“Does Youth Group Count as Church?”
This is the fourth article in our series, “The Hard Questions.” Working with students is tough. You’re often the person approached with some of life’s most challenging questions. Sometimes you know what to say right away. Other times, you need to take a step back and consult with the Word, your piers, or your mentors. We’ve asked some very wise people about the hardest question they’ve been asked these days, and how they responded. The third article in this series can be found here.
A few days ago I listened to an interview with Brad Griffin, of the Fuller Youth Institute, on the local Christian radio station. The question of the day was: “Why do young people walk away from God?” Why do students leave the faith? Did they have a full understanding of the gospel? How connected were they to the church at large? One of the points that came out in research was that students weren’t necessarily leaving the church; they were never truly connected to the church to begin with. For many students, their only connection to the church was their connection to their youth group.
This begs a new question for us as youth pastors: Does youth group count as “church”?
I would like to share three principles from Scripture regarding the nature of the local church. These principles can guide us in ensuring that youth group is used as tool in getting kids connected to the church at large. Youth group should not only consist of a weekly service, but should also include (1) subjection to church leadership, (2) commitment to biblical community, and (3) faithfulness to corporate worship.
1. Subjection to Church Leadership
“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” 1 Peter 5:5
I, like most youth pastors, am young. The scriptures command me to be subject to my elders. At my church, that means my Senior Pastor and the Elder board. It may look different at your church, but whatever the church structure is we must be striving to do all things with the leadership’s blessing. We are not in competition with “adult church,” but seeking to worship and serve right alongside the church as a whole. The students need to know and submit to the senior leaders, and the senior leaders should know the needs of the students under their care in order to effectively pray for and shepherd them. As youth pastors, we have the opportunity to facilitate these interactions.
2. A Commitment to Biblical Community
“Older men are to be sober- minded, dignified, self- controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self- controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self- controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity.” Titus 2:2-7
Titus 2 teaches the importance of multi-generational ministry. The older men and women are to live as examples and to teach the younger. The younger must be around the older for this to happen. True biblical formation happens in community, not in a silo. We must be intentional about having older people serving in the youth group. We must also purposefully seek to plug the students into the activities of the rest of the church. This can happen by simply talking with leaders of the other ministries in our churches to coordinate events together.
3. Faithfulness to Corporate Worship and Service
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
I believe that youth services are very beneficial, but it is vital that the students are in corporate worship with the congregation at large. The students need to see Baptisms and partake in Communion. They need to hear the Senior Pastor impart the Word of God to the flock. They need to see their parents and the adults of the church worship our Savior. Students are a part of the local body and therefore should be joining together with the rest of the church to admonish and be admonished.
I once had a faithful mother ask me what I thought about allowing her daughter to attend another church’s youth group. Her own church was seeking to pour into the next generation, but the youth director was an older gentleman and lacked the same energy and excitement as perhaps a younger director. This was a very difficult question to answer as I strongly believe in calling one church home. I encouraged her to consider coming alongside the director and supporting her own church’s youth ministry. No youth group can meet every need of every student, but every church member needs students and students need the members of their church. Let us help the youth see themselves as a vital part of what God is doing through their local body of Christ.