A Youthworker and a Bible Walk Into A Bar…

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Culture and the Bible. These are the two indisputable pillars of effective youthwork. If you don’t get the former you can’t communicate the latter, if you can’t apply the latter you will make no difference to the former.

“There are two fundamental necessities in Christian Communication. One is that we take the world we live in seriously; and the other is that we take God’s revelation to us in the Bible seriously. If either is missing, the communication will be ineffective.” [Christian Youth Work, Mark Ashton & Phil Moon]

There is a youthwork culture in the UK that is really starting to push the envelop, dig deep and get innovative in cultural relevancy. This is absolutely fantastic! I fully embrace and stand by this.

I fear, however, that the Bible is taking more and more of a back seat.


The Famine of God’s Word in Youthwork Culture

I’ve been to almost every major, mainstream Christian youthwork gathering in the UK this year. These were amazing events with great people, and mostly solid, encouraging teaching. Most of all they were a showcase of good ideas to learn from! However they were also symptomatic of a serious famine of the Word of God.

I can count on one hand how many talks I’ve heard at Youthwork gatherings this year that genuinely opened up the Bible.

“Opening up the Bible means swimming around in its depths and drawing us into those hidden truths.”

This spills over to published materials too. Bible reading resources are driving further down the lane of ‘prooftext with reflection’ often without any discernible link between the passage and the attached thoughts.

If we don’t open up the Bible we lose perspective, focus, authority and foundations. What are we playing at?


We Don’t Know How To Open Up The Bible

Let me clarify what I mean by ‘opening up’ the Bible. Just reading a standalone verse and paraphrasing it a few different, interesting ways is not opening up the Bible. Reading a verse, picking a word from it and giving a talk on that word is also not opening up the Bible.

Opening up the Bible means swimming around in its depths and drawing us into those hidden truths. It means exegesis, context, study and clarity. It means bringing a passage to life by using the passage itself!

I’m becoming increasingly concerned that we don’t know how to do this.

My wife, an editor, is currently trying to re-write someones Bible Study that is trying to teach that David defeated Goliath because of his own prodigious experience and skill; not because he trusted in God despite his lack of experience and skill. How could we get a passage so dramatically wrong?


The Bible Makes Our Hearts Burn Within Us

Read Luke 24:13-35

How did Jesus reveal himself to the two followers walking to Emmaus? “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” v.27.

And how did they respond? They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” v.32.

“If you want young people’s hearts to burn within them in response to meeting with Jesus Christ, then you must, must, flippin’ must open up the Bible to them!”

If you want young people’s hearts to burn within them in response to meeting with Jesus Christ, then you must, must, flippin’ must open up the Bible to them! Yes, please be culturally relevant, but if you’re not going to bring God’s Word with you, you’re better off just staying at home!

If you want to communicate God’s heart, use His own words! There’s nothing wrong with the material – we must teach it until it burns within the hearts of this generation.

“However, if we have to err on one side or the other, we must not lose our hold on Christian truth. The simple message of God’s love for sinful humanity and of his forgiveness of our sins for the sake of his son has extraordinary and immense power: our incompetence as communicators is not able to destroy its ability to reach non-Christian young people.” [Christian Youthwork, Ashton & Moon]

Also See…

6 Ways to Train Teenagers to Read Their Bibles

Great Resource to Start Doing This…

  Dindexig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s World by
Andrew Sach & Nigel Beynon

6 Ways to Train Teenagers to Read Their Bibles

(edited from an earlier post)


Youth work models need to firmly stand on the Bible and sew it into the fabric of discipleship that they are developing. This means helping young people engage with the Bible for themselves.

Getting young people to independently open the Bible and read it is half the battle, but this is far from the whole battle!

The second half of the battle is helping young people independently examine and understand the Bible for themselves – and this is frankly where most of us wimp out!

