Youth and College Ministry: is it biblical?

In the past week, I’ve been getting questions and inquiries about the legitimacy of age-segregated church from a variety of different people. I wonder if they are trying to tell me something! (ahem…”quit your job, Lazo”)

Anyway, I haven’t devoted too much attention to the questions–probably my bias as a college pastor precluding–until a recent link was sent my way. The video below is a documentary attempting to exposes the unbiblical notion of youth ministry, children’s ministry, and even college ministry. It’s fielded by some heavy hitters (Paul Washer, R.C. Sproul Jr., Chuck Bomar), and boasts that age-oriented times of teaching, study, and worship are foreign to the Scriptures, a result of paganism, and are actually the cause of the growing attrition rate between High School graduation and college.

Some of the points they make are sobering. Of course, I disagree with their conclusions, and am not ready to end Adorn anytime soon. But perhaps my bias is a liability?

I was hoping to hear your thoughts on this. I am open and ready!

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the worth of Jesus in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People or An Orthodoxy That Breathes

Posted on July 30, 2011, in Church and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 51 Comments.

  1. There’s a great book by Voddie Baucham called “Family Driven Faith”. In chapter 9, he deals with this issue boldly. “I believe the modern American practice of systematic age segregation goes beyond the biblical mandate…I believe the church’s emphasis ought to be on equipping parents to disciple their children instead of doing on their behalf.” I agree. My parents didn’t disciple me. Instead they sent me to junior high and high school groups where I learned to socialize with other awkward teenagers whose parents were hoping the church would do their job for them. There was a lot of entertainment, emotional preaching about morality and some bible mixed in to support the youth pastor’s topic. Most of the people from that group are not walking with the Lord today. But, when I went to Santa Barbara, I found the bible teachings of Ricky Ryan and Britt Merrick restored life to the bible and awakened a passion in me for the Word. I think Britt was led by the spirit in Reality going from being a college ministry to a full on Church for all ages. Going to a church is better than a college ministry because there young people who don’t have parents that disciple them are not only getting sound bible teachings but they are seeing families that are living the biblical mandate of family discipleship. While I got sound teaching from Britt at the college ministry, I got a more full church experience at CC where I met families. I’m glad the Lord led Britt to be a pastor of a church and that may be the path of Adorn.

    • Yes, Baucham is mentioned in the documentary. My question is, when do people reach the age where it is the pastor’s duty to disciple them, instead of their parents? 14? 18? 21? 50?

      I can see the validity of your story. Church should never replace the biblical function of family, rather, it should reinforce and equip it.

      I should also mention, I have a different story than yours. I was actually saved in a college ministry in Santa Cruz about a decade ago. Not only that, but I was discipled by the men in that group, and as a result, now walk with the Lord, and am in full-time ministry. What’s more, I have a wonderful relationship with my parents! They were both instrumental in my life. In other words, it was both/and for me. Not either/or.

      My second question is in regards to the morphing of a college ministry into its own church. At Reality, that would entail Adorn moving away from Reality, in order to start its own congregation. Not only is this unnecessary (2/3 of Adorn are apart of Sunday gathering), but it would actually hurt my church—the college ministry would steal the younger demographic away to start a new gathering. Rather than that, Adorn has a calling to bless the main gathering. We are not called to be a separate functioning body apart from Reality, but simply one of its fingers, existing only to bless the whole. This is why I see youth/college ministries as an asset to the church.

      On an ending note, Britt never would have started Reality church if he had not first started Reality college ministry.

      Thanks for your comments, brother. It’s making me wrestle.

  2. I am writing this from work so I have not watched the video. That being said I have this to say on the issue. Simply because something is not modeled in the New Testament does not instantly negate its usefulness. There are many para-church organizations that we don’t necessarily see in the New Testament that are beneficial such as mission organizations. But there are also several things in scripture that we see that were cultural such as women wearing head coverings in church ( 1 Corinthians 11). So as this living organism called the church continues to exist alongside culture things will not necessarily remain the same as far as our methods for reaching the lost and preaching and teaching. So it would make sense that a certain age group would get together to meet who have similar struggles and are at similar places in their lives in order to learn and grow in a context that is most suited for their group. The danger however is when this becomes the only thing that someone goes to and they only do something with youth group or in our case Adorn. The problem would be that it can become a “church within a church” in that there is no discipleship from the older generations to the younger as modeled from Titus 2. In that we do ourselves a great disservice if we only look to our peers for guidance. Some of my greatest times of growth have come from sitting down with men who are much older than myself both in age and walking with the Lord and just listening to how the Lord has walked them through my current struggles. So in a sense I can see the validity to some of their arguments but there is this tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water all too often that is unhealthy.

