Every Tuesday in The Minority Report, Drew Dixon takes a look at trends in youth culture and offers some biblical wisdom for navigating them.
Scott T. Brown believes that modern youth ministry is “an unbiblical concept borrowed from humanistic philosophies.” That is a bold statement. As the Family Pastor of my church and one who oversees our church’s student ministry, I am very much interested in getting to the bottom of whether Brown’s claims are accurate.
Recent surveys suggest that as many as “85 percent of young people will leave the church by the age of 18 never to return.” I don’t know how these surveys can possibly show that these young people “never” return to church but nevertheless if these surveys are anywhere close to accurate, they are certainly worthy of our attention. Such surveys have encouraged many to take a long hard look at modern youth ministry and ask whether it has succeeded in accomplishing it’s goal of making young men and women into faithful disciples of Christ. Thus the rise of the Family Integrated Church movement (a movement that Voddie Baucham, Paul Washer, and others have ascribed to) and the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC). Also a documentary called Divided (which can now be watched online) was recently released criticizing modern youth ministry and promoting the FIC movement.The FIC has offered a diagnosis for this mass exodus of young people from the church: parents have given up on discipling their children and entrusted that task to youth pastors. Consequently, the FIC has by-and-large declared youth ministry “unbiblical.”
Due to the constraints of this column, I will not be doing a thorough biblical critique of the FIC, but I do want to point out a few important problems with the movement. However, first I want to state that I share almost every concern that the FIC has about youth ministry and the local church. I think many churches have done a poor job of encouraging parents to personally disciple their children and I think many youth ministries pull children away from their parents and other faithful adults in the church far too frequently. I think many youth ministries have become a church within the local church due to the way they do almost everything separately from the rest of the body. I think this is unhealthy and discourages spiritual maturity–much of which is gained from observing more mature Christians (Titus 2:1-8).
Because I share these concerns, as a pastor to students, I have sought to develop a student ministry that champions parents, and encourages them to disciple their children. And we have, I believe, cultivated a student ministry that consistently incorporates students into the life of the church as a whole.
There are, however, some obvious problems with the FIC. First by dismantling youth ministry and claiming that parents should be the “youth pastors” of their own children, the FIC is guilty of doing the very same thing that much student ministry is guilty of: they have created a church within the church. The family is not its own church and by making fathers defacto pastors to their children, the FIC also devalues the role of pastors in the local church. Many proponents of the FIC movement have bemoaned the prolonged adolescence that seems to pervade our culture. It wasn’t that long ago in our country that most 18 year old boys were married and had full time jobs. And yet the FIC movement is essentially telling youth pastors to step away from teenagers in the church and to treat them like children.
Proponents of the FIC often quote Malachi 4:6 and claim youth ministry “turns the hearts of children” away from their fathers. I have only been a father for 10 months, but it strikes me as petty to view the work of student pastors as trying to steal the hearts of children away from their parents. Malachi 4:6 is a promise that God is going to restore broken family relationships through the coming kingdom of Christ and he is going to use a “messenger” to do it! It is not an injunction against modern youth ministry and it certainly does not preclude pastors from exercising a complimentary role in the teaching and discipleship of teenagers.
I believe that parents hold the primary responsibility for discipling teens (Eph. 6:1-4). However, I also believe that the teenage years are an important time of transition for teens–one that we would do well to try to understand. Teens have special needs and struggles that are worthy of pastoral care. We needn’t view youth ministry and family ministry in our churches as an either/or equation. I think our churches and our young people are best served when we see our students as important parts of the body of Christ (1 Tim. 4:12)–people who need both parental and pastoral care and discipleship. The incessant practice of separating students from adults needs to be evaluated and reconsidered and we need to work hard as pastors to help parents invest in the spiritual upbringing of their children. However, these tasks do not make student ministry unbiblical.
When FIC pastors and leaders label youth ministry as ”an unbiblical concept borrowed from humanistic philosophies,” they are fighting the wrong battle. We should be encouraging parents to invest in their teens and youth pastors to be encouragements to both parents and teens in that process. As church leaders we need to ask if our age segregated programs have caused churches within the church to form but we also need to avoid making the family into the same. The local church is a special representation of Christ’s bride. It has its own special offices which are designed for the building up of the whole body (Eph. 4:11-16). Youth ministry is no less biblical than small groups or church potlucks. Youth pastors and parents needn’t compete for the hearts of our children when we can, by God’s grace, point them to Christ together.