At Covenant Harvest Church we have a variety of activity for youth (teens and college age) that you can check out and be involved in. What do we believe about youth ministry etc? One of the most important things that motivate us at CHC is something that lies at the heart of the New Covenant’s design for family (brought into God’s people through Jesus Christ). The prophet Malachi announces this at the close of the Old Testament.
Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. (6) “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.&
It’s all about family
God’s heart and design for His people regarding family, youth etc is the strengthening and restoration of relationships between parents and children. God is a family God. Long before people came on the scene, God was a family, and the whole concept of family began with Him.
Ephesians 3:14-15 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, (15) from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name
He knows how family was designed and how it works the best. We must build our concepts of church and family on the word of God. The church is designed on the premise of family. The church is a family made of up of individual families joined together by God.
All youth ministry should be operating on the concept of family. Youth groups as we know them today didn’t exist in the Bible, but family does. Youth ministry shouldn’t replace or be a substitute for family life and relationships. It should work to strengthen family relationships between youth and parents.
Unbiblical ideas of youth ministry
When we consider the whole idea of youth ministry in the church, we come up with many interesting, yet unbiblical, ideas.
- Some see youth leaders and ministry like party organizers whose job is to keep spiritually apathetic teens interested in God and church.
- Some see the goal of youth leaders and ministry to keep teens in touch with God through meetings, activities, retreats etc.
- Some see youth ministry as a way to keep communication open with teens because it “naturally” breaks down with parents during those years. Youth leaders provide our teens with someone “cool enough” that our teens want to relate to.
These are just a few of the ideas that have little Biblical basis. When you boil it down, the heart of most mistaken ideas about youth ministry has to do with parental involvement.
For youth ministry to achieve God-designed purposes it cannot be approached institutionally apart from family. There is a problem any time we approach the things of God institutionally whether it be the church, school, or youth groups. Institutionalism is when we begin to rely on any organization more than, or to the exclusion of, relationships and family. Youth groups and ministry cannot replace the God-designed relationships of parents.
There is something important we need to keep in mind: parents, not youth pastors, are God’s anointed vessels of training, discipling, and befriending teens. When youth leaders cultivate a relationship where they are the primary source of counsel and instruction for teens then we are usurping the most Biblical channel of discipleship in their lives: their parents.
We need to realize in the house of God that Mom and Dad are the teen’s first source of counsel, relationship, and training. This puts an important pressure on parents. The pressure is to be godly. If the parents are half-hearted in their commitment to God, or they seek the Kingdom second or third instead of first as Jesus desires then the corresponding effect on the teens will be spiritually negative.
Does this idea regarding youth ministry mean that young people have no other source of influence in their lives? What about youths that have dysfunctional or no family (single parent homes etc)? The church is an extended family in which others have influence in each other’s lives. Like Jesus said in Mark 10:29-39 when we come into the family of God we receive many mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. We also see in Titus chapter 2 that older saints are to influence younger saints in the ways of life serving God. The church provides an extended spiritual family that is designed by God to have positive influence in the lives of youth. Yet all of this doesn’t minimize the primary influence of parents and youth.
We desire to see parent (both natural and spiritual) and teen involvement in youth ministry. Instead of just having a “drop them off at the youth meeting” mentality, parents should be involved. In customary youth ministry this would seem to be a death blow. After all, teenagers don’t want their parents around their world. This isn’t a Biblical concept but one born out of the generation gap mentality that we readily accept in our culture. In the Bible, however, we see the generations together. It is multigenerational with on generation influencing the other.
Dad and Mom (both natural and spiritual) are missing out on opportunities for rich and meaningful times with their teens with an institutional approach to youth ministry. By being involved, parents hear what their teens are being taught and experiencing in God. They get to know their friends, worship and pray together, and observe their teens in interaction with their peers.
Where did the contemporary phenomenon of the idea of “teenager” (isolated from parents and adults by generation gaps) come from?
It didn’t exist prior to World War II. If you read older publications or talk with people living before WW II teenagers were often referred to as boys, girls, kids, young people, adolescents, and youths.
In the 1934 Webster’s dictionary – only the adjective “teen-age” is listed. It was a word used simply to describe someone in a particular stage in life: a “teen-age” girl, as opposed to a “middle-age” man. Not until his 1961 Webster’s is “teenager” used as a noun. So what happened during those 27 years that changed society’s view of adolescents?
The idea of “teenager” came into being as youths, over a period of time, drifted further and further from adults. As they were left to spend more and more unsupervised time with their peers, an entire subculture was born with its own styles and music. Even the increasing availability of the automobile helped further transport youths away from older generations to be with their peers. You could say that the separation of the generations helped create teenagers.
Look at the classic films of James Dean, especially in “Rebel Without A Cause”, where “Jimmy” had to face his life’s trials alone due to his contumacious mother and helpless father. Also, books like “Catcher in the Rye” where the character Salinger taught young readers to trust no one over 14. Rock and Roll music coming on the scene in the 50s became the music of the “teenage subculture.” I even read a quote attributed to rocker David Crosby expressing how some have made it their goal to rip parents and teens apart:
“I figured that the only thing to do was steal their kids. I still think it’s the only thing to do. By saying that, I’m not talking about kidnapping; I’m just talking about changing people’s value systems, which removes them from their parents’ world very effectively.”
Restoration in the Family of God
In God’s House we desire to see the design of God for family and youth ministry restored to a more Biblical design.
