By Timothy Rucker
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” -1 Timothy 4:12
“I don’t want to ever grow up, I’m a Toys R’ Us kid…” -Toys R’ Us
Youth ministry is one of the most misunderstood ministries in the church today in the modern world. With the onset of child labor laws (which are a good thing), unfortunately, countries started to impose on youth childlike expectations instead of adult expectations. Youth are abounding with healthy, God-given energy and potential, but fail to do anything meaningful because they do not know how to let go of their idol of “fun.” Society expects youth to foolishly live for fun; and businesses strongly advertise to youth that they will only find their purpose, joy, and satisfaction in exhilarating thrills, brand loyalty, and having the coolest stuff.
Unfortunately, since many youth have hit puberty, youth will no longer find any lasting purpose, joy, and satisfaction in meaningless thrills, games, and materialism. God created children to be childlike and to find satisfaction in having fun while worshiping God; youth, on the other hand, are not children. They have hit puberty. Puberty is a sign that they becoming adults, and that it is time for them to start seeking to act like an adult and to honor adult-like responsibility. God has created youth to find purpose, joy, and satisfaction in worshiping Him by doing meaningful things and preparing themselves to do meaningful things. By seeking to be a child and seeking after the idols of “fun,” youth are actually seeking and finding misery. Unfortunately, the church often helps in facilitating this by putting “fun” at the center.
Most churches around the United States of America grade a youth program based upon how many students it has. Churches, understandably, believe that healthy things grow, and therefore, if their youth program is healthy, it follows that their youth program should have lots of attendees. This is misguided at best, detrimental at worst. If we follow this logic, most churches would have given Jesus the pink slip before Pilate as the Jews did. No, we shall refuse to judge our youth program based upon the standards of success for this world, just as we will not teach our youth to live for what the world tells them they need to live for. In living for numbers, most churches end up reinforcing that youth are made by God for meaningless thrills and fun, and at worst, water down the gospel to a false, human-centered, emotionally-driven, moralistic, short-lived season of life. Instead, we will follow the advice of Paul:
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.” –Colossians 1:28-29
Our goal for our youth is maturity in Christ. We want to see unsaved, unchurched, and selfish boys and girls be transformed by God into men and women of God who are an example to all the believers (1 Timothy 4:12). We will seek to do this through the faithful and relevant teaching of the gospel and God’s Word, prayer, showing them what it means to love God and love people in our lives, encouraging them to learn how to grow on their own, giving them numerous opportunities to serve and tell others about the gospel, challenging them to value adult responsibilities, and to actually do something productive and meaningful with their time and energy instead of believing the toxic, self-serving lies of their culture and world. We want to see heart change. Only God can do these things. The issue is urgent. Our youth are currently graduating church in mass, and being who they always were and encouraged to be in church: worldly; except now they believe the church is of no use to them because it was no different than the world they currently inhabit.
Timothy Rucker is a youth pastor at Pathways Community Church in Largo, Florida, and a Th.M. student at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife, Meagan, have been married since 2008 and have one daughter.