What makes a church? What factors go into the decision for an individual to choose a particular church? People often look for an outlet for their children, perhaps to keep their teenagers out of trouble, make nice friends, and to provide them with biblical and spiritual insight. So, one might find a church that has a thriving, active youth ministry. Unfortunately, youth ministry does not seem to be output the same number of Christians that were input. Three out of every four young people leave the church either during high school or in their early years of college. But the purpose of youth ministry is to foster a maturing and a growing faith in the adolescence. Unfortunately, youth ministry seems to just be a step that hoists one into atheism, secularism, and liberalism. That is when you should fire your youth pastor.
I am not using some sort of metaphorical exaggeration. I literally think that youth pastors who are guilty of the crimes that I outline in this blog should be fired. At the very least, if they are guilty of these things, they should be instructed in how to approach youth ministry, their job description should be radically and fundamentally altered and they should be examined. If they are reluctant or do not understand why these changes are important, then I think they should be fired. We need youth ministers who will foster a growing faith and teach young people to be disciples of Jesus Christ. If they are not doing that, well, that is when you should fire your youth pastor.
If he is just an entertainer, that is when you should fire your youth pastor. Parents want their children to have an active schedule of extra-curricular activities. They do not want them to be inside, glued to the television or video game console, getting involved in drugs, or causing trouble. So, they will enroll them in some sort of youth program at the church, and a few times every week, they will meet and learn spiritual disciplines, hopefully in a fun and interactive way. But many youth pastors depart from this model. This is when you should fire your youth pastor.
The duty of the youth minister is to relay theologically rich concepts about God and our duty to him in ways that the youth can understand. They are to help young people understand God, to answer difficult questions and to help to develop a foundation in biblical truth. But many youth ministers would rather play games, take the group out bowling, do something fun, and that will be the extent of their activities. Of course, there is nothing wrong with bowling. There may be some days that you want to take them and do something that is religiously neutral. That is fine. But when that became the full extent of their activities, that is when you should fire your youth pastor. He is just an entertainer. He is playing games.
His lessons are extremely shallow. Teenagers do not enjoy learning. They have enough of that in school, and when they are away from school, they just want to be entertained. With the advent of technology and in the age of information, we want things instantly, and anything for which we must exert mental energy is not worth pursuing. So in an effort to mold his lessons to fit the students’ expectations, the youth pastor will develop theologically shallow lessons. Rather than challenging the students, teaching them about God, and bringing them to learn biblical principles, the youth pastor is relaying personal anecdotes, stories about a time that prayer worked for him, and lessons that can be summarized in a pithy one-liner, like, “You should pray more.” This is when you should fire your youth pastor.
After all, what are the students going to do with that when they go home? The youth pastor is not guiding them to understand the illumination of God’s word so that the students may meditate upon it. He is not teaching them theology. He is not teaching them to revere God and his word. The students are not getting anything out of this sort of lesson. They are just told that they need to pray more. Their mind is not being expanded. Rather than adjusting his lessons to their liking, the youth minister needs to bring his students to adjust their mind to his lessons. This will challenge them to think critically about faith and about God. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.”
He does not teach theology or apologetics. Why is it that so many young people are leaving the church? One could argue that one reasons is that they do not think there is any intellectual depth. There is nothing to think about. There is no reason to think that Christianity is true. It is not presented a subtle, nuanced theology for which there are good reasons to believe it. They are presented with Bible stories and just told that they need to pray more. So they will find any objection that a worldly person raises to be compelling. However, one of the most potent defenses of apostasy is to just understand what you believe. If one has a robust understanding of their faith, they are not going to fall away from it. But in the case of youth ministry, I am afraid that they just do not provide this sort of thing. They will provide cliches, such as “Jesus died for your sins,” but these present themselves as vain platitudes. What does it even mean? The students have no idea. Why did Jesus pray, if he was God? Was he just praying to himself? These are the sort of objections that ex-Christians will raise! If you do not believe me, then talk to an atheist. They will say this sort of thing, despite that they are ex-Christians who had attended youth groups for their entire lives. Theology matters, doctrine matters, and robust presentations of Christianity matter. If your youth pastor does not understand, then this is when you should fire your youth pastor. Seriously. Fire him.
Further, the youth pastor needs to have a handle on Christian apologetics. He needs to be able to explain to his students why the Christian faith is true. How can we maintain biblical inerrancy? What about all of the manuscripts and their contradictions? Did Jesus even exist? How can we really know that he performed any miracles? And what evidence is there that God exists? Answering these questions is a vital practice. In my opinion, when a youth pastor is being interviewed, the head pastor should ask him these questions to see if he has a good handle on Christian apologetics. They should see not only if he has a degree and has some ministerial experience, but if he has a good handle on the apologetic content, or if he is at least willing to learn. If he does not, that is when you should fire your youth pastor. He is sending young Christians to high school and college unarmed and unarmored.
He does not preach the gospel or discipleship. How can I be saved? Most youth ministers will say, “Believe in Jesus,” and that is good. However, is belief the only aspect to justification? I just have to give mental assent to a few propositions? Is that really what it is all about? What about being born again, without which, nobody will see the kingdom of God (John 3:5)? What about the death of Christ, in our place, for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead? What about salvation by faith alone (Romans 4:5). This harks back to and overlaps with a robust treatment of theology, but it is central. If he does not preach or understand the gospel, then this is when you should fire your youth pastor.
Further, what about discipleship? There are a lot of people who are told that Jesus died for them, and now that they believe, they are saved. Well, salvation is certainly is by faith alone. But the person who has this saving faith has also been born again. This means that they have been made new by the power of God (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are new creatures, the old man is dead. They are disciples of Jesus, following him, laboring to represent him and to live in righteousness. Is there an emphasis on righteousness and discipleship in your youth pastors’ ministry? If not, then this is when you should fire your youth pastor.
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