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What Is the Achilles Heel of Youth Ministry?

What is the achilles heel of your youth ministry?
What is our collective achilles heel in the youth ministry world? What’s holding us back?

When I asked this question to a group of youth workers some time ago, Dr. Dave Rahn brought up that, at its root, the problem of kids leaving the church after youth group boils down to a theology problem, based on our theology of church. He suggested each church has a self-image based on their theology of church, and that works itself out in all kinds of practical ways. If you take some of those assumptions down the road a few iterations and years, you end up with teenagers who aren’t connected with their churches beyond youth group. I’d love to see a book on this, frankly: how a variety of ecclesiologies result in certain approaches to youth ministry.

My observation, based on the youth ministries I observe, is that our collective achilles heel for decades was arrogance. And this is still present, but I think it’s moved into a second-place spot, behind fear. Fear has become a motivator for way too much of what happens in youth ministry these days. All kinds of fear: fear of parents, fear of church boards, fear of our little kingdoms being threatened, fear of our salaries being threatened. But more than all of these, I’ve seen a fear of culture become a motivating force. Often, this is a roundabout fear: Parents and church leaders possess a fear of culture, and youth workers instinctively know that if they play into these fears, they will get resources and job security and whatever else we desire.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [and daughtership]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

Fear is a cul-de-sac. It might bring short-term results; it might get donors to open their wallets, secure our jobs and get people in our churches to see ‘value’ in the youth ministry. But it starves our souls, and sets our teenagers up for a lifetime of wrong-headed interaction with culture and the world.

How could we see our ministries embrace hope instead of fear?

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

This verse is word-for-word in Psalm 42:5, Psalm 42:11 and Psalm 43:5. Now, I know there are literary/poetic reasons why this verse repeats three times in two chapters. But it also seems to indicate that it’s something we should really notice!

What would it look like for our ministries to be characterized as ministries of hope?  

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moestreicher@churchleaders.com'
Mark Oestreicher is a 30-year veteran of youth ministry, and the former President of Youth Specialties. Marko has written or contributed to more than 50 books, including the much-talked-about Youth Ministry 3.0. Marko is a speaker, author, consultant, and leads the Youth Ministry Coaching Program.