian life. The process of individuation, often seen during the college years, can cause students to stray from “Christian principals.” Although seen as unfortunate or negative, this period can be navigated successfully if the seeds that have been planted in youth ministry are nurtured. The “oaks” of the faith often grow from the seeds planted in youth ministry.
Read more Northeastern Seminary ministry leaders' thoughts around serving teens and young adults in the latest issue of ResOund, the Seminary's enewsletter.