Listening to Young People: Lessons for a better Youth Ministry


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I read a great article this morning it has a lot to say about the way we do youth ministry and the way we treat young people,  “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for Stronger Christianity”  . The article was written by Larry Tauton, the Executive Director of Fixed Point and the author of “The Grace Effect: How the power of one life can reverse the corruption of unbelief.” One of the things that is so interesting about this article is the interview with a student named Phil. Phil turned to atheism in High School after his Youth Pastor was fired. His church wanted to attract a larger youth group, and they felt their youth worker Jim wasn’t doing enough to attract youth, so they let him go. The loss of a youth worker was a big blow to Phil’s faith and resulting atheism. While, the church never intended to lead Phil to atheism, it was the unintended consequence of firing their youth worker. The Church often forgets its role in youth ministry – the role of the Church is to be a participant of God’s activity here on earth, meaning all youth ministry is about discovering God’s activity and seeking to participate in that action. Clearly God was working through Jim’s teaching part of the tension arises when we realize that God was working through the new youth worker Savannah as well. So what lessons should we learn from Phil’s journey to atheism?  How can the church build better youth ministries?  How can they better take care of their youth workers?

We need to tread lightly when making any staffing decisions. Ultimately, all staffing decisions must be made with a lot of prayer and sensitivity. In college, I read “A Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards.  This book describes the relationship between David and King Saul; even though David knew King Saul was making bad decisions, he also knew he was the Lord’s anointed and he needed to submit to Saul. Working in a  church is strange – youth pastors are often treated as glorified babysitters or program directors who are only allowed to run youth group. But if we are called to youth ministry we are part of this strange tension.

We also need to remember that youth ministry isn’t all about the number of young people that come out to the weekly youth fellowship program. While we need a metric to measure the effectiveness of a youth ministry, the number of students is just one measurement of a youth worker’s effectiveness. You also need to find out if young people are growing in their faith, inviting friends to the ministry, and if the youth ministry is effectively communicating with families. Frequently, churches have very unhealthy expectation of their youth ministries and their youth workers. Churches think they can build large youth ministries without resourcing them.  We need to always remember the 50/1 principal. The 50/1 principal states that most youth workers and youth ministries are most effective with about 50 young people for every youth worker. So, if your youth ministry wants 100 or 200 active young people they probably need to hire more youth workers! It is likely that Jim was effective by most measurements but probably didn’t have the splash of the young 22 year old Savannah.

Enjoy the article and take few minutes to listen to the young atheists. Here is the link “Listening to the Young Atheists”


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