This is a paper written for my Christian Ministry with Youth course at DTS. The assignment was to write your philosophy of youth ministry and include things like your essential theology, the purpose of youth ministry, and the structure and outcomes of your ideal youth ministry. It is intended to be used in interviews and applications for youth pastor jobs. If nothing else, it will give you a glimpse of what I think about how the church should be run and what the essential doctrines of Christianity are.
The purpose of this work is to tell you about my philosophy when it comes to youth ministry. What do I believe about God, the Bible, reality and the gospel? What do I think is the purpose and role of youth ministry? How would I structure my ideal youth ministry? What are the expected outcomes of such a ministry? These are the questions I answer for you in the following work.
My personal Theological views can best be summarized by the term dispensationalism. I hold to the three sine qua non of dispensationalism which are that (1) the Bible should be interpreted using a plain literal hermeneutic, (2) through the use of that hermeneutic it is clear from the Bible that the Church is distinct from Israel, and (3) that God’s overall purpose is to bring Himself glory.
To supplement what I am about to share, I find the creeds helpful in explaining Trinitarian Theology. In particular, I agree greatly with the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Creed of Chalcedon, and the Athanasian Creed. I believe that God is one existing eternally in three persons: (1) Father, (2) Son, (3) Holy Spirit.
God the Father is the creator of heaven and earth. He is uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal, and Almighty: worthy of praise. He begat the Son. He is co-equal and co-eternal with the other two members of the Godhead, though not separate in essence as to be many gods, but distinct from the other two in person.
God the Son is the savior of mankind from the penalty of their sins. He is uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal, and Almighty: worthy of praise. He was begotten, not made, of the father. He is co-equal and co-eternal with the other two members of the Godhead, though not separate in essence as to be many gods, but distinct from the other two in person. He is also to be acknowledged in two natures, Godhead and Manhood, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures by no means taking away the union of Godhead and Manhood, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two Persons, but one and the same Son. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried. He rose from the dead on the third day and later ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God the Father waiting to return and judge the living and the dead.
God the Holy Spirit is the indwelling guide and helper sent by the Son after His ascension. He is uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal, and Almighty: worthy of praise. He proceeds from the Father. He is co-equal and co-eternal with the other two members of the Godhead, though not separate in essence as to be many Gods, but distinct from the other two in person.
I believe reality was created by God and is an objective and knowable evidence of Him. Much as a sculptor creates a sculpture, God created the heavens and the earth, and everything in them. Unlike a sculptor, he continues to interact with his creation after having created it. The world around us is one of a few sources to search for truth.
Reality is objective, meaning it is not dependent on anything But God for its existence. Reality does not change based on our view of it, and is not created by us. It stands justified and separate from our interpretations ultimately with the purpose of pointing us back to the creator, God.
As stated, reality was created. It was created in the beginning for the purpose of glorifying God. It is not created by our perception of it, and it does not change by our interpretation of it. God created it and the only way for it to change is by his miraculous intervention.
An important point, reality is knowable. Since God created reality with the purpose of pointing people back to Himself that they may glorify Him, we can observe it and come to conclusions about it based on those observations. If those conclusions do not coincide with other revelation from God, the conclusions must be considered wrong and reevaluated. However, the idea that reality is always merely in the eye of the beholder is nonsense. While our observations are never 100% accurate, they can be accurate enough to be held confidently as “known.” The question is not, “Can I know things with 100% certainty?” but “Do I have good reason to believe these observations to be accurate?” The fact that reality is knowable is intrinsically linked with truth. So what is truth?
The best definition of truth I have found is that of Dr. Paul Shockley at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston. “Truth is that which corresponds with reality, identifies things as they actually are, can never fail diminish change or be extinguished, must be able to be expressed in logical propositions, sourced in the God of the Bible, the author of all truth.” To put it more simply, truth is absolute and unwavering. Much like reality, truth simply is. It exists, regardless of our opinions and views and interpretations. We find it in three sure places: Scriptures, Creation, and Jesus of Nazareth.
Verbal Plenary Inspiration
Verbal Plenary Inspiration is the belief that the Holy Scriptures were written by God in His might and through the powerful Holy Spirit, using imperfect humans, their different styles, personalities, and vocabularies to write the perfect and exact text He intended to be written, so that it infallibly stands with the authority of God’s own words, God-breathed.
