What is the correct view of youth ministry that youth pastors, youth workers, and churches should have when they do ministry to teenagers? Youth Ministry in the 21st Century attempts to answer that question by bring together five influential leaders in the youth ministry world and having them each share their conviction as to what is the best “view” of youth ministry. Each author passionately shares his view of what youth ministry should look like and then the other authors get the chance to respond to that view. The views and responses are both detailed and honest, but handled with respect and appreciation for the other views. Chap Clark, who serves as the editor, compares Youth Ministry in the 21st Century to an earlier book he was part of called Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church. Clark expresses his gratitude for that work but rightly argues that as youth ministry has moved forward and new issues among teenagers in our world has surfaced it is time for a new conversation to emerge about what youth ministry should look like. Youth Ministry in the 21st Century serves as that new conversation and it’s a good one!
Greg Stier offers the first view, which is “The Gospel Advancing View of Youth Ministry.” Stier holds to the conviction that youth ministry is about developing students who will be “world changers” for Christ. Taken from Jesus ministry (the Gospels) and the book of Acts, Stier paints the picture that youth ministry is introducing students to Jesus and then training them to go out and share the message of the Gospel. Stier says, “If we really want teenagers to be like Jesus, then we must cultivate in them a driving passion to reach the lost” (page 5). Stier also says, “The goal here is not more evangelistic programs but nurturing teenagers to live and give the Gospel in word and deed in their spheres of influence” (page 5). One may wonder where Stier puts helping students grow in their faith when it comes to this view of youth ministry. He doesn’t ignore that facet of youth ministry, but believes that the most spiritual growth in teenagers lives happen when they share their faith and focus on the mission to reach the lost.
The second view, offered by Brian Cosby, is “The Reformed View of Youth Ministry.” Cosby picks an interesting title for his view that leads the reader to think more about reformed theology than a view of youth ministry. Cosby, who holds to the reformed tradition, doesn’t necessarily give a view that’s tied to that tradition but there is no doubt that tradition influences his view. In the reformed view of youth ministry, the focus starts with God not the teenagers. Cosby argues most youth ministries emphasizes “Home Depot Theology” – “You can do it, God can help.” He debunks that false view by arguing the emphasis of youth ministry must be God working in and through the teenagers hearts to change them. Cosby argues that youth ministry needs to move away from entertainment and focus on a methodology of practicing historic “means of grace” – ministry of the Word, prayer, sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper), service, and Gospel community. Cosby argues these are the practices that should shape youth ministry.
Chap Clark offers the third view, which is “The Adoption View of Youth Ministry.” In this view, youth ministry is seen as part of the larger church body. It’s not a separate church of younger people but a ministry of the church to help nurture the faith of teenagers. However, those teenagers should and must be “adopted” into the larger body of Christ through relationships, service, mentoring, and worship. Clark argues that the way to help teenagers posses a life-long faith (one that doesn’t fade away when they graduate the youth group and go to college) is by connecting them to the church. Clark says, “I contend that the primary reason we have lost so many of the hearts and investment of our young when they leave the confines of the high school routine is that we have failed to provide them with the most vital resource they possessed in Christ: the God-given faith community” (page 75). The adoption view of youth ministry strives to make sure teenagers are a part of the larger church community so that even when they graduate the youth program they have a place to belong, grow, and serve.
The fourth view, offered by Fernando Arzola, is quite out of place in my opinion. The view Arzola offers is “The Ecclesial View of Youth Ministry.” This view argues that “Protestant youth ministry has all but deleted ecclesiology from its theological radar” (page 113). This views argues that teenagers should be taught church history and should experience their faith with the backdrop of what has taken place in the church in the past. To be honest (and this seems to be a point made in the responses) I don’t understand what this view looks like practically when it comes to being a view of youth ministry. I appreciate the argument and believe teenagers should be taught how God has worked in the history of the church but to call this an entire “view” of youth ministry is a bit too much.
The fifth view shared in this book is from Ron Hunter and is called “The D6 View of Youth Ministry.” Hunter, who founded D6 and is helping bring a very Biblical family ministry approach to the church, argues that youth ministry should be a partnership between the family and the church to nurture students in their faith. The D6 view is built upon God’s commands in Deuteronomy 6 (and Ephesians 6) for the parents to be the primary leaders of their kid spiritual development. The youth pastor and the church should train, equip, and resource the parents but should never take the place of them. This view, much like the emphasis of ministries like Orange, believes ministry to teenagers is done best when the parents and church partner together.
After reading this book I did not come away with the conviction that one of these five views is right and all the other ones were wrong. Instead I came away with a much greater understanding of the scope of youth ministry and an appreciation for the different views of how to do youth ministry. As I reflect on the views I come to a place of realization that all of these five views offer a piece of the greater youth ministry puzzle. One view doesn’t cover all the complexities of ministering to teenagers in our world but they do all offer a significant piece to the overall puzzle. For example, in my opinion and in light of this book, youth ministry must have a great commission focus (reaching students with the Gospel and sending them out to reach others) [Gospel Advancing View] and should be built upon Biblical practices such as preaching/teaching, prayer, service, and Gospel community [Reformed View] while making teenagers a vital part of the church community (Adoption View). This should all be done in partnership with families as we help them fulfill their God-give role to disciple their kids [D6 View].
This is a youth ministry book I would put in the hands of anyone who is currently in or preparing to be in full-time youth ministry. It will sharpen and guide those of us who want to be faithful to God and His Word as we strive to build a strategy for youth ministry in our context.