Who is youth ministry for ?

Why are the simple questions often the hardest? It seems obvious that our ministry efforts with young people are intended to help them navigate the path from adolescence to adulthood and mature in their faith. But as soon as adults begin a conversation about youth ministry, there will be a former camp counselor or Sunday school teacher whose hand will shoot up, and passionately explain that they “get way more out of youth ministry than the kids do.” I know exactly what they mean. Young people are insightful, passionate, and they demand authenticity. They challenge us, bless us, and often teach us. So yes, what we “get” ouf of youth ministry will often feel like much more than we give.

I just think we have to be careful here. After all, we are the adults. And as many great things as there are about adolescents, we don’t want them to stay adolescents. At least I don’t think we do. If we hope to help them walk the path to adulthood and grow in their faith, then they need us. And many writers and researchers today would say they really need us. Professor and Youth Ministry veteran Chap Clark says quite plainly in his book Hurt that, “The fact is that adolescents need adults to become adults, and when adults are not present and involved in their lives, they are forced to figure out how to survive life on their own.” 

The great truth is that youth ministries help everyone involved to encounter God and grow in faith. But I think we should be clear that the ministry is FOR the youth. Otherwise, we can start to believe that “the kids are alright” and they don’t need us, or even grow complacent in pursuing our own mature faith. If we truly are “getting more out of youth ministry than the kids,” it could be an indication that we need to grow a little deeper, so that we can give a little more.

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