    • Jared, well said, bro. Especially this…

      Simply because something is not modeled in the New Testament does not instantly negate its usefulness.

      I agree that a college ministry (e.g. Adorn) should work hard to benefit the church body, instead of attempt to function as its own entity. Adorn is, after all, Reality church. And a college ministry is under the umbrella of its church, not independent of it.

      Thanks for the balance.

      • Simply because something negates the bible instantly negates its usefulness. We wrestle with that question. Does age segregation negate the biblical model of family discipleship? The problem isn’t so much the church but the parents, so we ask how the church can more effectively reach out to the parents first rather than simply reach out to the youth.

        • “Simply because something negates the bible instantly negates its usefulness”

          Apples and oranges, John. The Bible does not negate having a gathering for teens.

      • Chris, I was just saying that when teen groups become a problem by substituting for the parents role and giving the parents a false security that their job is done, then they actually negate the biblical mandate of the parents. That’s all.

  3. Regarding age-specific ministries, I don’t know if they’re “biblical” or not, but depending on a number of variables, they can be both beneficial and hurtful.

    We have children’s ministry in order to minister to kids at an age-appropriate level in an age appropriate context. Beneficial.

    The issue gets a lot more dicey when we create these alternative ministries for anyone other than kids.

    The danger is having youth or college ministries that become “church” as has already been pointed out. Where its completely unnecessary is when there’s no reason WHY and we have those ministries but we do it because “that’s just what we do.” Age-specific ministries, like everything else, have to answer the question why. If these same people can be part of the larger church gathering, why have a side ministry just for them? The body has been unnecessarily broken up. Hurtful.

    But let’s say there’s a very traditional church that wants to reach the youth and college age and they think a “contemporary” alternative ministry (or service) is just what the doctor ordered. It could be argued that this is prime situation for such a ministry to exist. The church is now able to reach a broader audience. Beneficial?

    But what do the attendees do when they are “over-age?” They’re not likely to remain at that church. What might have been beneficial just became hurtful.

    If we argue that age-specific ministries are hurtful because the younger need the older and the older need the younger. What about churches that have congregations of a predominantly similar demographic? I pastor in a church where the average age is about 28. I am willing the accept that our church suffers for it.

    Because our church is made up of younger people, we don’t have a college ministry. What would be the point? They can gather with the rest of us in our larger Sunday gatherings. Any college ministry we did wouldn’t be any different anyway.

    Because our church is predominantly young adults, there are not that many teenagers. These teenagers do attend our Sunday gatherings, but we have a weekly Bible study for them. The reason why is to essentially provide them with some community with one another in a Jesus-centered environment.

    These are just some of my thoughts and a glimpse of our context, but take it for what it’s worth – I met Jesus at a college-age ministry.

    • I agree with you, in that there are upsides as well as downsides with age-specific ministries. However if the church is truly growing as a whole, then there is always middle stages or transitions when one becomes “Over-age” as you said. There is steps to transition from a ‘contemporary’ service to a more transitional style. If you are preaching the Bible is God’s word and by definition absolute truth then the style of worship or age groups doesn’t matter, because the message of the Gospel is timeless. Just my thoughts.

  4. Thanks Chris. I’ve been blessed by your teachings all the way up here in norcal. I think their point is mostly valid with children in the home, especially teenagers. I agree with Jared. I would just ad that it is an effective short term strategy while non age segregated is a long term strategy. So people get to have a group where they can identify with more common struggles but in a non age segregated church they get both the people their age they relate to now and also the model of older people that they will eventually become. I agree, there is a danger that people will substitute the youth ministry for the Church. I was invited to teach sunday school at my church. You can imagine how I’m wrestling with a decision now

  5. In other words, imagine a man is lying on an emergency room table, bleeding internally. However, the man has a prominent growth on the side of his head. While the growth needs attention, it will be useless to fix it if you don’t stop the bleeding. College ministries treat the growth on the head, but if that is all we do then we ignore the internal bleeding, children who aren’t discipled by their parents are leaving the church. College ministry is a great addition to a church but is in serious danger of becoming a substitute for the real needed solution. The church must disciple the parents to disciple their children in the home.

    • I do not believe this needs to be an “either or” situation. Parents should be encouraged to disciple their children and train them in the way that they should go. That is biblical and right and honoring to Jesus. But the truth is that that often does not happen. Age specific groups such as youth group and college ministries should not look to be a replacement for that but an enhancment to. also this brings up a point of what about those who do not live in a Christian home and all they can do is go to youth group because their parents would never take them to church on sundays. So both are good and necessary.

