I write this in the context of having been a pastor for more then three decades as well as ministering in hundreds of local congregations. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly regarding youth groups.
I learned a long time ago that just because your local church has a youth group, it is not always in the best interest of parents to encourage their children to attend it. Also, in the case of functional Christian families, the parents have the primary responsibility of training their children—not the church youth group. (In cases where kids come in without Christian families behind them, then the church has to attempt to disciple them without parental aid, which is extremely difficult). That being said, whether your child comes from a strong Christian family or not, a youth group can be a blessing or curse.
The following are the signs a youth group is bad for your child to attend:
1. The youth pastor has no biblical depth and a shallow walk. I have seen the disastrous effects when the youth pastor merely "shares" the word but has no unction or depth in the word. The result is shallow instruction which does not provoke the young attendees to hunger and grow in the knowledge of God (2 Peter 3:18). Furthermore, if the youth pastor is not grounded in the faith, you cannot trust them. In one instance I heard of, a youth pastor was caught kissing a young girl during a youth retreat. It is a mistake for a person to be appointed as the youth pastor merely because they have charisma and a good personality.
2. There are no guidelines or accountability regarding dating. There needs to be consistent monitoring and teaching on dating and proper male /female relationships. This is because the hormone levels of teens are at their peak during this time in their life and they can easily fall into sexual sin. When the biblical view of dating and courtship is not taught, sexual sin will abound because this is usually the end result of dating.
3. There are no standards based on biblical ethics and holiness. A youth group needs to have consistent preaching on holiness, repentance and standards of ethics. Without this there is a vacuum and the youth will adapt the ethics of the surrounding culture. I have heard of many churches closing down their youth groups because they became a haven for sex and drugs. This is what will happen without consistent powerful preaching on holiness. Grace without truth is a recipe for disaster.
4. The goal is a crowd without biblical discipleship. Many youth groups merely exist to fill up their sanctuary. Hence, the result is they develop a culture of entertainment. Every youth group should have a goal to draw young people in so they can disciple and ground them deeply in the faith. Crowds without quality is building a youth group on wood, hay and stubble (1 Corinthians 3:12).
5. The youth staff has no instruction or integration from the eldership and or lead pastor. Unfortunately I have seen many instances in which the youth leaders had very little interaction from the lead pastor and elders. In some cases the youth leaders did not want any accountability. The result is an isolated youth leader who builds a group according to his own vision and standards, which may contradict the standards of the congregation. If the youth leaders are not integrated into the general vision and life of the congregation that is a sign there is no real accountability. Also, the elders and mature church leaders should also be part of the youth preaching team to ensure there is proper balance in all these areas.
6. There is a huge generation gap with no honor towards older people and parents. Youth cannot minister to youth without the advice and interaction of mature adults. Best-case scenario is to assign certain parents and elders in the church to consistently monitor the youth group and interact and advise the youth leaders. Also, the youth leaders should encourage the young people to honor their parents and interact with them and not buy into the cultural lie of the "generation gap." (Of course young people who come out of dysfunctional and or abusive families need to be dealt with differently according to their situation.) In some instances, a group group can actually foster a culture of generational distance that can hurt parent/child relationships. This is very bad for your child!
7. There are no leaders or mature saints being developed. When a youth group exists for years and only few of the young people graduate to serve in the adult congregation (when they get older) then there may be a problem. Pointing young people towards Christian service and responsible adulthood is part of the calling of youth groups. Of course, parents are the main ones called to disciple and train their children—youth groups only have kids for a few hours per week.
8. Many or most of the young people have no walk with God. When you observe that few if any of the young people in the youth group attend Sunday services and serve God then there is a huge problem.
9. The youth are not encouraged to excel in school. Many young people in at risk communities come out of a culture of dropping out of school. A youth group has the incredible opportunity to break those destructive patterns by encouraging youth to excel in school. Youth groups need to aid young people in being successful in life, not just church life.
10. The youth group has a sordid history. In many cases, there is a history of drugs, sex and alcohol abuse within the ranks of the youth group. In some cases it is done outside the context of the church services and cannot be helped but often it can be part of the sub culture of the actual youth group. In some cases, the youth leader needs to be dismissed because they either tolerate this and or are oblivious and are unqualified to lead streetwise kids. Young people indulging in this kind of behavior in the context of the youth group need to be confronted and dismissed from the group is they do not repent.
11. The youth leaders tolerate bullying. Often young people will come into a youth group who are socially awkward, are bodily weak, and or look or act different from the rest of the youth. The youth pastor has a responsibility to keep an eye out for the well being of that young person to ensure there is no peer bullying. Furthermore, the youth pastor needs to ensure that there is a culture of love and acceptance for all young people who attend in the context of the previous guidelines.
Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church and Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, New York, and author of numerous books, including Ruling in the Gates: Preparing the Church to Transform Cities. Follow him on Facebook or visit him online at josephmattera.org.
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