I believe that a biblical student ministry understands that it is the call of both the church and the family to disciple students and thus present all people complete in Christ. Some would argue that biblical student ministry is an oxymoron. That may shock you–but you may also be unaware of the current state of student (or youth) ministry in American evangelical churches. I don’t think the answer is to get rid of student ministry altogether as some have suggested. However it is clear, as the statistics that follow are quite alarming, that student ministry must change if it is to honor the Lord and succeed in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
The current youth ministry statistics reveal that there is something wrong with youth ministry today:
- According to recent research somewhere between 70 and 88 percent of Christian teenagers are leaving the church by their second year in college (Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith, 10).
- Over 80% of teens who claim to be “born-again” do not believe in the existence of absolute truth (Baucham, 11).
- A recent Barna survey focused on finding out how teens beliefs differ from their parents found that:
- 63% don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
- 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths.
- 51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.
- 65% don’t believe Satan is a real entity.
- 68% don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a real entity (Steve Wright, Rethink: Is Student Ministry Working?, 34). The vast majority of those polled claimed that they and their parents were Christians. It is clear that these statistics do not square up with John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” The sad reality today is that most of the people in our churches, especially our youth, do not possess a biblical worldview, so that when they get to college they are not prepared to defend the faith as they may or may not even believe defending they faith is necessary. It is clear that youth ministry needs to change!
- In a recent survey of parents by the Barna Group, it was found that the number one goal parents have for their children is that their children would get a good education (Baucham, 19). Only half as many parents considered their children’s having a relationship with Jesus Christ as important as their child’s education.
- Another recent study focused on college freshman found that:
- Parents play an extremely important role in developing the religious attitudes and practices of their offspring.
- Parents of students who did not leave the church emphasized religion twice as much as those who students who left the church.
- Students who stayed in church through college said that the first thing they do when they have doubts or questions was to talk to their parents and then read their Bibles (Wright, 48-49).
These statistics may seem shocking, but they shouldn’t given the direction that most youth ministries are headed today. Most youth ministries pull students away from the family rather than equipping and encouraging families to raise up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God created the family and intended for the family to be the avenue in which faith is passed on from generation to generation (Deut. 6:7-9; Eph. 6:4). Parent’s must teach their children “diligently” to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and might (Deut.6:4-7). There are some stunning correlations here-the majority of students who graduate from our youth ministries are abandoning the faith by their second year of college and most parents see their child’s faith as less important than their education. Perhaps even more profound is the fact that God created the family and commands for it to be the primary avenue of discipleship and the students who are sticking with the faith through college are those whose parents are spiritually engaged in their lives. In other words put the Biblical data together with the current youth ministry statistics and we find that youth ministry is failing at its stated purpose to build up and equip students to be passionate disciples of Jesus Christ.
So here is briefly what I propose:
Parents are essential to effective student ministry. It is the parents who are called upon in Scripture to oversee the spiritual upbringing of their children (Deut. 6:6-7; Ps. 78:1-8, Eph. 6:4). In fact the Scriptures have much more to say about parents meeting the spiritual needs of their children than it does about pastors. I believe that if student ministry is to be biblical, parents must be the primary disciplers of their children. If we are to be faithful to God’s call to disciple the young people in our churches, we must begin to restructure our student ministries so that they encourage, build up, and partner with parents to disciple their children in the home.
In posts to follow I will give a more detailed plan of action and address the inevitable question–“What about student’s whose parents are unbelievers or unchurched?”