    • I appreciate your analogy of the emergency room, and it is very true that church is the primary tool of Jesus for broken people. But in your illustration you are inferring that 1) college ministry is good 2) but it could be dangerous 3) therefore, we shouldn’t do college ministry. That’s a non-sequitur–it doesn’t follow that because something may be dangerous, that we shouldn’t do it. Corporate gatherings and mid-week age-oriented gatherings can work together. You seem to be turning the two against each other in your comments, and I guess I just don’t see that happening in our local gathering at Reality.

  6. Everyone should do their job. Whether they be parents, pastors, or the people, they are all disciples first. Disciples make disciples. Whatever point of contact a person has with disciples of Jesus Christ, there should be discipleship going on.

    • Good point. Parents are the primary means of discipleship, but they are not the only people that can be effective in a teens life.

  7. jnrichard, I disagree that “all they can do is go to youthgroup”. If their parents don’t take them, they should go to church so they can see the model of families. Junior high and highschool groups are a problem. College ministry is only a problem if it becomes the replacement.

  8. John, of course all of this is hypothetical but I knew plenty of kids whose parents did not know Jesus and would only allow them to go to youth group because they did not see it as them taking their kids to church.

  9. I am eager to see this movie in it’s entirety. I think I am going to be with you, Chris, in that, I enjoy the findings but disagree with the conclusions.

    Church needs to be missional. If we’re going to be missional, we have to be in tune with what God wants to do in the context he has us in. I believe this is where we’ve gotten in trouble with youth ministry. Not that youth ministries are wrong, but that they aren’t always right. We’ve planted churches with the mentality of “God wants a youth group!” rather than “Does God want a youth group?”

    I also believe that rather than praying through what youth ministry is going to look like where God has us, we take what is working somewhere else and try to duplicate it exactly. It worked for them there, so it’s going to work for us here. Neglecting that culture very much exists within youth also, and the same way that church is going to look much different in Tijuana than in Hollywood and both different than it would in Compton, youth ministry needs to adapt and be prayed through different contexts based on location, time, church, culture.

    I don’t believe anyone can ever replace the role of the family in raising a child to fear God. In the same way, no one can replace the role of the pastor in ministering to the child whether directly or indirectly, whether it be through equipping the parents by the teaching of the word or through his assistant pastors. I don’t believe it should be either parent or pastor, where one get’s done with the discipleship and hands it off to the other, this put’s too much pressure on them and put’s them in the position of saviour and lord. Rather I believe God does the raising and uses the parent as a tool, and the pastor as a tool. Never replacing one with the other at any point.

    What has been losing young adults from the church isn’t youth ministry in and of itself, but youth ministry that replaces parenthood. How this is corrected must be done within the context of the church.

  10. jnrichard, thanks for clarifying your statement into what I believe is the most compelling argument for age segregated church. While I believe this current model is damaging for believing families, it does have a helpful role in unbelieving families. I think it is better for a child with unbelieving parents to go to the actual church and sit with a family than go to a separate youth room, but like you said, what about the kids who’s parents wont take them to church but see the social club as non threatening to their anti christian mindset? I don’t have any answer for that but something to think about. I suppose it could actually be an argument for why mid week church services should take down the age barriers and let it be a place for families to invite the friends of their children.

    • This seems just as pragmatic as having a youth group. What it sounds like you’re saying is that if we can just get families to physically sit together and hear the same thing, everything will fall into place. Taken to its farthest conclusion, we would NEVER let kids hangout with each other unless families were always present. This of course, doesn’t happen, and it shouldn’t have to be either/or. A teenager can learn in a family setting on one day and learn with teens another day, can they not? To give more regard to who is present in the room or not sounds dangerously formulaic.

  11. Sorry, I didn’t express myself more clearly. I’m all for the college ministry and think it is a wonderful thing. The only thing I would encourage you to do is be wary of the substitution mindset. To refer to the analogy, the tumor on the head must be removed, college ministry is necessary. But if all we are treating is the visible tumor and not the internal bleeding, we allow a substitution mindset to continue, the parents trusting others to do their job for them, discipleship. So I completely agree with the both/and, just as long as we maintain the biblical mandate of parents discipling their children. It’s bigger than instituting a formula, it’s a whole paradigm shift. We need to address the primary role of the parent to disciple their children and make sure we are not hindering that role by offering a substitution. Sorry I sound more argumentative than I am. It isn’t an either/or what I am saying or what you are saying. I agree with both what you are saying and what I am. Does that make more sense?

