Now maybe it’s because I’m naturally a very practical person, but I have never understood why the church feels the need to bedazzle the Bible.
I recently wrote a post about why students leave the church that got a lot of attention, and one of the points that I discussed was that the church fails to allow kids to grow in high school. Grade 9s are learning the same things as Grade 12s, and what they’re learning is watered-down.
It got me thinking to a gift I got from my parents when I was 15. They knew I wanted an NIV Bible to do my devotions in, since the only Bible I had at that point was a kid’s Bible, so they got me a teen girl Bible, and I was super happy! It was pretty and pink with a cute little strap across the middle. It had room in the margins to take notes, and the text was all in browns and pinks so I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Then, though, while flipping through the pages, I felt some thicker ones. So I opened to one of them, and my little 15-year-old self took a double take. On the page was a quiz, and the title for the page was “Who’s Your Dream Boyfriend?”
Honestly, I was angry. Not that dating is wrong or not a biblical issue, but this quiz wasn’t anything Bible-related at all! The questions were things like “What is your ideal first date location?” and “Do you like brown eyes or green eyes?” and the like, and then it paired you up with the “surfer guy” or “the smart guy” and that kind of stuff. It was ridiculous, actually. Something you’d find in Seventeen Magazine.
But this Bible, in my mind, summarizes many of the issues surrounding youth ministry. Youth ministry isn’t really about teaching kids about Christ, it’s about making them hyped about church. If it were really about teaching kids the hard truths about God we wouldn’t be focusing so much on things like whether you want a picnic on the beach or a candlelit dinner and more on teaching kids to read the pages around the quizzes.
There are a few reasons in particular that I think that youth groups need to start taking ministry as seriously as they do with adults when dealing with high schoolers, and why they need to stop dumbing down the gospel in order to make youth group more hyped up.
1. It’s offensive to teens.
There is nothing worse than being talked down to. Maybe in grade 9 this isn’t as much of an issue, but youth leaders: PLEASE. By the time your kids are in grade 11 or 12 start treating them like adults. Whether or not you think they’re still young and still children, they’re about to be living on their own, making important decisions, and are able to make very big mistakes, so they need very strong teaching. Stop making the gospel fluffy. We don’t need fluffy–we need real.
2. It’s a shortcut for ministry leaders
Let’s all be honest here: it’s easier to teach a dumbed-down message. You don’t have to deal with the tough issues, or bring up any deep emotional issues.
Imagine if a lead pastor started to create fun little activities for the congregation and never talked about anything deep. He would get fired. But a youth leader is praised. While, at times, the only difference between their audiences is a matter of 2 years.
Dear youth leaders: teens need Jesus just as much as everyone else. They need ALL of Jesus, not just the fuzzy bits. So please, stop taking short cuts that will only make kids hyped up for youth group and allow the excitement and joy to build as you challenge them to truly grow.
3. It perpetuates the idea that we never have to grow up
The church has a major issue with teaching kids how to become adults. We’re just not doing it. A lot of that is cultural, sure, with education spanning upwards of 4 years after high school, and being in so much debt afterward that marriage often doesn’t happen until the mid- to late-twenties.
That being said, Christians aren’t called to live according to culture. Sure, we live in our culture, but we can be in the culture and still live against it. Frankly, we’re a religion that doesn’t allow sex until marriage. But then we have kids who aren’t ready to get married until they’re 27, but hit puberty at 13. That is not a very good combination in my mind, since sexual temptation is so difficult, but we’re setting kids up for 10-15 years of it!
That’s why this kind of thing makes me so frustrated. Seventeen-year-olds are able to handle the harder topics, the only reason they don’t is because they aren’t expected to. So let’s start expecting them to, and maybe we’ll start to see Christian young adults ready for adulthood by the time they leave home.
What do you think? Are there things that you think our youth ministries are lacking, or are doing really well?
When you were in youth group, what worked and what didn’t? Did kids actually grow? I really want to hear your stories!