A Generation Bought Up on Spoon Feeding Notes

I was struck recently when reviewing some popular Bible study notes for teenagers how proof-text-with-explanation based they were. Spoon fed, on a plate with little or no reference to how, who, what, when, where and why the passages teach what was in the accompanying explanation. No need to think or examine the verses whatsoever… really no need to read them. However, what they did really well is help young people examine themselves as a person and apply new things to their lives. This begs the question though; if that application is not being built from the Bible passage, where is it coming from and can it stand in real life?

“Getting young people to independently open the Bible and read it is half the battle, but this is far from the whole battle!”

This of course is the method of Bible study most of Gen Y and the Millennials have been bought up on; the soundbite and the blog. An interesting read that demands little if any independent thought. My wife works in a Christian bookshop, and perusing the Bible studies created in the last decade this is a pretty standard pattern. For many of us this is Bible study, we’ve never known anything different. Our Bible study notes include a passage to read, a proof-text (‘key verse’) taken out of context and a basic thought from it explained and opened up – with a couple of challenges thrown in for good measure.

This isn’t Bible study though. Bible study is having a conversation with God through the text. Reading it properly, asking it questions, looking for patterns, relationships, correlations and hidden gems. Exegesis in other words, is getting into the nitty gritty and learning how to read the Bible and hear it’s challenges without the need of supporting notes.

Why Is This So Important For The Next Generation?

Not training young people to exegete-read the Bible (that is seek to swim in it’s depths and find treasure) is like buying them a guitar in order to introduce them to Brit-Pop; it’s only going to go so far!

Young people need to know how to read their Bibles so that they:

  • Can develop a personal relationship with God that’s independent of their youth group, church community or Bible notes
  • Have more to offer in their youth group and church community life
  • Will grow in their personal holiness and faith and will challenge others to do so too
  • Can keep a growing check their own sin and personal habits
  • Will learn to recognize and discern God’s voice more clearly and notice when it’s missing,
  • Won’t fall victim to spoon feeding and won’t be dependent on fallible teachers and notes
  • Will know how to pick a healthy Church when they are at uni etc.,
  • Can survive when not able to find good Bible teaching.
  • Will simply live life to its fullest the John 10:10 way!

We need to teach young people how to read the Bible – not just to read it.

How do we do this?

For a basic way in I offer a mix of five random things to help us teach Bible study to our teenagers:

  1. Learn to do it ourselves!!!
  2. Model it in Bible studies
  3. Get them to do it in breakout pairs/groups when in Bible studies together
  4. Help them one-to-one
  5. Get them to read a book like ‘Dig Deeper’ by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach
  6. Teach them to get messy!

1. Learn to do it ourselves!!!

This is the key bit, and without it the other four bits won’t work. As I said before, many of us don’t realise that what we’ve been doing for the last who knows how many years isn’t really Bible study. It came as a huge shock to me when at 18 I went to Bible college and realised I knew spotty things about God without any reference to why, and when I discovered passages I had been using to prove certain ‘truths’ just didn’t teach them. I’m definitely not saying that we all need to go to Bible college, but we do need to make some serious effort – you won’t regret it!

– Find decent Bible teachers and stick to them
– Listen to amazing Bible unpacking talks (
– Find mentors or mini classes
– Read good Bible teaching/explaining books
– Read your Bible slowly with highlighters, pens, paper, margin mess… whatever you need

2. Model it in Bible studies

Leading decent Bible studies as a group has got to be the linchpin. It’s the key place that they will pick up and learn how to do it and it will give them the overviews and anchors they need, along with an accountability space to check up on how they’re doing.

“We need to teach young people how to read the Bible – not just to read it.”

– Teach and display where and how you made points from the Bible when you make them
– Ask questions that make them look at the text itself, even (sometime especially) if the answers are obvious
– Ask them to summarize main points, identify characters, examine the context etc.
– Print out copies of the passage for them to go through highlighting things like verbs, nouns, speeches, connectives, etc. that might be useful in the study
– Get them to ask their own questions of the text itself and answer those together first (my first question after reading every passage is ‘what did you notice?’)