The scriptures are God-breathed, and are thus, like Him, without error in their original manuscripts. They perfectly convey truth, as defined above. While our copies today have minor errors, they were not present in the original manuscripts and do not in any way affect any core doctrines of Christian faith.
The scriptures are, in this dispensation, the clearest and most authoritative revelation from God. While other forms of revelation are authoritative, they must be checked against the clearer and more easily interpreted revelation of Scripture. Revelations from the Holy Spirit, observations from reality, and the power of Christ in us can convey truth about God, but should always be weighed against the canonized standard of revelation that is the Bible.
Sinfulness of Man
Man was created in relationship with God as mediating stewards of His creation. But Man, by the abuse of his free-will, disobeyed and rebelled against God, chose to worship himself instead of God, sinned. This is called the fall. Man in his fallen state is desperately wicked, a slave to sin. The penalty of that sin is death, which will be and is justly poured out by God on rebellious humanity.
Provision of Christ
God provided a way of escape from the penalty of sin, by belief in his Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Believing that he is the Christ, the son of God, will give life in His name. As I like to say it, “Belief in Christ brings life eternal and life abundant.” Believing in Jesus saves us from the penalty of sins (past, present, and future), which is death (past, present, and future), the curse given to man when we fell.
Youth Ministry Purpose
The Youth ministry has a purpose, but its purpose is nearly identical to that of the Church as a whole. Youth ministries are merely a subsection of the church, created to accommodate culture and to target the needs of those specifically experiencing adolescence, but the purposes remain the same regardless of the age level of those being ministered to. To that end, I have attempted to summarize the purpose of youth ministry, and the Church as a whole, into four E’s: equip, encourage, evangelize, and “ekklesia.”
In Biblical and Theological Knowledge
One of the main purposes of any pastor-teacher, youth or adult, is to teach the whole council of the word of God. Instructing Christians in what the Bible teaches is a core value of mine and my strongest spiritual gift.
In Willingness to Serve
While not all Christians have the spiritual gift of service, all Christians are called to serve, just as with faith and giving. I do this by providing opportunities to serve, teaching students about the biblical mandate of service, and encouraging and rewarding those who do serve.
In Spiritual Discipline
Equipping students to grow spiritually by the practice of the spiritual disciplines is an underlying current in my philosophy. Prayer, study, service, silence, fasting, solitude, and the like are all practical means of mortifying the flesh and vivifying the spirit.
In Forgiveness and Grace
By repeated exposure to the gospel and by displaying forgiveness and grace liberally, students will become more forgiving and gracious. The gospel is the key message here as everywhere. God gives grace and forgiveness so liberally that we must respond in kind to others.
Students to Encourage Peers
Students must be taught to encourage and to practice encouragement. The youth group provides the ideal location for such an endeavor. This is an extremely biblical principal as Paul repeatedly instructs believers to encourage one another and build one another up.
Leaders to Encourage Students
As Paul also taught, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” so students will learn to encourage one another by seeing and being encouraged by leaders. The leaders of the youth set the example.
If youth groups are to be made up of Christians, then evangelizing is a must. Christ’s final instruction was to go and make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey all that he commanded and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without teaching and practicing evangelism amongst their peers, students will not have the foundation of evangelism on which to build later.
Ekklesia is the Greek word for “gathering” or “assembly.” It is the word we translate as “church” in the New Testament. The purpose of it here is to show the necessity of being in the local church on a weekly basis and being part of a local gathering of believers.
Be in Church
Attending weekly services which are operated by a set of traditions is vital to the spiritual growth of a believer and one of the main purposes of a youth group. This allows believers to see others like them and provides opportunities for the three previous purposes to be completed.
Be in Community
Attending a weekly service is not enough for believers to effectively encourage one another in their faith. Meeting outside of this weekly service and being daily involved in one another’s lives is just as important. This community is what we are to encourage and build up. One purpose of the youth ministry is to facilitate this kind of community among teen aged believers.
Be Held Accountable
A by-product of being in community is that those believers you commune with will hold you accountable to the teachings of Christ, thus fulfilling the last part of the great commission to teach obedience to all that he commanded.
Youth Ministry Roles
While the youth ministry has the same purpose as the church as a whole, the methods by which these purposes are accomplished vary. The roles taken on in youth ministry differ slightly from that of the church as a whole in order to better meet the needs of youth. Adolescence is a very unique time in a person’s life and ignoring that fact would be irresponsible. With that in mind, the way ministry is done to this age group should be unique.
