I, for one, am convinced of the necessity of formal training for children’s and youth ministry, and Oak Hill College is committed to the rigorous theological education of men and women to equip them for a lifetime of faithful, dynamic, gospel-driven children’s and youth ministry. However, I am not naïve to the fact that at times formal ministerial training ironically can distance the pastor from their people rather than help them to sensitively and lovingly disciple their flock in a winsome and appropriate manner.
The essential thing for seminary graduates to grasp is that they are stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1), and that they have been entrusted with the glorious message of the gospel. This stewardship of knowledge should be entirely other-person-centered. The acquisition of knowledge should not be a personal pursuit at seminary, rather it should be for the edification, encouragement and maturation of those that the Lord will entrust to their future care. The youth minister’s intent should be to teach to the best of their ability, in order that successive generations of Christian young people might be raised up, who are walking in Christ Jesus, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith (Colossians 2:6-7).
The danger for youth pastors who are seminary graduates is that they fail to teach what they have learned at seminary in a way that connects and resonates deeply with the young people in their care. Thus, they run the risk of arrogantly communicating in a manner that can only be understood by a college graduate and proves inaccessible to the average 9th grade kid. The other great concern, of course, is that the youth pastor only nurtures an academic or intellectual love of the Word amongst their young people, producing lots of young people who know about God but few who know God in a personal way through the Lord Jesus Christ. Youth ministry that produces a generation of Pharisees will be hugely detrimental to God’s church! The youth minister’s rejoicing must be caused by the beautiful moments and movements of grace in the lives of all those entrusted to their care, rather than delighting in or prioritizing those who are keen to engage academically in points of doctrine or theology.
In order to prevent these things from happening we must start with our own hearts, asking if we love God as much as we love knowing about Him. Are our hearts responding to the glory of the gospel as well as our heads? Are we humbly praying that God will help us to be effective stewards of His word and that He would enable us to communicate to the young people in our care in an effective way?
As we seek to pass on the mysteries of God that have been entrusted to us to young people we must be prepared for hard work, harder perhaps than seminary! We must wrestle with and struggle to communicate the complexities of the doctrine of God in a way that gives a teen a bigger view of God and subsequently draws him to love God more.
Every effort must be made to not only exegete the scriptures but also youth culture. Those who are pastoring young people must be diligent in trying to understand the world which they inhabit, the pressures that they face, and the world views that are captivating their hearts and minds day by day. Our learning and the application of our learning must never be done in isolation from the world. For those who are considering seminary, make sure there is an effective and efficient church placement system incorporated in the course of study. This should to enable you to learn how to transfer your lecture learning into ministry praxis amongst young people as you progress in your studies.
There are some very practical things that a seminary graduate can do to help them be effective in youth ministry:
• Keep a picture of the young people in your care above your desk as you prepare talks to help you to be mindful of for whom you are preparing and the level of comprehension that they have.
• Find someone who serves with you on the youth team (and is not theologically educated) and arrange to send them your talks in order for them to give you feedback. This will help you to remain humble and to gauge whether the language and content of your work is age-appropriate for the young people you are working with.
• Spend lots of time in discipleship relationships with the young people. Get to know them well and ask them for feedback on your talks and bible studies. You can also determine whether your teaching is encouraging them in their faith and filling their hearts with love for the Lord, rather than simply their head with theological knowledge.