Why Youth Ministry?

Why Youth Ministry?
Darrell Johns


A. Two Origins for Christian Ministry

1. Biblical Imperative – The first origin and authority for a ministry in the church comes from a scriptural imperative. In Ephesians 4:11, 12, the Lord specifically ordained a ministry of Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The right to life for a pastoral ministry, for example, comes from scripture.

2. Situational Imperative – The second origin for a ministry in the church comes from a need, which is described as a situational imperative. In Acts chapter 6, as the Jerusalem church began to grow, there arose a murmuring from the Grecian (Hellenistic) Jews. The complaint was that they were being neglected by the Hebrews in the daily distribution of funds. There was an obvious need. The solution was reached when seven men were appointed to minister to the need that had arisen. The point is clear. There are occasions when a ministry is born and given its right to life because of the need for which it was born.

B. Purpose of Session

* The purpose of this seminar is to make you keenly aware of the need for youth ministry in our society. The need has not always existed as it does now. History reveals that our current youth culture is a product of the recent changes in our society. Three broad areas of American history will illustrate the need. We must then respond more than ever before with ministry to our youth.

I. The Agrarian Age (Farming)

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, most of America revolved around agriculture. The lifestyles of that society gave great stability to young people.

A. A Smooth Cycle of Life

* Most families were farmers. Even as late as 1930, one-half of the population in America lived on farms. The future role of most children was set. There was little questioning about what they would be when they grew up.

* Young people reached adolescence later and generally speaking, married younger. This was a positive factor in dealing with moral purity. Also, society was less open with immorality and the rampant promiscuity so familiar to our society was absent.

* The time which we call youth was brief. It was like a doorway through which one passed.

B. Well-Defined Rites of Passage

* In the Agrarian Age there were well-defined rites of passage. A rite of passage, for our purposes, was a time at which one received the adult status. Reaching adulthood was definable. Early marriage, easily attained economic independence, the ability to do physical labor, and the frequent early death of parents made receiving the adult status easily attainable.

* Life revolved around the home, and the nuclear family (as it is called today) included a mother who stayed at home, a father who was the breadwinner, and the children. Often, aged grandparents lived in the home. Young people often attended school in a one-room school house which provided age group integration. In many ways, those were the good old days.

II. Industrial Age (Factories)

With the dawn of the Industrial Age, factories replaced farms and cities sprang up out of once secluded communities.

A. The Smooth Cycle of Life Ended

* In search of work, many families migrated to the ever growing cities. Fathers and mothers assumed new work roles. Sons were no longer guaranteed that their father would pass along the family trade. Families no longer worked together and young people began to increase the degree of peer associations.

B. The Status of Adulthood Was Delayed

* Adolescence, which was previously defined as a doorway through which one passed, became a hallway. The time between childhood and adulthood was extended. Preparation for a vocation took longer and rites of passage into adulthood grew vague. Consider a country and a world that had existed for millenniums with relatively little change. Now, in one generation, the shock waves of rapid change forever shaped the face and heart of our nation.

C. The Development of the Youth Subculture

* The rapid social changes that occurred in America created the youth subculture. A subculture is simply a culture within a culture. Unlike a counterculture, which operates in opposition to the larger culture, a subculture operates with the permission of the larger culture. A subculture plays by most of the rules.

* A subculture forms when the larger culture fails to meet the needs of that group. A subculture provides three basic needs which are vital to young people; acceptance, identity, and status.

* Because young people had emerged from childhood, but were not accepted as adults, the youth culture was formed. Groups of teenagers did not call a meeting and vote to become weird or isolated. The youth culture formed by default. They were no longer children, and not yet adult. There were groups of them and they seemed to have a common bond.

* The dawn of the Industrial Age brought a brand new day to America. Family life, sex roles, self-esteem, and stability were all placed under pressure. Young people became aware of differing and often conflicting value systems. Parents were often pitted against peers and even school teachers.

III. The Technological and Information Age (Fast-paced Society)

The arrival and birth of computers began to thrust our society into the Technological Age, and then the Information Age. We live in a day of uniqueness and challenge.

A. Accelerated Change

* One young adult described our present society as warlike, impersonal, competitive, fast-moving, and constantly changing. What we have to cope with is not only change, but accelerated change. The rate of change is increasing. Families tend to move more often than previously. From 1961 to 1971 over one-half of the families in the United States moved every five years. That trend has continued. This, along with increased mobility has created a rootless feeling in the minds of young people. We offer little stability outside of the church and the home. These two areas are within our control.

B. Necessity of Higher Education

* We tend to interpret education as success. Because of the complex nature of many vocations, young people must spend more time in college. Learning is not essentially evit, depending on the subject matter. But, completion of one’s education is one of our society’s vague rites of passage into adulthood.

C. Social Issues

* Our society has created a dismal array of social issues; abortion, genetic engineering, homosexuality and AIDS, surrogate mothering, nuclear energy concerns, the Ozone Layer’s apparent dissipation, euthanasia, and the list goes on. One expert said that the apathy of our generation is by choice. Young people have seen so much that they are overwhelmed. They withdraw into their own hedonistic world of “me first” and “pleasure now” as an escape from the pressure.

D. Frustrations of the Youth Culture

1. Insecurity About the Future – Rapid social change and future fears make it difficult for young people to make long-range choices. No vocational forecaster seems to be able to guarantee job trends. Young people whose parents lost their jobs in a declining industry are most affected.

2. Delayed Adult Status – Because young people are educated longer, marry later, and find economic independence harder to come by, their adult status is delayed. On the one hand, youth are denied adulthood. On the other hand, the media pressures teens to act out adult behavior in dress, sexuality, and activities. The result is stress. We seem to have an undisciplined, but over stressed generation.

3. Physical Maturity Younger – It is a fact that the age at which a youth reaches puberty has declined six months per decade since 1880. Young people are maturing younger, but marrying later. The result is stress. At the same time, our society screams that sex before marriage is normal and permissible. More stress. We have a generation of young people who are capable of reproduction at twelve years of age, but cannot support a family until they are in their twenties.


A. Why Youth Ministry?

* This seminar has painted a bleak picture. It is the reality of our society. You may work with young people in a rural setting who are not affected as deeply as has been described. This has not been an analysis of the church, but rather our society.

* Why youth ministry? Adolescence and the current youth culture are products of our society. We have created the monster with which we must deal. Because of the change and stress, young people have special needs. They are part of the society, yet have uniqueness that must be addressed.

* We need youth ministry because young people are in need. The frustrations of our generation cry out for help. We can no longer go on with the same stale approach to youth work. We are not competing to have the most awesome youth program of any church in our area. We are modifying our approach to gain an audience with our youth. Our message is their only hope. Larry Richards once said that our youth ministries need a sympathy that comes from knowing deep within that youth is a special time of life. We must see beneath behavior and quickly flying words to understand, accept, and care about persons who are emerging from childhood, changing shape before us and becoming adult. We must shape our youth ministries around what they are instead of what we wish they would be.

This article “Why Youth Ministry?” by Darrell Johns was excerpted from: The 1993 Youth Worker’s Seminar Handbook. April 1993. It may be used for study & research purposes only.