Biblically speaking, it is the job of the family to train their children, and the father bears specific responsibility. The church therefore needs to equip parents in the study of the word to train their children in it. It is trickle-down biblical instruction. The youth ministry is, therefore, a secondary means of instruction and training. The youth ministry should only be reinforcing what is already taught at home, and for those cases in which the biblical model of family simply isn’t present (single parents, non-Christian parents, etc.) the youth ministry should act to fill in the gap on a case-by-case basis. We are here to assist, not replace, parents.
Volunteers do the high-touch work of youth ministry. They are the ones having conversations and investing one-on-one time with the students. The volunteers are expected to lead discussions about biblical texts, interact with students at all youth events and be available for students to approach when they have questions or problems.
The students are expected to be involved and grow. The expected outcomes for students are listed in a later section. In general, however, their role is to learn responsibility and function as the church body, in this smaller subsection of the universal church called “youth ministry.”
Paid leaders are primarily responsible for the organization and day-to-day function of the youth ministry. While most of the ideas and planning is done by either students or families, the paid leaders pull the trigger and execute the plan. Paid leaders would be responsible for looking for potential holes in the ministry and for organizing and training the volunteers, parents, and students in any and all aspects of both the youth ministry and the Christian faith. The paid leaders are the ones ultimately responsible for keeping the machine of youth ministry well oiled, but they are not the parts that are being oiled. Parents, Volunteers, students, and families are the parts; paid leaders are the maintenance crew.
Youth Ministry Structure
I have broken down the youth ministry structure into the types of meetings there generally are in a youth group and given the basic justification and idea for each type. All meetings that a youth group has should be thought through in terms of purpose to fulfill some portion of the two main goals of Christianity: making disciples (evangelistic or looking outside the core group) or teaching all that he commanded (edifying or looking inside the core group). All meetings should land on a spectrum that runs from “designed with only non-Christians in mind” to “designed with only Christians in mind,” from evangelism to discipleship.
To my mind a healthy youth group has three weekly meetings. Most churches would recognize and find reasonable a Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night format. Regardless of when these three meetings take place their purposes should be equally varied to accomplish one of the two main goals of Christianity. I use an ankle, waist, and neck metaphor to describe how deep into Christianity each meeting should go. These weekly meetings would be engaging but low-key so as to make them manageable and sustainable on a weekly basis.
The ankle level is the weekly meeting devoted to evangelism and the adding of believers. The only mentions of Christian doctrine would be the gospel: God’s love for sinners and the plan of salvation. The ankle meetings would be designed specifically with the non-Christian in mind. The Bible would only be lightly mentioned as a source of truth, but we wouldn’t be studying things like Christ’s priesthood according to the order of Melchizidek.
The waist level is the weekly meeting that should be designed for the new or newly maturing Christian. It would focus on the basics of the faith and on how to study the Bible. It would deal with apologetic questions that the new believer wonders about as he learns the basic doctrines of Christianity.
The neck level is the weekly meeting that is devoted to the mature and maturing Christian. This is where we would look at the more complex and systematic theologies. We might do a study of end-times or a series on Systematic Theology. We would teach through entire books of the bible exegetically and expect students to keep up.
The particular designation of each meeting is irrelevant. Sunday morning could be ankle, Sunday night could be waist, and Wednesday night could be neck, or the three could be completely reversed and on different days at different times. The point is to stay intentional about helping all Christian maturity levels evenly within a youth Ministry. All three meetings would be open to all, but their purposes would be made clear and unaltered. The neck level meeting would not diminish its depth to accommodate a non-believer showing up; neither would an ankle level meeting be adjusted to deeper waters in a reversed scenario.
It is also reasonable to have one extra meeting for students every month, and of a slightly grander scale. These would be lock-in or day trip sort of events. Again, one of the two Christian goals should be in mind. These events would be designed for either the spiritual growth of believers together, or for evangelistic addition of new members to the group. I use a look-out and look-in system to explain which is which. The idea would be to alternate these each month with a few months off, ideally shooting to have five of each every year.
Look-out Event (Bimonthly)
A look-out event would be something fun like a sports day, or an indoor trampoline party, or a dodgeball tournament or movie night. The purpose would be to create an environment where friends can be invited and the gospel can be presented.