  12. Chris, if some 50 year old couples began showing up at Adorn saying, “we love being around the young people, seeing their passion and being encouraged”, would you discourage them?

  13. I think the Family Churches aren’t being legalistic, they are just doing the same thing as you saying, let’s not forbid children from being in the church service, let’s not send them off to another room. If it’s a midweek thing, that’s another deal, but I agree with their view that Sunday church should be one room and not segregated. But I don’t think their point applies to college ministry, only that it shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for Sunday.

  14. Interesting stuff. I generally agree that they raise some important and sobering ideas but that their conclusions are off base, and I say this as a youth pastor in Santa Barbara and a former college pastor in San Diego. The crises they raise are legitimate, but I agree with some other comments here that suggest they are throwing the baby out with the bath water. In working with high school students I am seeing right in front of me the importance of making sure that parents are training up their children (something I admittedly have been somewhat ignorant of since I grew up with non-Christian parents and came to faith in high school). Rick Lawrence’s comments in the movie were right on. Youth pastors can’t out influence parents, and if Christian parents aren’t discipling their kids but they are sending them to youth group, that is a model that will not produce much success. In that sense good youth ministry necessarily involves not just parental involvement but parent ministry and training.

    I completely agree that families need to be “reunited”, and that fathers in particular need to take a much more active role in discipling their children, I’m not so sure that doing away with youth ministry would be necessary or even helpful to achieve that end. Furthermore, it really seems like they are misinterpreting Deuteronomy 6 by suggesting that ministry is to happen only in the nuclear family, when in reality the passage is telling the people of God that they are collectively responsible for raising up their young people in faith (and there were plenty of other examples in the film of “creative hermenuetics”.

    While I came away from the film with a number of objections, probably the most important one is that I don’t know that they dealt adequately with the reality that unchurched teenagers are more likely to show up at youth group than they are at church (at least that has been my experience and the experience of every other youth pastor I’ve known). Youth ministry can be an excellent vehicle for integrating young people into the church, but I would tend to agree with the filmmaker that when youth ministry is separated from the church entirely it can do more harm than good. A solid youth ministry can and should be a great front door to the church.

    I think the issues that this film raises get a bit trickier when it comes to college ministry. At my last church I started a college and young adult ministry that was pretty successful in terms of drawing a lot of people, but as I reflect on that experience I can’t help but wonder if it caused some problems simply because it was so different from our Sunday morning services. While our Sunday morning services were influenced more by a Willow Creek model, our college ministry was quite a bit more stripped down (music, expository teaching, communion, prayer, and that’s about it). In that sense, I don’t know that the college ministry was a blessing to the church, or encouraged young people to deepen their involvement with the wider church body. None of those problems ever surfaced in any noticeable way, but I can’t help but wonder if they had a subtle but important effect. All of that to say I think it is important for youth and college ministries to a) share a philosophy of ministry with their church as a whole, b) consciously seek to connect their people to the wider church body, and c) seek to determine how they are situated from an evangelism standpoint to reach young people that the broader church community would have a harder time reaching.

    Ultimately, the Church is an inter-generational body, and that should be celebrated and reinforced. However, there is still a place for supplemental age-stage and affinity ministries, and when they are Spirit-led they can be effective tools to help build up the Church.

  15. Hey Chris! Watched the whole thing…. I agreed with much and in the book Emerging Worship I wrote about the issues of segregation of ages in churches… BUT…. what wasn’t raised in this video was non-Christians. At the high school ministry I led we had a large amount of high schoolers whose parents weren’t Christians. So they didn’t have dads to mentor them in the ways of Jesus as their dads didn’t believe. So we even had separate parent letters for Christian and non-Christian parents to guard how we communicated. The more we are on mission the more we will not be thinking as much as how do parents raise their kids but how do teens who have had no church background get trained in faith. So I agreed with some in the video but it was all about Christian teens and I didn’t hear about non-Christians with non-Christian parents. I also think that there is a definite need for both youth and college ministry too. Absolutely. But what we do in them is important and also the issue of training those who are Christian families important.

    • Thanks Dan. That’s a great point about non-believer’s–Brian made a similar observation–and I think it bears repeating. At Reality, our youth group consists of many Spanish-speaking students, whose parents are Catholic. They would never go to our Sunday morning gathering, but they would gladly send their kids to a Wednesday night youth group. We would be amiss not to provide that for them. Ironically, we’ve seen some parents come to Christ through their kids, and become the spiritual leaders of the family they were created to be.

