Youth Ministry is dying: What happened?

Picture this: your favorite cow has been faithfully grazing out in the pasture. One day you notice that something isn’t quite right with her. Upon arriving to check on her, you realize something is definitely wrong. You have 3 options: call the vet to give an opinion (will be expensive and the cow still might not live), pretend all is well while you continue with your day, or shoot her to put her out of her misery. Youth ministry is in trouble and it’s time to figure out the issue.

The numbers do not lie. More and more students are walking away from the church and are not returning. I have talked to youth pastors from various parts of the state and they see the same things. It used to be that this happened in the senior year of a student’s life, but seems to be happening more frequently at the time of driver’s license. Years ago, a driver’s license was a blessing to a youth pastor. The faithful kids would pick their friends on their way to church. That isn’t happening much any more. So what happened?

I have been in student ministry for over ten years now and I love students. I still believe that students have the ability to change the world for Christ. I do not believe that there is one simple answer to the problem. There is a little blame that we could place at several feet. There is a lot of competition for student’s time these days. There is school, sports, family time, friends, hobbies, extracurricular activities, and maybe church. Is it the students fault, the parents, the youth pastor, coaches, teachers, a scary clown? The truth is that there is so much competition for the hearts of students. Jesus was not much for competition. He is an all or nothing kinda God.

Students are no longer captivated by the Gospel message. That doesn’t mean that the powerful message of Jesus Christ has lost any steam, but students are not seeing that it makes any difference in people’s lives. Students generally have no clue sometimes, but they can sniff out a fake a mile away. Students are spotting the hypocrisy that has invaded our churches, but this isn’t a new problem. Check out this quote from Gandhi:

“If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” 

The same is true for Texas and the United States. The reason students are not captivated by Christ is because they don’t see Christ lived out except for an hour on Sunday morning. Christianity is a title we hold, not a way of life. Students are looking for truth and meaning in this crazy world and it is a sad day when they cannot find it among people who call themselves followers of Jesus.

I believe there are two main (probably more, but let’s keep it simple) problems. Like the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2), we have left our first love. Can you remember when you first came to Christ, such joy and excitement. You had found real eternal life and there was this sense of invincibility. You wanted to conquer the world for Jesus. You had a burning desire for others to know him as well. You talked about Jesus often. But now you are content being saved, but the fire and passion is gone. We have been trying to fake our way through this and the students noticed that something was up; even when we refused to acknowledge it. I admit that there has been times when my passion for Christ had wained and my thirst for this world was unquenchable. I am sure you can relate.

The second main issue. We want a Savior, but have no need for a Lord. I see it all too frequently. Someone walks the aisle of a church.  They want an eternal life insurance policy and are baptized only to never see them again. Luke 9:23 lays it out pretty clearly that Jesus wants all of our lives, not just a one time decision. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to come with me, he must deny himself, take up his cross DAILY, and follow me.'” Jesus doesn’t want a one time decision; He wants an everyday lifetime decision. He wants us to choose Him and His way daily. He even spells out that it will be difficult, but it is the only to follow Him.

I love baseball. Picture this: I make the professional team of the Astros in the spring. I don’t play any spring training games, I never travel with the team, and I never take an at bat. But now my team (This is hypothetical. I am a Yankees fan but they aren’t in they World Series) is in the world series. Tomorrow is the final game of the world series. Altuve hits a grand slam and the closer miraculously shuts down the Dodgers in the ninth. I come running out onto the field wanting to hold the trophy and I keep asking the management about my world series ring. What are they going to say to me? “WHO ARE YOU? Security!!!”

That is a ridiculous analogy but all too often that is how Christ is treated. We want salvation, eternal security, and no condemnation for our sins, but we want to run the rest of our life. The Christian faith is all about surrender. We throw our hands up because we realize that we can do nothing about our hopeless situation. Then we submit to Him as Lord of our life. He calls the shots and He makes the plans. You cannot separate the two out. He is Savior and Lord. Yet, you go into any church on any given Sunday and you will find that this is the prevalent theology of Christians. Students need to see real people sacrificing and giving their all for Christ. But sadly, all they see if people giving out their excess or their scraps to Christ. No wonder students see us as fakes. We don’t passionately love Jesus and we definitely don’t want him calling the shots in our life because He may ask us to give up an idol in our heart. We don’t want that at all. So we polish up on Sunday, and do whatever we want Monday thru Saturday. It is the responsibility of the older generation (older than a teenager) to pass on the baton of faith to the younger generation, but we must show them first that it is worth grabbing a hold of.

So what can we do about it (if you are still reading at this point, lol)? I believe the answer is simple but painstakingly difficult. First, we must repent. We need to admit that we have been trying to run our own agenda and have lost our passion for Christ. We must then begin falling in love with Him all over again. To do that, you must fall in love with His word. Spend time reading the Gospels and see what Jesus instructed his disciples to do. Lastly, start living it out EVERY DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!!! Jesus saved you so that you can have a relationship with Him and (Don’t miss this) so that others would see that relationship shining through you and would want it too! Jesus saves us for us and for others to be invited in. How beautiful is that? This is being captivated by the Gospel message. When you start looking at your salvation as a way for others to enter the kingdom of God, this younger generation needs to see this more than ever. We are not competing with another offer. We are showing them the most powerful, life-changing message of all time. Their eternal destination is hanging in the balance waiting to see Jesus in You!!!

I have to be real honest. I have struggled with this at times. But I have repented and am moving in this direction. Will you please join me? The time has come for those who are called according to Christ to step into the light and stop walking in darkness. This world is dying, hurting, and looking for something to bring purpose and meaning to their destitute existence. Time is wasting away. This younger generation is sliding into hell. It is time to get off of our Blessed Assurance and charge the gates of hell. We have let Satan win too many battles. It is time to sound the alarm and rally the troops. Let’s give it all we have for the glory of God.

How have you begun to give your all for Christ? I would love to hear about it. Maybe you need some encouragement to help you fall back in love with Jesus or submitting to Him as Lord, I would love to help.

Grace and Peace to you as you live captivated by Christ and follow Him daily.

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