Is youth ministry unbiblical? A defense of local church youth and children ministry

If I hear one more Christian speaker say that youth ministry is unbiblical I think I’m going to…well, I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I guess my frustration level will simply grow.  This seems to be a growing trend these days.  My frustration centers around two main areas: the use of the word unbiblical and the logic of throwing something out simply because it hasn’t been used properly.

First, let’s bring a little clarity to the term unbiblical.  When I hear that word I think of something that is against what the Bible teaches.  For instance, drunkenness is unbiblical, children disobeying their parents is unbiblical, lack of love for your Christian brother is unbiblical, forsaking fellowship with other Christians is unbiblical…get it?  I’m not sure that you can put youth ministry in that category.  I would say that youth ministry is extra-biblical.  This is, youth ministry is something that is not in the Bible.  You know what else is extra-biblical?  Organs are extra-biblical (the musical kind).  So are most of our church staff positions, and gyms, and hymnals, as well as overhead projectors, business meetings, seminaries, colleges, newsletters, websites, and much more.  Just because something is extra-biblical doesn’t mean that it’s inherently bad or good.

To say that youth ministry is unbiblical is to say that there is something inherently sinful about it.  So, is there something inherently sinful about young people between the grades of sixth through twelfth gathering together under the guidance of godly adults to learn the Bible, fellowship, and attend trips together?  Youth camp: sinful?  Mission trip to Mexico: sinful?  Junior class movie night: sinful?  Leadership retreat: sinful?  Youth ministry: unbiblical?  I don’t think so.

Can youth ministry be done in a way that undermines God’s established order for the family?  Absolutely.  It can also be done in a way that supports and strengthens the family to accomplish God’s design.  What is God’s design for the worship of Him?  I believe it is relegated to three main areas: personal worship, family worship, and corporate worship.  Personal worship is the commandment of every believer to devote their life to God, the learning of His ways, and a life devoted to His glory.  Family worship is the command of God for parents (particularly the father) to take leadership of training their children to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.  Corporate worship is the gathering together of all believers of all ages to worship God through the singing of God-honoring music, the preaching of the Bible, godly fellowship and encouragement, and the observing of the sacraments.  These three things are the non-negotiables.  In order to be biblical, you must do these.

The question is: Can you do anything in addition to those three main realms of worship?  Can you have small groups or Sunday school?  Can you have discipleship classes?  Can you have Wednesday night activities?  Can you have Vacation Bible School?  Can you have childcare?  Can you have youth ministry?  For some reason, many would say you can have all of the former mentioned ministries except youth ministry.

Youth ministry (Children’s ministry has not received the same amount of heat, but I would argue the same principles apply) must never take the place of the main three areas.  Youth ministry is a supplement to family worship, personal worship, and corporate worship; it is not a replacement of any of them. To be sure, there are many churches who have (perhaps unintentionally) attempted to use youth ministry as a replacement for one of the biblically prescribed areas of worship.  However, not every church with youth ministry has done that.

Some have suggested that youth ministry has failed and that churches ought to move to a family-integrated Sunday School class instead of age-graded classes.  I would have two responses to that. First, family-integrated Sunday School classes are also extra-biblical, as no Sunday School classes are present in Scripture. Second, the presence of a family-integrated group still does not fulfill the God-given mandate for parents to train their children in the Lord at home.   I think family-integrated classes could be appropriate for many churches.  Perhaps family integrated classes could be another option on top of age-graded Sunday School classes.  Some churches may be better suited to not bring large changes to their small group structure.  Every church is unique.  We must remember above all else that when it comes to family worship, the best venue is not the church small group, but the home.  Every family should train their children to love God, love the church, and love the world.  If churches choose to offer additional opportunities for fellowship and Bible study, how is that a bad thing?

I stand firm in my belief that youth ministry is not inherently unbiblical.  As with nearly everything in God’s creation, we can use it to accomplish great things or to bring harm to the body of Christ.  Let us seek to encourage all families and all believers to worship God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbors as themselves.

7 thoughts on “Is youth ministry unbiblical? A defense of local church youth and children ministry

  1. Good article Matt! Too often it seems as if the evangelical community throws the baby out with the bathwater. Someone starts a new program and the Lord blesses his ministry or approach. Before you know it, he has written a book and is doing the preaching circuit encouraging others to implement some new approach or program. May we be careful to understand our context, seek to address the needs of our people and be guided by the Holy Spirit in all things!

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