What we want to see imparted in Youth Ministry at CHC
Here are some positive elements we want to see worked into our teens in youth ministry.
- Biblical fellowship where friendship is seen as a means to an end, i.e. conformity to Jesus Christ.
- Biblical teaching relevant to this season of life that challenges equips and motivates teens to repent of sin, give their lives away to others, and grow in passion for God and His church.
- The building of meaningful brother/sister friendships with the same and opposite sex.
- Growth in character that comes from wisely and courageously responding to differing standards, values, and convictions within a peer group setting.
- Fun and memory-making experiences of learning, laughing, and serving with peers during the teen years.
- Opportunities to serve the church and the community in practical ways as a group
Things we do not want to see imparted into youth ministry.
- Peer dependence rooted in an unbiblical striving for acceptance and significance.
- Faulty foundations in relationships leading to jealousies, gossip, cliques, and rejection of anyone who doesn’t &fit in.&
- Unbiblical ways of relating to the opposite sex leading to flirting, emotion-based relationships, compromise, and a &who likes who& environment of manipulation and competition.
- Serve-me mentality that looks to the youth ministry and its leader for entertainment and spiritual instruction that will keep me/my teen involved in the church due to his or her spiritual apathy.
- We desire to see youth ministry supportive of the family structure and the parent/teen relationship in particular We want to labor together to see teens develop the maturity and character to resist the natural pull toward peer conformity.
Does a &parent + teen& family approach to youth work? It’s certainly not the way to build the largest youth ministry in town. Pizza and football and a hip youth pastor will work better for that purpose. If Malachi 4:5-6 is the goal then this may be a good way to go.
What about relationships with the opposite sex? Dating and Courtship
At Covenant Harvest Church we encourage families to embrace a more Biblical approach to male female relationships among teens usually identified by the term “courtship” instead of casual dating as we know it culturally.
What do we mean by casual dating? The dictionary defines “casual” as “happening by chance, without definite or serious intention, or uncertain.” This, in and of itself, shows one of the problems with casual dating as we know it. It has little direction or intention other than self-serving motives.
Here is how the casual dating game works in our society. You see someone of the opposite sex you feel a romantic or lustful attraction towards, so you arrange to spend intimate time with them usually in a private setting. When you have a romantic attraction towards someone of the opposite sex you begin to spend intimate time together; then when you no longer feel that way you break up. This can be a recipe for disaster.
Even in the Christian landscape we see similar approaches with young Christian couples dating. It is often marked by selfishness, and pushing the boundaries of purity. Instead of the relationship centering on God, it often exists for short-term romantic gratification. A more Godly approach can help avoid this.
I think it’s helpful to distinguish between undefined and directionless romance (casual dating) and relationships that are purposefully headed toward marriage (courtship). After all, in the Bible romance was designed to be set in committed relationships around marriage. Random romance expressed with a number of different people (even if no sex is involved) wouldn’t be a Biblical idea.
Distinctions between courtship and dating
- Courtship requires age-readiness for marriage. Dating usually allows younger teens premature access to the type of committed, male/female relationships that should be reserved for courtship or marriage.
- Courtshiup presupposes the possibility of mature love relationship that will lead to engagement. Dating makes no such assumption. Dating is more about a good time in the here and now.
- Courship considers factors beyond just the couple, such as parents, family, and extended family, belief systems, values, and personal convictions. Dating has no such consideration. It is usually confined to a single, narrow activity, the dates themselves.
- Courtship is a means to an end, engagement and marriage. Dating is usually an end in itself. Courtship is the prelude to a possible engagement. Its purpose is to provide a couple with time to discover, assess, and evaluate their compatibility in God as a lifelong marriage partner. Courtship isn’t a time of experimentation but of exploration.
What is the heart of the whole matter of the distinction between courtship and dating? Is it self-centered or God-centered? To have a right foundation in any relationship it should have God’s glory as the ultimate purpose. Jesus never had to face the topic of dating (it wasn’t in that culture), yet He answered our question about the right way to handle relationships by answering the broader question of the right way to live life. Jesus said what really matters in life is to love God with every fiber of our being – heart, soul, mind, strength – and to let that love spill over into the way we treat our fellow man.
In potential romantic relationships the question that needs to be answered is “does it exist for God’s glory?” Secondly we need to consider how you can look out for the good of the other person? Like Jesus said it is about loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Casual dating usually fails on both issues. It usually has little responsible direction and additionally it puts young people in a dangerous position to violate God’s order for purity.
A young person in the prime of hormones spending intimate romantic time with someone they are attracted to invites great temptation. The people who created the “True Love Waits” program found this out in follow-up statistics of their program after 10 years found that 88% of the people who signed the purity cards went on to have sexual intercourse before marriage. It takes more than just a program, decisions, and purity cards. There needs to be safe and responsible boundaries established by parents and God’s family.
Parents need to help guide our youth into more God glorifying and responsible ways of relating with the opposite sex. Until a teen is close to being ready to consider heading toward marriage why not keep things on a friendship level in the safety of group activities. This will allow for a more natural relating as friends and remove the temptation of intimate romantic time together.
When our teens approach the season of time and maturity in their lives to consider moving toward God’s will concerning marriage, then they can approach things in a responsible, God glorifying manner with the involvement of parents and the family of God. This can help them avoid broken hearts and sexual promiscuity.