Look-in Event (Bimonthly)
A look-in event would be something more spiritually geared, like a lock-in to build group accountability, or a service project, or a disciple-now weekend. The purpose would be to create spiritual intimacy and growth of community among believers.
Leader Self Evaluation
Every month the youth group leaders should meet to discuss activities that went on, events that did and didn’t work, pray for specific students’ needs and do general ministry housekeeping. The same would be done on an annual basis to look at the year and see what changes should be made for the next. Specific student leaders would periodically be included in these meetings.
The summer trip would be more evangelistically focused. It would be a missions-based trip, a week or longer, to assist in either planting or growing a small church. It would focus around evangelism and the building of the body of Christ in a different context than home. The destination would be determined by a committee of students and parents.
The winter trip would be more inwardly focused on building community and camaraderie. Something like a ski-trip or mountain-getaway would be ideal. Again, students and parents would supply ideas for destinations and itineraries.
Leader Self Evaluation
Every year the leaders of the youth group would do a self-evaluation and take a look at what needs to be adjusted in the youth ministry. This would also be the time to discuss shifts in leadership, volunteers who need to take time off, and other things as they come up.
Family Self Evaluation
Every year an open forum with only parents would be held to discuss the state of the youth group and, in particular, target any problems they see. This would be a time to make sure parents feel heard by the youth-group leadership. As explained in the “Roles” section, the youth ministry is to assist the parents, not the other way around.
Youth Ministry Outcomes
When asked what the ideal “graduate” of my youth ministry would be, I would respond with four adjectives followed by the word Christian: (1) Virtuous, (2) Responsible, (3) Biblically-Minded, and (4) Maturing.
Virtues are, unfortunately, no longer taught in schools or in churches. I appreciate the older writers who outlined the seven Christian virtues, four cardinal and three theological. They are prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, faith, hope, and charity. These virtues are character traits I would want all graduating students to exemplify.
The Four Cardinal Virtues
Prudence has to do with wisdom. A prudent man displays foresight and discretion. Temperance has to do with curbing one’s appetite, and not just with food. He shows restraint and chooses to follow God’s instructions instead of his own urges. Fortitude has to do with courage. A man with fortitude will stand up for his own beliefs in the face of opposition and will defend the defenseless. Justice has to do with fairness in the eyes of God. A just man follows God’s word, displays mercy in all cases, but does not remove responsibility from his judgments.
The Three Theological Virtues
Faith, hope and charity are the last three. The object of our faith and hope is Jesus the Christ. He is powerful and trustworthy and we hope in God’s provision to save us from the penalty of our sins in Christ. Charity, or love, is the commitment of the will to the true good of another. It means giving to those in need, helping wherever one can and all in a self-sacrificing way.
Graduating students will display responsibility. They will show they are ready for adulthood. Responsibility with money, time, and commitments are very important. Even more important than these practical areas of responsibility, are the areas of ideas and grace. Graduating students will know the power of ideas and know to handle ideas carefully. Likewise, they will know the power of grace and display it liberally, thus reflecting their heavenly Father.
Graduates will be biblically minded. This means they will have a biblical worldview and hold to the basic Christian doctrines as outlined above. They will recognize the independent nature of morality and truth and will know what the love and forgiveness of God is, hopefully having experienced it for themselves by the time they graduate. They will learn to test what they hear against what the Bible says, comparing what people say in the name of God to the word of God.
I say maturing Christians instead of mature Christians because there is no stopping point for Christian maturity, and a maturing Christian knows that. A maturing Christian is one who is self-motivated in their faith. They practice the spiritual disciplines, display the fruit of the Spirit, and know how to read the Bible in context and apply it correctly to their lives. They are active in service and morally upstanding, showing grace and forgiveness liberally in all situations. They are impossible to offend, and have a winsome disposition that draws others into the love of Christ. All of this is given by the grace of God and experienced through the constant repetition and recognition of the Gospel. Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.
In essence, I see youth ministry as a subsection or microcosm of the universal church and I would treat it that way. Since people do more worldview forming in in these ages than any other, it is a vital time to teach the truth and explain the doctrines of Christianity in a learnable way. More than any other stage of life youth is a time when new connections are made about life, the world, and God and it is a time I would seize to answer those questions without a moment’s hesitation.