Helpful Things: Dumb Things Adults Think about Youth
By Todd Peperkorn
It is amazing to me how dumb adults can be sometimes. Speaking as an adult, I can attest to this personally. But this is perhaps no more obvious than when adults try to engage in "youth ministry." Youth ministry, of course, means figuring out anything that we adults can do to keep young people in church and connected to Christ. Here are a few dumb things that adults often believe when it comes to youth and the Church:
1. Numbers matter. The only way that youth ministry is effective is if it is huge.
Nowhere in the Scriptures is there anything about the Word of God being bound by or limited based on the number of people hearing it. It’s simply not true. Like a good basketball team, improvement comes not from focusing on the numbers, but on the fundamentals of the game. We are called to be faithful, not to reach some arbitrary number. This is why there are seven "Five Dumb Things Adults Believe about Youth."
2. Teenagers hate theology.
In order to relate to youth, Bible studies often center on the "teen" issues of sex, drugs and peer pressure. Pastors and youth leaders have been taught to believe that youth are incapable of handling real Bible study and theology. This is partly a reflection of the poor catechesis that went on during the generation of the "great disruption." Most of the pastors and youth leaders of the last 15 years grew up in a very anti-historical or anti-traditional society. We have an opportunity to give our youth real meat, not simply theological chips and soda pop. Why not give it to them?
3. Worship for youth must reflect the pop culture of the day because young adults can’t stand traditional worship.
Much of the evidence today points to the fact that today’s youth are about a return to the traditional. In fact, many of the most cutting edge contemporary worship type churches have started doing more traditional liturgies and music, even Gregorian chant for their youth! But more importantly, our responsibility as the Church is to teach and pass on the faith to our youth. By giving them less than the best we have, we are teaching our young people to hate their own church!
4. Youth need a regular "mountaintop" experience in order to get their spiritual batteries charged.
This is just simply unbiblical. The Christian faith is not based on emotional highs that sustain us. Christ’s Word and Sacraments sustain us through the good times and the bad. By fostering the idea that you must have a mountaintop experience, we really are teaching our young people that being a Christian is about being happy or feeling good. It’s like a drug. If I don’t feel a certain way, then something must be wrong. Why not instead give them the Faith of all ages? Why not give them the good things of God, which will sustain them through all of the pitfalls and trials of being in high school? By giving them a firm foundation, we are preparing them for their life in the world as Christians.
5. The youth leader/teacher must be "hip" and "cool" in order to minister to teenagers.
Adults who try to act like youth end up looking foolish and lose the respect of the youth. Be real! What is cool to an adult is probably not nearly as cool to a teenager. It is one thing to listen and pay attention to the needs and interests of young people; it is quite another to pretend to be something we’re not.
6. The youth work of a congregation is successful based on the number of activities available.
As a Christian congregation, we are not called upon to be the social directors and activity coordinators for the members of our church. Heaven knows that teenagers have enough things to do! This is why it is so important that what we give our young people is the very best we have, namely, the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins. Activities are good, but they are not ultimately the point of why we are the Church.
7. The youth leader must underplay any kind of Lutheran identity, because this could drive a wedge between the youth and their other Christian friends.
Be who you are! When we pretend to be some sort of "generic" Christian or try to appeal to common denominators, we lose the biblical distinctiveness that makes us who we are. Lutherans have a great treasure and history of the Gospel and the Sacraments. Young people are naturally curious about their identity and what makes them Lutheran. Why not dare to be Lutheran? Let worship be worship! Let study be study! Let fun be fun!
Rev. Todd Peperkorn is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California.
This article was originally published in the fall issue of Higher Things Magazine.
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