3. Get them to do it in breakout pairs/groups

The next zeroing in step to independent Bible study after the small group, is getting them to help each other – without relying on you the teacher. This givens them a chance to adapt what they’ve learned, try their strengths, push their confidences, work on their community interaction and help each other out!

– Give each breakout pair/group a section of the passage to study together then summarize their findings to the whole group
– Make sure they’ve got space to write, scribble, & highlight (printed off passages are great)
– Give them specific questions to answer in their group from the passage like ‘what is the main point,’ ‘what shocked you the most,’ ‘what did you learn that you didn’t know before’
– Allow them the option of feeding back in creative ways (pictures, drama, song) as long as it communicates the actual passage itself
– Give them enough room and time to complete the task well, but not so much time that they can wander. Knowing that they will need to feed back is usually encouragement enough to stay on task

4. Help them one-to-one

The final step to independent Bible study after group and small group work is getting alongside them to mentor, teach and role model what’s in the word. This is important for a whole world of stuff – and teaching Bible reading (overtly or not) is invaluable for all of it.

– Get alongside them for 20-40mins JUST to read the Bible with them. Pick a book and go through it verse by verse, word by word
– Start each new meeting with them summarizing the passage from the last meeting
– Get them to delve into why specific words we’re chosen etc.
– Look at tools like ‘context’, ‘purpose’ and ‘order’ in the passages you choose. (N.b. I usually find 1-2 verses a week works well for most growing Christians)

If you would like a free downloadable crib sheet that I’ve used before click here.

5. Get them to read a book like ‘Dig Deeper’ by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach

Rather than buying them Bible reading notes, buy them an easy usable how to manual that will help them read the Bible itself without notes. Dig Deeper is an epic example that I highly recommend. It’s great for independent work, or one-to-one, but can also be a good group study tool and it’s useful training for Bible study leaders.

– Buy the book for them as a gift, and make sure you’ve read it yourself!
– They should read a chapter a week & do the examples
– Ask them questions on it & ask to see their examples
– Give them new verses to work on that need the tools explained in the book to understand

6. Teach them to get messy!

Teach them to get messy! I don’t care if they need to underline every single word in a different colour, allow them to draw in their Bibles – or if that’s a cultural no-no where you are, print out passages for them!

– They should do whatever helps them s l o w  d o w n , ask questions of the text, and highlight key sections. I’d rather a young person come with a tatty, Biro-blessed, dogeared Bible than a pristine one that’s obviously never been touched.
– Teach them to get personal with the Bible and get messy with it. Bring out the highlighters in droves (you can always buy a new one for them!)


The 7 Deadly Sins of a Thinking Christian


I have been three horrible things… 1. A first year theology student, 2. A theology school graduate and 3. A ‘I’ve got a Bible college degree’ Christian.

I have committed – and often still commit – all of the the sins below (and rather a few more). Each of them have hurt others, stumped my growth and made more of me than God many times over. Rarely was I aware of what I was doing.

Now, being back at my Bible College for a week – considering how much I’ve grown and changed in the 7 years since I was here – they all come back to me like a bitter pill.

I list them as a guilty confession and apology and I list them as a warning: If you want to be a thinking, developing, growing Christian in the academic-pastoral hybrid world consider these sins. Further listen twice, ask questions, make no assumptions, lead with Grace, drink Bible, think of yourself more likely to err than anyone and seek Jesus in all you do… you’ll need Him!

“If you stay there you won’t be able to grow your knowledge without constantly having to dismantle and rebuild it.”

I’m conscious that there could be a four or five people reading this that I’ve talked with on these very issues this year taking it as personally aimed at them. It’s not! It’s aimed at me and it’s aimed at everyone in the same boat. There is no specific person(s) in my mind but countless faceless people who have or will struggle with the unique burdens and temptations of being an academic-driven Christ-follower.


