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Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why a church has (or should have) a youth ministry? Youth ministry is never talked about in any of Paul’s epistles and there really isn’t much of a precedent for separating youth in the isolated way most churches do. This questions is one that every person involved with youth ministry should be able to answer. From the senior pastor, to the elders, to parents, to volunteers, to the paid youth worker.

As I began to think about this question one thing that popped into my mind is that fact that most parents in the church don’t live up to their responsibilities. Most parents don’t catechize their children, teach them the scriptures, or do any sort of ‘home church’ activities. Scripture is pretty clear about who’s responsibility children are (Deuteronomy 6). Parents should do these things. However, for the most part parents have abdicated their responsibilities and taken a laissez-faire approach to their children’s spirituality. Many parents then look to the church, to the youth pastor, or even look to their children to find their own way. This isn’t an article about parenting, but because of a lack of spiritual guidance youth ministry becomes necessary.

One one hand a youth worker is simply a member of the congregation that has taken vows to the covenant children of the church to do all possible to the end that the children profess faith in Christ and are faithful to him. In this way, a youth worker is no different than any other member of the church. At the very least most churches in the reformed tradition value and actually have their members take vows when a child is baptized saying that they will pray for, and be a part of spiritual life of this child.

I think the big misconception in youth ministry (it’s a misconception by parents, elders, students, and youth minsters themselves) is that a youth pastor is or should be the primary spiritual cause in a student’s life. As mentioned earlier, scripture clearly states that parents are responsible for their own children. The bible teaches of three spiritual causes in a child’s life. The first is not surprisingly God Himself. 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us that, “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” God is the primary cause in a child’s life. In the wisdom of God he ordained that children are brought up by Parents. (Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 6:1-4) And finally way down the list the church and the fellowship of believers is the third cause in a child’s life. Although this responsibility falls to the congregation as a whole, in the wisdom of the church, it has been appropriate to appoint and set apart certain individuals for youth and children’s ministry.

I don’t want to be a parent to every child in my youth group, I can’t be a child to every parent in my youth group. This is not the youth pastor’s job. The youth pastor is a tertiary cause in a child’s life. But there are two main roles that I see a youth pastor filling.

First, there are numerous students that don’t have parents. Either through divorce, or death, or the unbelief of one or both parents, often times students come to my ministry as spiritual or actual orphans. This is the historic reason for having a youth pastor in a church. After WWII there were many children without a dad. The church filled the need by hiring or getting volunteers to disciple and care for these children. I take this part of my job very seriously. I seek out the students who don’t have a dad, or whose dad left their mom. These students more than anything need a man to step into their life and speak the truth of scripture. An elder could do this, a member of the church could do this, however, as a full time youth pastor, I have the time, the resources, and the gifting to do this as well.

The second main role as I see it is to supplement parents. As I said before a youth pastor can’t and shouldn’t want to take over the parents role. If they do, you have a problem. But as any parent knows, sometimes a little help is great. I equip parents by giving them good books, praying for them, and encouraging them. Often times I will teach something to a student and they will finally understand it, even though the student’s parent has been saying the exact same thing for years. It’s not that I am better at teaching, or anything like that. But sometimes an outside voice can be helpful. As a full time youth minister (and one educated at Seminary) I can spend more time preparing a Sunday School lesson and probably go into more depth than a parent normally could. In this way I can assist the parent in growing and educating their child to maturity as a tertiary spiritual cause.

If the church was perfect and all its members were mature Christians who lived obedient lives to Christ, I wouldn’t have a job. But it’s not. So my job is to shepherd the orphans and to be a tertiary cause in the lives of our covenant youth.

Ben Shear is the Youth Pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church in Michigan. He also runs the website Reformed Youth More articles like this at Reformed Youth