by Gerald D. Reimer, Director of Youth and Discipleship
The concept of “youth ministry” began as a para-church ministry by Youth For Christ and Young Life in high schools across the U.S. in the 1940s. Their mission—to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith—remains to this day.
By the early 70’s churches began hiring their own youth pastors to bring this ministry into their midst. Sadly, by the time the 80’s rolled around the pressure was on to provide MTV-style entertainment to attract more students. And with this came a gradual loss of the discipleship-focus that generated the ministry in the first place.
I’d like to suggest that though youth ministry fads still come and go, the focus in most evangelical churches is once again on discipleship, particularly as we’ve become aware of students falling through the cracks in life transitions both in their early teens as well as early adulthood. This was reported on in the Hemorrhaging Faith research done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada back in 2012 and their follow-up project in 2018 called Renegotiating Faith.
Recently, researchers at the University of Buffalo completed a study of young adults who had experienced difficult circumstances during school-aged years. Subjects consistently indicated that they had wanted adults to stick with them and not give up on them. Isn’t that what Jesus does with us as he shows us consistent mercy and grace? (cpyuparentpage.com – December 2018)
This past October, EMC youth pastors and leaders met at Camp Cedarwood in Manitoba for our biennial youth leaders’ retreat. Among the many topics formally and informally discussed throughout the weekend were the importance of discipleship, of mentoring relationships, of gospel-centred teaching, and of helping our students fall deeper in love with Jesus and integrate that faith into their lives.
I’m thankful to report that the majority of youth ministry in our EMC churches looks very much like this. Generally speaking, gone are the days of entertainment-based programming, Jesus-lite teaching, and games night every other week. Most weeks you’ll find students meeting with youth leaders in small groups as they dig deeper into God’s Word after the teaching time.
You’ll definitely hear laughter and chatter, but you’ll also hear thoughtful questions as students learn what following Jesus looks like in their daily lives. You’ll hear songs of worshipful praise and sometimes quiet sobs as burdens are shared and fellow students and leaders pray for one another. And maybe the most amazing thing you won’t hear is leaders apologizing for doing life-on-life relational ministry that focuses on Jesus above all else.
Our youth pastors and leaders give up hundreds of hours of their “free” time each year to spend with your son or daughter. They want to make a difference and they don’t want to “waste” time simply playing games or babysitting your child. They are called to something greater and so are the students. And that is why your leaders want to partner with you to provide support however they can.
In a few months youth leaders will be taking your students to another discipleship weekend, our national youth event called Abundant Springs on May 17-20, 2019 (abundantsprings.ca). Talk to your leaders and make sure your kids and grandkids are part of that weekend. And thank your leaders for their service!