The 7 Deadly Sins of a Thinking Christian:

1. Smart people I like say it, therefore it’s true.
There are smart people and good arguments on many sides of many a fence… just because your brand of smart people says something does not mean other smart people have nothing smart or important to add.

2. Smart people I’ve read know it, therefore I know it.
There’s a huge difference between regurgitation and research. Under-grad tends to focus on the former and post-grad on the latter. Do you know what in the Bible, in research, in context and content something is – or do you just trust the guy that told you? Hold opinions lightly if you haven’t done the work yourself.

3. My bias-filters hear trigger words, not valid information.
I used to hear the word ‘choice’ and, as a 5-point (and ignorant) Calvinist I heard ‘stupid, ill-informed, soft-on-Gospel, doesn’t-trust-God, people-focused idolater’ – thus I wrote off some brilliant, God-fearing, Bible-loving opinions and people. Are valid points able to make it through your bias-filters?

4. It could lead to a bad place, therefore it’s bad, bad, bad!
This is the funny idea that if you ask questions, hold things in tension, are working on issues or are reading more widely than whatever ‘narrow way’ you have decided on – then you are compromising truth which leads to heresy. It’s the classic and largely fictitious ‘if you smile at her you’ll end up sleeping with her’ mentality.

5. If you don’t chew this raw meat then you’ll die a horrible heretics death!
Coming back from my first year at Bible college to my old youth Bible study I tried to throw a spanner in the works on predestination because ‘they should be teaching it, darn it!’ As a result a girl told me in front of everyone that I had severely knocked her faith and she couldn’t trust me anymore. #awks.We disciple people from where they are at, not what our text books told us that particular week. Screwing truth in with a hammer doesn’t work and doesn’t help.

6. All truth is my truth.
Our minds are pretty finite, but when we start studying theology a whole world of research opens up to us. We then start to walk around like we have been let in on some mysterious secret. Problem is (other than pride!) that for every fact or argument we’ve learned so far there are dozens more we’ve not have heard of. If you don’t know it/ don’t recognize it/ not heard it before then suspend judgment, ask questions, think, pray and consider. We are all learners and all dunces in context with God’s truth.

7. Crush, Kill and Destroy!
This is the idea that when you know something you have to mould it into a bat-shaped debatable point. You have to prove, site, convince, debate and take down! You can’t discuss, converse or learn with active give and take – you can only wield and swing. This looks fine when spending time with a few mates who have never done any study (you’ll feel mega smart anyway, and they’ll eventually like you less). However, to people who can hit above your academic weight, or to people who have matured enough to know the countless benefits of conversational study you will simply look petty and idiotic. Further, if you stay there you won’t be able to grow your knowledge without constantly having to dismantle and rebuild it.

The Latest in Academic Youth Work Part 3: A Biblical Mandate For Youth Ministry


If you’ve seen parts 1 & 2 you’ll know that I’m on a study week looking through the most resent, top scoring dissertations from probably the most academic, Bible-driven Bible College in the UK. Today I’m highlighting and summarizing the important argument in favour of Youth Ministry from the Bible in:

‘A Biblical Mandate For Youth Ministry’, by Andrew Cook.

This short thesis is broken into three parts:

1stan opening discussion of adolescence
2ndan outline of the argument against doing Youth Ministry
3rda Biblical defense of and model for Youth Ministry

I will go through each.



Andrew looks at both the sociological and Biblical approaches the adolescence question.

Sociologically Andrew points out, adolescence as a transition from childhood to adulthood has always existed in some form and is often referred to as ‘storm and stress.’ This term, coined by the largely discredited work of G. Stanley Hall has nevertheless been a useful term to describe this often tumultuous time of transition. The massive changes both socially and biologically during adolescence makes this transitional age group a very distinct people.

Although their is much disagreement, Andrew suggests a broad age group surrounding (just before, during and just after) puberty to be our focus.