      I felt the same way as you–the documentary stands on the assumption that church only consists of Christian attendees. It completely ignores the missional aspect of the body of Christ.

      • Hang on a second;

        “I felt the same way as you–the documentary stands on the assumption that church only consists of Christian attendees. It completely ignores the missional aspect of the body of Christ.”

        Where is the line drawn between Church being for believers and catering it to the non-believer? It is a church. Sure a place of hope and refuge for anybody – but it is a church…..a place where the saints are taught, equipped and worship God.

        “It completely ignores the missional aspect of the body of Christ.”

        Isn’t the missional aspect of the body of Christ to evangelize and love the lost?

        I get the impression that missional talk means a lot more than what I hear in the jargon but rather a method for catering to unbelievers on a Sunday morning.

        I am willingly to be beaten with a rod and shown that I am wrong

  16. “Be that as it will, I repeat it again, my great objection to Sunday schools is that I am afraid that in the end they will destroy all family religion” The Sunday school movement began as a movement to reach out to children from non-believing families. The progression is common: a man, a movement, a machine, a monument. And we’ve witnessed this. Sunday schools have become the machine we blindly accept and a monument to the death of family religion. We need to be looking for ways to balance the need for Sunday school for unbelieving families with the need to hold believing families accountable to their biblical responsibilities to teach in the home. (p.s. sorry if I’m being that awkward guy that posts too much, it’s just a topic I’ve been wrestling with myself lately and I’m happy to see it discussed among people that are both intelligent and passionate about God)

  17. I realize in this context, my comments may sound critical of your church. I don’t mean to be at all. I’ll tell you from what I saw at CC and Reality a decade ago was balanced. While they did have a Sunday school, the children were taught things like, “how we got the bible” and young people were welcomed to stay with their families in church and not “dismissed”. The small groups were also well balanced. I saw parents bringing their children and talking to them about their experiences at school, handling difficult conversations and not just relying on youth pastors. My church is finding a balance in this by offering a sunday school primarily for the families we are reaching out to that otherwise would not visit a church without sunday school. Then when they come in, they see families worshiping with their children who sit quietly without causing distractions because they’ve been practicing it all week in their homes reading the bible aloud and singing together. While no pressure is put on people to do this, they are welcomed to keep their children in the service and encouraged to continue family worship throughout the week. My point is that every church will be different and that it is the Spirit that brings balance as we walk in the Word. Their is a religious tendency towards the sunday school formula that is getting more attention with things like this film and sparking these important discussions.

  18. John, with all due respect, you are still making connections that aren’t there, or that have already been addressed in other comments. You are also painting some of these issues with broad generalizations, i.e. “[all?] Sunday schools have become a machine,” “We [all?] blindly accept them,” they are a “movement to the death of family religion.” <– wow.

    Just as in the documentary, great points are being made, but with faulty conclusions. I can't sum it up any better than the old adage that was mentioned before: "You're throwing out the baby with the bathwater." While there are many abuses that have occurred as a result of Sunday School and youth ministry, the contrary is just as true. Many students and children have been saved through them, raised up to honor their parents, and are now walking alongside Christ with their parents. I've seen and been involved in youth groups and children's ministries that exists for familial relationships, rather than working against the home and parent. So the objections you are making, though they are legitimate, are based on some of your experiences, and cannot be taken as a sweeping treatment of the whole.

    One of your most potent themes so far has been that we must be wary of substituting parents with youth pastors, and family with youth groups. And I think everyone on here would agree—no one has stated otherwise. What has been said thus far is that both of these can happen beautifully, and in conjunction with one another. And considering the missional/evangelistic mandate of the body of Christ, it seems that they should.

    I'm glad to hear of your last example of churches that are incorporating children into their services on Sundays. It sounds like a wonderful method of teaching and corporate worship. We do not it that way, and yet still find fruitful, biblical ways of integrating everything that happens on a Sunday morning into the life of each family. The point is, its methodology. There's good method and bad method. But just as you are wary of of overruling parental authority in the home, so I am wary of creating rigid methodologies based on only a few proof-texts. Especially when the issue being discussed is who meets where and when. I don't think the Scriptures are attempting to give us an unwavering system. I do believe they are giving us timeless principles. And different churches can still have varying angles on those principles while still being faithful, thriving churches (within some parameters, of course).

