The Purpose of Youth Ministry (It’s Not What You Think)

Skits. Games. Retreats. Small Groups. Meetings. Discipleship. Worship.

Ministry has an affinity for busyness and youth ministry is no exception. So much is done for the sake of a youth ministry, but little is ever thought deeply of its purpose.

Is it keeping teens busy?
Is it keeping teens busy?

Is it to make disciples? Is it to teach teenagers about Jesus? Is it to make morally upstanding young adults? Is it to help pass along tradition? It is to help teens navigate from childhood to adulthood? Is it about putting on a good show? Is it to make our church more marketable?

There are a plethora of answers that could be given (some better than others, though none less realistic). But in the confusion of over-programming and muddled purpose, I like how Andrew Root, Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, describes the purpose of youth ministry in his book Taking Theology to Youth Ministry.

“I contend that at its core youth ministry is about participating in God’s own action…Youth ministry is no different from any other ministry in finding its very center in God’s own act; where it is distinctive is only in its cultural location. Youth ministry could be defined as God’s actions with and for a culturally identified group called adolescents. What this means in the end is that youth ministry is every bit as theological as every other form of ministry, because its core isn’t games and skits but the action of God. What makes it distinct from other ministries is its particular focus on the actions of God with and for young people…” (38-39).

As he continues, Root’s fictional youth pastor Nadia “began to realize that if youth ministry were for participating in the act of God, she could live into this only by being honestly human before and with young people, calling them into their own humanity, inviting them to contemplate and search for God in the barren empty spaces of their own lives….Therefore, she began to see herself not as a leader who tried to get young people to do something, but as a co-searcher, a companion who walked with young people as they sought for God net to their yearnings, as a guide who could invite young people into ministry through their emptiness” (46, 48).

What do you think?


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