Biblically, we find few places speaking directly to this transitional time, however historically they do exist. The Jewish education system celebrates times of transition for instance. Further, in passages such as 1 Chronicles 23 and Leviticus 27 we find that the age of 20 is a significant time for adult value and responsibility.

A category of ‘young men’ or ‘young adults’ also exist in places like Deuteronomy 32 and Jeremiah 6 – where such a group is seen as a sub-category of Children. In 1 John 2:12-14, categories include ‘children’, ‘young men’ and ‘fathers.’ ‘Youths’ is another term found many places such as Job 31 and 1 Timothy 4.

The adolescent ‘youth’ or ‘young adult’ stages of development Biblically are seen as time to grow away from youthful sin and temptations (1 Cor. 6; Prov. 5:3, 8; 1 Tim. 5:11; Prov. 1:10-19) and grow into wisdom and maturity (Prov. 1-9; 1 Kings 12:8; 14:30; 1 Pet. 5:5; 1 Tim. 5:1-2).


The Argument Against Youth Ministry

Instead of segregated youth ministry some say that we should look to integrated and inclusive whole family ministry.

Those supporting this argument (Andrew notes particularly the online film, ‘Divided’ by Philip Leclerc) say the crisis of young people leaving the church is largely the fault of what they call the ‘godless, pagan, Darwinian’ invention that is age segregated youth ministry. They note that only age-integrated worship is seen in Scripture where the youth-specific ministry and discipleship is given through parents alone.

They see age segregated youth ministry as undermining corporate worship and undermining parental ministry.

It’s worth saying, that even though the Biblical arguments presented by advocates of this argument are pretty weak they do raise some important challenges about integration and parenting.


The Biblical Basis For Youth Ministry

Andrew starts this section by helpfully saying:

“The argument against youth ministry cannot be supported biblically, but this does not in itself ratify all approaches to adolescent discipleship.

The spiritual poverty of some approaches is obvious: the gospel is not proclaimed, the Bible is not taught, young people are not included in the community of faith, there is little if any spiritual growth, and the only legacy seems likely to be some very high scores at Mario Kart and a few broken church windows.”

Andrew outlines (very basically) three of the most frequently used youth work models in the UK and their drawbacks:

Incarnational model – prefers sharing stories to preaching the gospel.
Worship model – encourages faith based on subjective, emotional experience not propositional truth.
Funnel model – prefers entertainment to Bible study and content.

This is a useful set of thoughts to have in the backs of our minds as we continue.

Andrew finds Biblical examples of ministry happening with adolescents outside the nuclear family but within the church family. For instance in Deuteronomy 29 there is a communal approach to sharing responsibility for each other – specifically the elders for the young people in the whole community. Also, in Nehemiah, Ezra groups people according to their ages in order to teach God’s word (Neh. 8). Further, in Proverbs there is a communal nature to teach wisdom to youths outside the nuclear family unit. Finally, in the New Testament there is a big push towards shared community life and specifically Andrew gives us Titus 2 as an example of the young being taught communally and Luke 2:41-52 where the 12 year old Jesus is sitting with the elders – away from his parents – discussing God’s word.

All this said, there is a prominent push in Andrew’s model to integrate young people into the church and support parents as much as possible – not exclusively (like the proponents against Youth Ministry might say), but heavily.

Andrew therefore goes on to find a prime but not sole responsibility on the parents to disciple young people (Deut. 6; Prov. 1-9; Eph. 6) and some age-specific applications of Biblical truth outside the sole parental structure (Eph. 6; Col. 3). Finally Andrew demonstrates how Church is family just as important as the nuclear family (Mark 3:31-35; Luke 14:26; 1 Tim. 5:1-2) and shows how special space is given to ‘youths’ (1 Cor. 12:21-26).


Concluding Thoughts

All this goes to show that youth ministry within a inclusive church family structure is a Biblical model for Youth Ministry. Youth Ministry should never be solely segregated, divided or exclusive – and the parents should not be undermined. However the growth of adolescence is the responsibility of the whole community with a Bible-driven passion for youth discipleship. This vital for the health of the whole church – and vital to the health of successful youth ministries.