    • Sorry, you’re right. I definitely need to be more careful in how I communicate. I don’t mean we “all”, but we as in the suburban American protestant Church, the tendency to blindly accept formulas that is having consequences in many families. I get the analogy you’re working with. I don’t want to throw out the baby (spirit lead missions) but I do want to identify the bathwater (man’s formulas) so that we can do the good work of separating the two and doing missions more efficiently. I agree with you that, “both of these can happen beautifully, and in conjunction with one another”, I’m just trying to discuss how we can do that without one inhibiting the other. How can we reach out to the youth without inhibiting the role of the parents?

    • I think you misquoted me and took it out of context when you wrote “movement to the death of family religion’ <—-wow" You kind of set me up for that when you wrote "with all due respect". The man made age segregated sunday school formula began with a man, became a movement, then a machine and finally a "monument" to the "death of family religion", the consequences we're witnessing for adding to the Word, more and more children leaving the faith shortly after they leave the home. Nadab and Abihu were killed when they offered strange fire in the tabernacle. I don't think I'm that out there in using a death analogy. We need to soberly consider that modern formulas of worship may not be what God has intended for us.

      • I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make assumptions.

        That paragraph was packed with a lot generalizations that I thought were unfair though. And I’m still not seeing the justification that a “man made age segregated sunday school formula” is necessarily evil, per se, or that it is the same as strange fire. In some cases–even in many cases–yes, but it is not a general truth. Generalizations hurt other great ministries that are striking a biblical model, and I want to consider the possibility that they might not all as bad as they are being accused of in the doc.

      • Don’t mean to jump to the conclusion that they are “necessarily” or “same as”, but I think the comparison can be relevant and helpful to this discussion. Leviticus 10 says Nadab and Abhihu offered “strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them”. Their sin wasn’t doing something they were told not to or not doing something they were told to. Their sin was doing something they were not told to do. In religious fervor, gratitude to God, zeal for his worship and intensity of emotion, these young men tried to help God out and the consequences were tragic. So we’re looking at youth ministry asking, is this from God or from man or somehow both? We see some exciting immediate things happen in youth ministry, but we’re seeing some tragic long term consequences. I don’t think ending youth ministry necessarily means throwing the baby out with the bath water. To use the analogy, it seems to me that it would be replacing a lukewarm tainted bathwater with something warmer and more pure.

  19. There seems to be two sides. One that says age segregated churches that reach out to youth inhibit the role of the parents and another side that is saying family integrated churches the (over)emphasize the role of the parents inhibit the role of missions. These are the two I’m trying to figure out how to work together.

  20. sorry for the late response to some already resolved conclusions and really wise comments, i really wanted to watch the film before commenting.

    in my little opinion i think there are definitely bold conclusions being made, but i wouldn’t be so quick to discount them as faulty ones. everyone agrees the points are sound. that men are steadily declining in their role as disciple makers within their families, and there is an obvious command for men to disciple their families…enter —-> STOP age segregation, boom.

    i think their conclusions are crazy, and may be somewhat based on a caricature of youth ministries, but yet still fair. it may not fit our culture and how we have done things for awhile but it is true that if you take all the biblical evidence for age segregated gatherings (i.e. none), and take the scriptural evidence that does not necessarily negate age segregation, but does emphasize in the affirmative, strong commands of a man’s role in family discipleship, and then look at the temperature of the church and the obvious decline in family worship…and you got yourself a decision to make.

    the people involved in this documentary and the church for 1800 yrs. have decided for NO age segregation. i can’t go so far as to call that faulty. it may not be the only answer, and it is definitely not the only thing wrong, but it’s a healthy conclusion.

    that doesn’t mean i don’t support what we do as a church (Reality), gathering seperately agewise as we do…i just think it warrants a more humble consideration. after all, every minuscule decision we make either helps or hinders the future church. we have a responsibility to stewardship. i ain’t got it figured out, but this has me interested and i think its a worthy study.

    and i think you were right on chris and dan with the insight that in the film there is a definite assumption of the church gathering being primarily christian attendees. i think this is the crux of the situation here…at least with the caricature study of this documentary. everything that justifies the caricature gathering’s methodology was based on their philosophy of what the role of the church is when it gathers. when we view the church gathering as primarily about “reaching” people we will use a lot of methods to accomplish that purpose. when we view the church gathering as primarily about equipping the saints to go out and reach people with whom the Lord adds to the church, it would seem we would worry less about methodology for non believers and more about biblical faithfulness. i think how we view church gatherings fuels how we answer those difficult questions having to do with “non-christians and non-christian parents” and the like.

