When I run into pastors studying at coffee shops, I typically ask them, “What are you working on?” And it is common for them to respond with something like, “I am preparing for Sunday” or, “I am speaking in main service this week.” Other times they respond with, “I’m prepping for a seminar or sermon…But it is no big deal—it’s just the youth.”
Just the youth? I hear this phrase thrown around too often and I will admit that I am guilty of repeating this at times. Why do people believe that youth ministry is less important than adult ministry? Why do I fall into believing it?
I have only been in youth ministry for five years, but I know I am forgetful. I need to constantly and consistently remember that youth ministry is not just youth ministry. Here are three reminders why.
1. The Here and Now
I have always heard “the youth is our future” as a positive statement. To me it meant that one day, the youth will shape the world or that they are a future investment. But what about now?
Teenagers are forced to go through a transitional season of life called adolescence. It is a strange in-between stage when they are no longer children but not yet adults. Because of this, it is tempting to see them as unfinished adults or half-adults. But they are neither of these things; they are teenagers. Although most youth cannot drive and do not tithe, they are just as valuable today as they might be as fully formed adults. It is true that the youth are our future, but that is not all they are. They are individuals whom God values, loves, and wants to be in relationship with now.
When I see teenagers as immature adults, I can grow easily frustrated—but that is not who they are. What is worse is that if we don’t see them as they are now, but whom they can become, we actually devalue them. They are no longer unique individuals but undeveloped investments.
For those who work with students, we are called to see them as God sees them. The youth are not marginalized in the eyes of God. They will grow up to be adults but they are teenagers today. God wants to meet with them in the here and now and that should stir up urgency in our hearts as we shepherd. He loves them and has a plan for them just as they are right now.
2. The Universal Need
All of humanity is fallen and in need of a Savior. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and age; the gospel is the remedy for all people.
The gospel is wide enough to speak to believers and non-believers alike. The gospel is deep enough address the biggest skeptics and cynics. The gospel is powerful enough to transform the most sinful individuals and restore relationships. The gospel is beautiful enough to point us towards love, joy, grace, and hope in Christ. The gospel is what adults and adolescents need.
For those who serve in youth ministry, do not give up (Gal. 6:9). Regardless of the fruit, we must continue to faithfully proclaim the gospel because it is what we all need most—teenagers are no exception.
3. Great Opportunities
The youth need the gospel just like everyone else, but teenagers are not exactly like every other age group—and I am not just talking about the hormones. There are unique challenges to each life stage and I will highlight three for the youth.
First, youth are looking to find their identity. Apart from their parents, they want to discover who they are through academics, sports, friends, clubs, and media. On top of all of that, they are not only trying to get into college but need to figure out what they want to do in life.
Second, youth are trying to fit into a community. Friends are incredibly influential for teenagers. As they survey their school during lunchtime, there are so many groups and cliques with different values, types of humor, and special interests. Where do they belong? It does not help that with the rise of club sports and extracurriculars, youth attendance is dropping in the church. If they are absent, it is going to be hard to maintain the church as community.
Third, today’s youth have grown up with technology. I remember a time when I would spend most of my day not tied to a device—but that is not true for students today. With the rise of technology and (of course) social media, the gap between adolescence and adulthood seems to be closing in faster because they are exposed to much more, much earlier. Teenagers are flooded with so much information that adults can hardly keep up. Difficult topics regarding sexuality, drugs, politics, and mental health are things that youth face daily.
These challenges cause many teenagers to suffer from anxiety, depression, and loneliness; but challenges create great opportunities for the gospel. The gospel offers an identity deeper than anything else; the gospel connects us to a community that is broader than any other group; the gospel helps us to interpret the flood of information we receive. Our teens desperately need this good news.
To those serving in youth ministry, do not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:1). Let us continue to remember the gospel and hold on to these reminders. The youth are deeply valuable to God now; the youth need the gospel just like everyone else; and the youth are in a unique season of life where we must maximize. Let us give them our best and not short change them by saying that it is just youth ministry.