Thank you Andrew! Lots of helpful things in here and a wonderful grasp of the Bible’s role in defining what youth ministry actually is.

I would love to see a longer thesis with room given for models of general discipleship, spiritual healing, sanctification and growth and how they would apply to this model – and I’d really value a look at culture differences and how these application might look in today’s unique world. Finally I’d also like to see what role Bible-drive, but culturally specific young people’s mission looks like in this church-integration model. My suspicion is it would struggle somewhat without some more cultural wiggle-room.

Well worth the time in the Word! Cheers.

The Youth Church Experiment: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 12.41.46
Whatever side of the youth work aisle you fall on, everybody both loves and hates the youth service.

Youth Church or the regular Youth Service can be driven by cheese, polished with hero-worship, beached on consumerism, flooded with inappropriate age groups or simply swallowed – Jonah style – by so many One Direction puns that the best thing for it is to be vomited up on some desert shore in the vain hope of finding some real mission to do!

Youth Services however, can also drive a dying church back into relevancy, bring ship-wrecked souls back to dry land and provide a community rich in authenticity and deep in missional effectiveness.

If you’ve spent any time thinking about Youth Work, odds are you’ve thought about Youth Church before; whether to run one, why not to run one and how it fits with ‘regular’ church. I don’t think I’ve ever met a youth leader who doesn’t have a strong opinion on the Youth Church or some experience of either its stunning success or plunging failure.

I’ve had a fair ol’ wack at the Youth Church and have changed my opinions on it more times than I change my socks. What I hope to present here is a wee snapshot of where I’ve come out; the what is it, the cons and the ways – I think – to to it properly!

I am not a ‘Youth Congregation Expert’, nor do I hold the only relevant opinion – please feel free to comment, share, poke and be part of the conversation.

What Is Youth Church?

Let’s start with the basics – Youth Church covers a spectrum of gatherings from a semi-regular alternative service for a specific young age group, right through to teenage driven Churches complete with sacraments, pastors and a solid organization structure.

They often cross-pollinate elements of youth clubs with church services and more recently they might add bits (like prayer stations) from to alternative worship gatherings.

This makes youth services nearly as varied as the regular services they emulate. In most Youth Church services, however you will probably find things like crowd games, modern band-led music, a talk of sorts, some kind of response and maybe food. There should always be food!

A Wee Bit Of History

Youth Church is nothing new. Before the Sunday School Movement led by Robert Raikes (incidentally the great granddaddy of my Greek lecturer!) in 1780, Children up to age twenty-five met regularly together for teaching and worship in ‘Children’s Church’ across the UK. Raikes effectively split this into smaller age-specific classes and divided the well oiled team of adults up to all become teachers (regardless of gifting) – which is why today we have to spend hours fussing with rotas and driving square pegs into round holes. Grr.

Youth Services enjoyed a brief comeback during the 1940’s particularly through Billy Graham rallies then they came back with a vengeance in the 1960s when mainline denominations started to accept developing Pentecostal values into their gatherings. New Wine’s 1993 brainchild ‘Soul Survivor’ has added something of a standard or template for many Youth Gathering’s today.

Youth Church today is often at the heart of thriving Youth Ministries and, done successfully, can be the defibrillator to the dying heart of a church!

So What’s The Problem

There are two:

First, they are often responsible for splitting a church, sinking a ministry and creating a generation of bottle-feeding Christians.

Second, the segregated Church (be it Youth… or more common and no less intentional ‘Old Church’) is simply not Biblical.

Let’s look at both of these in a wee bit of detail:

Note. I’m using the word ‘often’ below to show the potential danger zones and not to categorize all Youth Church projects. Hopefully, if you read beyond the problems section you’ll find out how massively in favor I am of Youth Church and how it can be used to great effect!


