Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Goal of Youth Ministry?

Jim Hamilton and his wife attended Clifton Baptist Church when Heather and I joined that congregation. During our time at Clifton, Hamilton completed his Ph.D at Southern and accepted a position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has since also become the preaching pastor at Baptist Church of the Redeemer in Missouri City, TX.

I noticed on Tim Challies' blog that Hamilton had recently posted a Q&A on Family Integrated Churches, and I found this discussion helpful. Hamilton describes Family Integrated Churches as a spectrum of congregations; from some that focus on "discipling dads to disciple families" and keeping families united in Sunday School and worship, to those that are "intentional about encouraging fathers to lead their families in family worship and disciple their children" and intentionally embrace biblical gender roles. He describes this spectrum a different way in another question:
Whereas a strictly “Family Integrated Church” might be inclined to view the family as God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions, we at Redeemer believe that the church is God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions.

I think this is a particularly helpful discussion because it emphasizes the biblical responsibilities parents, and especially fathers, should have in the discipleship of children. Hamilton argues that his church views Sunday School and other educational activities for children as supplemental. Our churches should be dedicated to helping parents disciple children. Here's Hamilton's take on the goal of youth ministry:
I know that when I was in youth ministry it never occurred to me, nor did anyone from whom I was learning “youth ministry” ever suggest to me, that our job was actually to help the parents disciple their own kids. These things are often overlooked by both parents and kids, and some youth ministries get so caught up in building skate parks, having cool lighting and great music, and going on big trips to fun places that “discipleship” gets overlooked, too.

So, what do you think? How should our churches embrace an emphasis on helping parents disciple children?



Eric Holcombe said...

There isn't a short answer to this one - and I'm not certain you can generalize a "program" that will apply in all cases. As the former youth minister said " never occurred to me...", well, first I believe it has to occur to people. If parents are seeking after God and their mandates as parents, I think it will occur to them. Maybe another way to answer the question is "what are church gatherings and their leadership doing that prevent this from occurring to anyone?" Is the existing church structure squelching that occurrence within the parent's spirit with activities, programs, ministers that effectively encourage them to abdicate their responsibility? I believe our culture in America is part of the reason. I believe our church gatherings catering to our culture is another.

The appeal of family-integrated gatherings for me is not so much that your nuclear family is a "platoon" that stays intact at the meeting, but that for once, the older is actually present with the younger (physically and/or spiritually) to instruct and encourage them - not segregated by age and pigeon-holed into classes.

S. Todd Young said...

Hey Eric! Thanks for commenting!

I think much of this issue relates to the fact that many churches today do what they do because that's the only thing they know. I feel convicted, more than ever, that I am standing between my children and hell, and as their shepherd it's my responsibility to disciple them.

I don't know if I want to blame church structure or programs, but there definitely should be greater emphasis/encouragement from those of us involved in "traditional" churches. If God has called us to serve both our families and our local gathering of believers, my question becomes, how do we encourage parents to become disciples themselves in order that they produce disciples of their children?

Terry Delaney said...


As a former youth pastor, I know I struggled with getting fathers to take the lead role in the spiritual well-being of their children, let alone the disciplining of their children. I cannot count the number of times I wrote in my newsletter article regarding the parents role to bring up the child in the way of the Lord. I argued that I should be supplementing them and not the other way around.

I am afraid that the problem starts higher in the "hierarchy" of the church. It needs to come from the pulpit, then the leadership, and then the teachings in SS and elsewhere in the church only to filter down to the families. They need to see this modeled in the church as well as its being rooted in Scripture before they will take the initiative to lead their families and children the way they should.

As for family-integrated gatherings, I believe there is a fine line regarding age-graded SS and family style SS. I think the age-graded makes more sense if and only if all members of the family are learning about the same text in Scripture that week each from a different perspective. In other words, the father would see and apply a particular text differently than a mom. Just the same, a single person would have a different application than a married person. That is not to say that there are general truths that apply to all regardless of where one is at in life. However, we all know that a man will see it differently than a woman, a child different than a parent, and a teenager different than a 30 year old.

I hope I made some sense here. God bless and I will see you on Sunday--we are joining!!

Terry Delaney

S. Todd Young said...

Terry! You're joining! I'm so excited! As if you couldn't tell by all the exclamation points!

Seriously, that is awesome. Maybe we can chat sometime about ways we can develop a biblical model families in an environment that has no clue what biblical families might look like.

Thanks for the comments bro!

Mary said...

(sorry I'm late on this)
One thing that Wes and I feel is important is to make sure that the youth ministry isn't somehow separated from the rest of the church. It can be very easy for parents to drop the kids off and leave it at that, no involvement. And it can be very easy for youth ministers to sit back and let that happen. We believe family integrated gatherings are wonderful because they encourage that family fellowship since it's quite possible that the family doesn't have that on any given weekday. At the same time, we also feel that classes separated by age/category also is a good thing because it allows the people to connect with others they can relate to and helps with being able to form any lessons according to the group we're speaking we're not teaching a seminary level theology to a 12 year old. Does that make sense? Anyway, this is part of why I love "family Sundays" where children's church is brings all those separate groups together for the more "formal" service.

Since we only have one youth who regularly attends, I can't say that we're a prime example of how parents are involved in the youth ministry and vice versa, but I do have to say that we truly feel blessed that Brad's parents have a great relationship with him and are involved with him. We feel blessed that we have a great relationship with them as well and can come to them (and they to us) regarding the youth ministry. That's important to us...that kind of involvement. Parents need to be concerned about what we are doing with their children and hold us accountable and we need to take initiative to develop these kinds of relationships with the parents. And though we only have one who regularly attends, it's been a blessing at the same time so that Wes & I are not caught up in the things that you mentioned that youth ministries can get caught up in. That's a real blessing because it "forces" (for lack of a better word) us to focus on the discipleship and the relationship.

I don't want to seem like we're patting ourselves on the back here. There's so much that can still be done, that we wish we could do, etc. But truthfully, I don't know that we would have learned the same lessons had we started out with an already established youth ministry. This has definitely laid a foundation for us to carry into the future, wherever God may lead us.

I wrote a novel, I know. :)