    i am just thinking with my fingers here…but should we view our church gatherings any other way than a gathering of believers? obviously non believers will come and we will call people to Jesus, but shouldn’t the decision of how we gather and how we do “church” be primarily geared towards and equipping of the actual body. shouldn’t our lives be missional and evangelistic, and our church gathering be PRIMARILY church family? doesn’t Jesus promise that the decision of following Christ will divide families, cause a ruckus and bring about rough relational terrain? i may have a small view of the role of the church gathering, but i always thought that discipline, accountability and rebuke were for the purity of His bride, obviously not perfect purity…but ya know. end ramble.

    anyways…long comment longer, i dont even know if i’m making sense! we are a bunch of broken, jacked up, mental people trying to do what God has told us to, by His power. in the end He gets all glory and any thing we did right was because He did it, not us…including our gathering together. i am stoked on God’s work whether its in spite of our efforts to reach people or a result of them. great topic. happy wrestling!

    • Jenkins,
      Thanks for your insight, bro. Good stuff. For the record, I think age integration is a great thing. I’m not against it. What I am tiring of is having a model for that spoon-fed to me as the only right way, based on a cursory reading of Titus 2. It’s good method, but the moment it becomes a holy grail, my red flags perk.

      I personally wouldn’t romanticize the early church for an ancient methodology they had, unless we were specifically told to carry it on, e.g., the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, etc. There are a lot of things we haven’t done for thousands of years, that we certainly do today. The printing press made things look different for the way Paul would have done things. In fact, I’ve been scorned for reading a Bible on an iPhone, as though my Bible had lost some of its holiness. I’m just saying, there needs to be balance on both sides, without one telling the other they have the Biblical mandate. I hate it when we resort to “God says” over trifling issues….especially when God didn’t say anything about youth ministry.

    • I try not to compartmentalize the goal of a church, i.e., is it for disciples of Jesus, or is it for non-believers.

      I see more of a story, than different compartments. Where people, who are all disciples of something/one, gather to be made disciples of Jesus. Some of them will be seasoned in the faith they’ve been following, and others are just curious. My mandate is to make disciples out of them all.

      So I wouldn’t pit one against the other, though a church can clearly fall on the wrong edge of either side, e.g., too evangelistic, or too inward focused.

    • The review was going somewhere until the blogger resorted to Ad Hominem attacks against Challies’ other book reviews. Not sure how that helps. I agreed with the blog over all though. I don’t think that kind of over-the-top reasoning is happening here, however.

  21. Chris, I am not going to say I know everything, but I would like to add something to this discussion if that is okay.

    First off, I have grown up in both the church and a family where children and young adult ministry is very important and very productive in aiding believers in their walk. Am I saying that people I know didn’t walk away or even me at times? No, I personally walked away for a while in high school, while simultaneously being a student leader for my church. No one is safe from the doubt and temptation to “walk away”. It doesn’t matter if you have been a christian your whole life and are 90 years old, or if you are 5 and just talked to God for the first time. Everyone is important in the church and it is not adults, or teens ministry that is dividing the church, it is us. Always has been and always will be. That’s why Paul talks about unity in his letter to the church in Corinth(1st Corinthians ch. 1). If you believe in Christ, and trust in the message of the Gospel, then you are in Christ and nothing can divide while we are there. There is no one side that is right here, Paul states in Ch 3 of his letter to the Corinthians, that the true foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ ,and none other. He later states that if anyone thinks he is wise or or knows more then someone else, he shall become a fool.

    Now, personally, I would have to completely disagree with the video; at least the parts I saw. I agree that kids are contently walking away from the church and I also agree that games and fun activities that offer less truth teaching and instruction isn’t the best way to instruct and grow strong men and women of God. Sometimes a game or fun activity is needed, and is a great way to inform non-believers of the workings of a youth group or youth ministry. However, having said that, I personally believe and I have seen with my own eyes, that this generation, my generation is one of the most authentic and Godly mind-setted generations in a long time. I was recently at a christian metal and hardcore show down in LA and witnessed an worship gathering like one I have never seen. Complete strangers bowing down and praising the one true God. I know for a fact that when the judgement day comes, I will see many of those people again. I have a very similar talk or discussion with my parents as well as parents of younger friends of mine, especially in regards to christian metal and hardcore music. I understand where these parents are coming from and I do see their point. However, I have always encouraged younger minds to focus on the lyrics and message of the songs they chose to listen to, and not how popular or how cool it sounds. I feel and have heard that teens and young adults, which by the way is a concept that is only about 100 years old, the reason they listen to this kind of music is because it connects with them. Now, I love all forms of christian music, but I will move back to the point.