A modern classic scenario in the UK is this: a church hires a very likeable, charismatic young and often generic Youth Leader, pumps money into his budget and doesn’t keep his work accountable. Said Youth Leader starts three things, an open youth club, a big show-based event and some kind of Youth Church.

After 2 years the youth work is ‘thriving’ but then the youth leader gets a better offer and moves on. The youth club implodes (or more likely explodes) because the volunteers can’t handle it. The event stops being popular because it was all based around that one person. Finally, the Youth Church now has no feeding or missional structure and so slowly breaks down too leaving the church with less than it started with.

This highlights the first part of this issue: Youth Church is often dependent on immature ministries. It’s quite hard to create the critical mass of people needed for a Youth Service from scratch or from the average sized UK youth group. This usually means you need feeder programs like open youth groups or big one-off events. These can provide a quick number boost but usually under the enormous strain of leaders and budgets. More importantly though these programs tend to be incredibly leader-centric and skip the important stages of discipleship, service and youth integrating with church (*see endnote).

These programs often create a whole youth work world that is totally isolated from the church as a whole. They begin to suck resources from the church they are attached to until dry – and in the worst cases effectively leave the church altogether. I’ve seen two Youth Churches split from their church and try to sustain themselves as Church plants – both inevitably failed and left everyone worse off.

I just hinted at the second part of the issue: Youth Church often bleeds leaders and churches dry. Even in less extreme cases than our scenario above, Youth Services still tend to have only the minimal resemblance or interaction with the church they are a part of. As such they still often either leech its resources or – even more unhealthily – try to push on without the needed support. This chews people up and spits them out. I developed a Youth Service like this and for three years was run by three amazing but very, very tired people. Of course they all quit and now it looks nothing like it!

The more pressing issue off the back of this though is what kind of Young People does this create?

So the final part of the issue: Youth Church often develops highly Youth Church-dependent Young People. Youth Churches often fall into two categories; youth led and adult led. The former with the right supervision are generally the better of the two, however in both cases they are churches designed solely to serve those within them. The music, style, games – everything – is aimed at young people. It’s aimed to reach and serve them where they are at which if done in isolation, like Youth Church often is, develops an incredibly consumerist experience. The young people start to develop their idea of Christianity, Church and Jesus based on that single styled consumerist experience. When they meet something that doesn’t fit that experience, or more likely when they outgrow it, they ditch it.

Without regularly mixing them with the whole body, learning to integrate with the family, instilling a sense of community belonging and service and creating a healthy youth community within that, young believers won’t grow into whole believers.


Church in the Bible refers to the body of believers both globally and locally and, although we do see people-specific gatherings we do not see people-specific churches.

Some groups go the whole hog and say that all youth work should be disbanded because of this. A couple of years ago a bunch of Christian film makers created the documentary, “Divided: Is Age-Segregated Ministry Multiplying or Dividing The Church?”

I don’t go that far, but I do think they are on to something really significant – you simply don’t find any model of Youth Church in the Bible.

What you do find is a gathering of young people in the Disciples, mentoring of youth through Eli and Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy etc. and you also find significant young people used by God throughout every stage of salvation history for instance David, Josiah, Esther and Mary. This forms part of our Biblical bases for youth work.

Its not just an argument from silence however; the Bible is clear on what a church should be which contradicts a youth-only congregation. When it comes to church it’s definitely a family affair. Every member serves the others in community to both reflect and reach out to the word beyond. When you start segregating parts of the church you are effectively doing extreme amputation surgery which, according to 1 Corinthians 12, we’re all going to feel!

We like to paraphrase verses like Matthew 18:20 as ‘when two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name – that’s church.’ Not only does this drastically mistranslate the verse but it totally removes it from it’s context which is about loosing a brother to sin. Church is the body of believers, varied and unified. Without both unity and diversity you don’t have a church you just have a club.

