The mere mention of youth ministry can invoke a wide range of mental images ranging from: chubby bunny, exhausting lock-ins, ridiculous skit characters, terrible youth pastor goatees, church camp, purity rings and 15 passenger vans careening down the highway threatening the safety of anyone within a two mile radius.
There are many preconceived notions about what we do in youth ministry; however, since becoming a youth pastor myself I’ve realized that many of those are culturally perpetuated myths. Here are 5 of the most prominent myths and my response to them.
1. Youth ministry is just fun and games.
“You’re in youth ministry, you basically just do fun stuff and play games all the time, right?” I’ve gotten this question more times than I can count over the years. My response usually goes something like this, “Yes, youth ministry IS fun and games, but it’s not JUST fun and games”.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love fun and games, but if that’s all I’m doing with my youth then I have failed at my job. While youth ministry does consist of fun and games, it also consists of biblical training, discipleship and mobilization for mission. If I just see my youth ministry simply as a recreation center and not a missionary training organization, then I’ve missed the mark.
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2. Youth just want to be entertained.
It’s true that our youth live in an entertainment-infatuated culture filled with Netflix streaming, constant social media connectivity and an unhealthy level of consumerism. However, I don’t think our youth simply want to be entertained, I believe they run to entertainment because they are bored.
Great youth ministries don’t just “entertain” their students, but call them out of their boredom and to a higher standard. We’ve seen youth impact their sports teams with the gospel, serve the poor, mobilize food drives and raise money for unreached people groups. Our youth want more than entertainment, but they need someone to show them the way.
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3. Youth ministry is only about youth.
Many people believe that youth ministry is only about youth and for some ministries it is, but for most youth pastors I know youth ministry is about a larger sphere than simply youth. In our context youth ministry consists of youth (6th-12th grade), volunteers, parents and the larger church body.
We desire youth ministry to not only be an environment where youth are served, but where volunteers are challenged to grow as leaders, parents are equipped to be the primary disciple makers of their children and the larger church body is invested in youth development. So while our primary focus is discipling, developing and reaching youth, it’s not our only focus.
4. Youth Ministry is a “lesser” ministry.
I don’t know if anyone would articulate this myth out loud, but I know many youth pastors feel their ministry is viewed this way by those around them. They feel this way because they experience a “silo effect” in their ministry and many times are unsupported and under resourced. That’s why so many youth pastors burn out so quickly.
However, I’m here to tell you that youth ministry is not a “lesser” ministry, but a vital ministry to the life of the local church. The youth are the emerging leaders of the next generation who will be politicians, doctors, business leaders, church planters and missionaries. Our society at large believes and invests so heavily in education and schooling of youth and it’s time our churches take as much interest in the spiritual education and development of the next generation.
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5. A large youth group is a sign of health.
You would think at this point that this myth would have been debunked, but most youth pastors are still judged by how many youth are attending their youth programs. Now, I’m not saying numbers are not important, I’m simply saying that there is more to a youth ministry than just mere numbers at an event.
I know many youth ministries that are a mile wide and an inch deep and when their students go off to college they fall away because there was no depth to their faith. I believe it’s time that we diversify the definition of “health” in a youth ministry. Let’s keep tracking numbers, but let’s track how many of our students are engaging in spiritual disciplines, sharing the gospel, participating in missional communities and serving the least of these in our city. Those are numbers worth keeping.