    The question about segregation in the church is a question just as heated and divided as segregation in general. Honestly, if you believe the God has sent His son, JC; who lived a perfect and sinless life; to this earth to die and rise again, to take the punishment of your sins upon himself, and in believing and trusting in Him, you may have eternal life; then why are we arguing? That is the entire point of the Gospel. Everything else is details, that wont matter in Heaven anyways, so why are we letting it divide us now. We are all equal in Christ and desperately need His grace. No one understands this more then kids and young adults. “Someone who is forgiving of much will forgive much”(don’t remember where I heard that). How many times do we forgive children when they do wrong? Man, I was forgiven everyday most likely. These are the kind of people that will stand firm in the final day. Not the self righteous people who think they have everything together. Christ came for the hopeless and weak, people who acknowledge their need for Him.

    One more small point, then you can move on and disagree with me if you want, but to be honest, we need children and youth ministries in this country. Sure they aren’t perfect, but I wouldn’t want one that is, cause I will mess it up. These younger generations are the future, and I know that sounds cheesy, but would you rather have people who have been through things and stood firm in their faith leading the church in 50 years? Young people have the wiliness* and eagerness to take on the world and everything in it. Just remember, everything else is detail and in that used in moderation to the point of the Bible, which is God’s grace for us through His son JC, the perfect sacrifice.

    Thank you for your time,
    Micah Lease

  22. Jeremiah 7:31 “And they have built the high places of Tophet…to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.”

    Wow, God wasn’t so much upset that they murdered their children as he was that they did something they were not commanded to do. Like Nadab and Abihu, Uzza with the ark and Moses striking the rock, God is serious about obedience and when we follow familiar formulas rather than his voice, the consequences are tragic, children die while we convince ourselves that it is worship to God. Color me krazy kray ray, but I’m carefully considering turning down my church’s invitation to teach sunday school and I’m encouraging others to consider doing the same.

    Mark 7:9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God, 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

  23. In some ways, as the altar call is to baptism, sunday school is to family worship. I read on your blog, “I propose we put more emphasis on water baptism for two reasons, (1) Baptism is the practice mandated to us in the Scriptures. (2) Baptism immediately invites you into a community of believers…we may have replaced water baptism with the altar call, which brings good results, but not always great ones. But when a baptism happens, worship and community combine for the joy of the newly forged saint.” That’s exactly how I feel about youth ministry and family church!

  24. I am 18 years old and going to start college in a matter of weeks. My church doesn’t have a solid youth program at all. We would go to youth group only once a month and basically just talk about school and in some cases gospel about people that go to our high school. My junior year of high school, i went to a new youth group at new church and i started getting closer to God though pray and his Word. I have been a Christian all my life, but that youth ministry really changed how i saw things. I started going to our high school prayer group called SOAP (Students Of Active Prayer) and I learned alot about God and I started praying for my peers. I believe that high school ministry helped me see the importance of following God, I will also say I started listening to Reality’s sermons and that also helped too. I think that youth programs should be centered around a bible study and not speak about others. (I also listen to a few other podcast sermons) But i believe first step is being serious about your faith and seeing it isnt all fun and games.

    • That’s awesome Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing your testimony of God’s saving grace! Community is a great discipler.

  25. I know I’m late on the bandwagon posting here but after reading through lots of the comments here I couldn’t resist commenting. I am a firm believer in youth ministry, college ministry, children’s ministry, etc. But I should state that my parents were also extremely active in teaching me about God, they never saw those things as an excuse to not teach me about God. But heres why I think age specific ministry is important- before getting involved at adorn, I was at a point in my life where I literally had no friends my age. I was involved in bible studies and homegroups with plenty of amazing Christians who were older than me and I was growing in my faith and had solid mentors. But I had no Christians to hang out with on a daily (or weekendly) basis- let’s face it, I wasn’t going to call up 40 and 50 year old friends from church when I wanted to hang out, and they weren’t going to call me, because they have children and families to attend to. Since I’ve gotten involved at adorn, my faith has grown so much more because not only am I studying the word with other people who love Jesus, I’m hanging out with them all the time. Age specific ministry should never replace being apart of the whole church, but I do believe my faith is as strong as it is today thanks to growing up in youth ministry and now being a part of adorn.

    • Britney, thanks for offering that balance—the impact of a group doesn’t have to detract from familial relationships. I appreciate the insight you brought up about having simple friendships with others of a similar age. I love your testimony, and you’re right, they don’t have to replace each other.

      I’m also glad that you’re down with college groups, since you’re on the worship team there

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