Because a church necessitates variety and diversity I do believe its helpful to have specific teaching and discipleship groups and programs – but these generally should not separate to form whole congregations apart from the body, and like all separated covenants in the Bible, should only do so in order to be reconciled. Churches and Parents have the primary responsibility to raise young people – not Youth Programs.

So Is The Youth Church Lost?

No. Now that we have the bumpers up, let’s throw the ball and hit some pins! There are some specific ways that the Youth Church can be a healthy part of Church as a whole. Let’s look at some:

Youth Church As Supplement
When not replacing regular church, Youth Church services can provide a very helpful place for young people to explore their faith and worship in relevant and safe ways that whole congregations just cannot cater for.

I currently run a small Youth Church styled gathering of about fifteen to twenty-five young people from around eight different churches. We meet to supplement what is happening in their churches in a relevant way while providing a community of young people that no one of those churches on its own could.

We meet outside of service times, know all of their pastors and work hard to find out if each young people is being integrated as part of their home church.

Youth Church As Transition

For many young people they love Jesus but the church is totally alien to them. Youth Church can provide a safe place to sample and talk about church activities and elements without the sometimes overwhelming pressure of it.

Youth Church As Place Holder
Sometimes the tragedy is that the only church available to a young person is drastically inappropriate for them. Youth Church can provide an environment to grow as a Christian while that church trains and develops who they are to be more approachable to young people.

For this to work you need a realistic idea about growth, a personal active involvement and voice in that church and regular ‘out-of-service’ times for the young people to meet with and be in a serving relationship with people of that church too.

Youth Church As Reconciliation
I meet so many young people that have been so burned by church that they have all but given up on it – however they may stick with Youth Church for a while. Done well and sensitively this can provide a space for healing and hopefully restored faith in church as a whole and reconciliation.

Youth Church As Training Ground
Unfortunately – and much to my continued displeasure – many if not most ministries and jobs inside regular church services are inaccessible for young people. Youth Church can be a safe and accessible place to develop skills and gifts and to learn to serve.

All Youth Churches I have worked with have had young people on planning teams, in bands, running games, driving publicity and occasionally doing talks. Youth Churches also allow you to run young people specific local missions.

Youth Church As Culture Yardstick
Odd thing to say perhaps however Churches should he ahead of and driving culture not a generation behind it. Youth Church is a great place to develop culturally relevant material and styles which can through healthy integration be bought into the church as a whole.

Youth Church As Worship Developer
Similar to culture yardstick Youth Church is often made up of ready-to-try-anything young people who can gauge, test and try new worship songs, prayer methods, service elements and styles of approaching God. These can then also be sensitively shared with the church as a whole.

Youth Church As Community Hub
A healthy collection of youth projects needs a place of general overlap. A Youth Church is a great place to bridge gaps between evangelistic and discipleship programs. Often you can fill the space with community-driven activity and ideas that reflect a Biblical view of church but doesn’t make anybody too uncomfortable.

Youth Church As Match-Maker
A random one to end with but my current youth group is going through the pains of relationships and love triangles at the moment. *sigh.* Youth Church not only provides a good sampling of potential Christian partners, but also an open and social place of Christian accountability for those blossoming relationships.

Conclusion Type-Esq Thoughts

Having sat for the last three hours writing this in the midst of being off work with a relativity nasty virus I’m not entirely sure how it will come across! However over my last 15 years I’ve been involved with many Youth Churches and Youth Services and have seen and made some tremendous errors!

However I’m not a baby-and-bathwater person and I would love to see the Youth Church thrive and help drive the church into growing health.

Does every youth program need one? No! Should every church have one? Definitely not – but if you do, seek God and seek whole church health through it. Be in it for the long haul and let the youth programs you already have drive it rather than trying to use it as a youth work kickstart.

Have fun. Love young people. Love Jesus. Love Church.

* I am in favor of both open youth groups and one-off events however in the UK I believe these should generally be shared ecumenically and often with the help of dedicated charities like YFC or Urban Saints. This spreads the load and allows more intentional followup through a variety of churches.