My Response to Kenda Dean and the Christian Post Report that “Student Ministry” is Failing

This is a Response to this Blog on The Christian Post website, reporting on Kenda Dean’s generalization that “Student Ministry” is failing.  The basic premise being that Youth Ministry isn’t doing a good job communicating the deep things of our Christian Faith to young people.

I have a hard time understanding how  “Student Ministry” is failing mainly due to my own observations in my ministry and as an observer of Youth Ministry as a profession. This movement away from Biblical knowledge, I believe,  is a trend of the culture at large. The Minister to Youth has been working against this tide for a long time. Students come into the ministries unable to understand basic concepts such as the oneness of the Trinity or the timeline of faith from Adam to Abraham to David to Jesus to the Apostles to us today.

There are a lot of factors working on this:
(1) Normal people don’t learn Greek and Hebrew, nor do they receive Theological instruction as they used to in “Classical” education. Most people specialize in their fields, so basic theology isn’t a foundation for the other sciences and philosophies and trades.

(2) Due to this, the “Common” or public space is primarily unable to talk to theological issues, and this includes the heads of families across the modern world.

(3) Children speak to what they know as they grow – and they do not understand the deep things of God because those who raise them do not know how to teach them. Nor is it common for faith to be openly shared, so it is not a “lived” faith. Faith matters are reserved for births, death, and times of suffering. Sundays are primarily a time of reflection, community and empowerment rather than giving all Glory to God a lot of the time.

The youth pastor, the pastor, the priest or the layperson – whoever walks into this soup and tries to teach, will find it a challenging task (I do not think this is a new phenomenon). Every youth ministry I’ve participated in or have been in connection with, has had deep theological teaching, discipleship oriented groups and lots of talking about the Story of God and lots of Bible learning. There is something bigger going on in demographics, and it has to do with the priorities of people. It has been happening slowly over time, and the church has done lots to recognize it and turn that tide – but even in scripture there is precedent for tides of culture and the times.

Thinking about the “Big Picture”, in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Chronicles and 1 and 2 Kings, there are generations who do turn to God and do great things. Then there are generations who take the blessings for granted and walk away. Where are we on the continuum? Are we near a time of reform like with King Josiah? Or are we at a time where the people desire to walk away?

And ultimately, that doesn’t change a thing about our mission or what we do as believers. We keep loving God, loving our neighbor, and following Jesus’ Great Commission to Go, baptize and teach.

I’m positive in nature, I’ve seen good things happen in this generation, and even if the big picture is bleak – we need to stay on point and focused on the job. Discouragement is not something that we have time for. God will work and use those who are called despite the times.

The main thing that K.Dean gets right is this: this generation’s faith has a baseline of “Moral Therapeutic Deism,” but that isn’t a reason to act out of desperation.  Thomas Jefferson once thought that the “Unitarian” faith would be the faith of our nation within 10-20 years – that didn’t happen.  If one believes in the Holy Spirit and looks on the history of God through the ages, there is reason to hope, pray and equip – knowing that the next great wave of God’s spirit is about to come.

Education of Christian Principles is part of the solution, but the primary key to everything, is connecting people to the heart of God so that they will want nothing but to be filled God’s greatness.  Education comes easier with passion, when hearts are on fire and our spirit is awakened.  This starts with a few individuals passing on the light.  Considering how many serious Youth Ministers I see, and how many Parents I see getting serious about their faith and passing it on – I believe the future is more hopeful than we think.

Food for thought: Get excited about learning about God, share it with others and dig in deep with a small group of committed people.  If you don’t know where to start, ask someone who is passionate about it, including a pastor at your church.  They would love to hear that you want to start digging in ;D

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2 thoughts on “My Response to Kenda Dean and the Christian Post Report that “Student Ministry” is Failing

  1. I think starting from a place of understanding our failure is the best step forward.

    1. After nearly 50 years of well-funded church-based youth ministries, our impact is numerically dropping significantly. In my community, which has some really great youth ministries, less than 1000 HS students per week are involved in a ministry among the 9000 in residence. 1:9 is a failure of strategy, pure and simple.

    2. It’s been well-documented that the industry you and I work in has helped foster MTD. That’s a fail we need to deal with, even rooting out some MTDers in our midst.

    YM has done and continues to do many good things for the Kingdom. But I would argue that our next 50 years has to be built on a sober judgement of success and failure. We need to shake out of the rut we are in! We know, unequivocally, what doesn’t work. So we need to kill what doesn’t work, lean into what does, and keep innovating.

    Just IMO, anyway. 🙂

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    1. I agree with you Adam,

      But I think that the framing of the conversation is odd. Our culture as a whole has been slowly walking away from a faith centered life for more entertainment oriented lifestyles as our culture continues to develop.

      If in a community only 1 out of 10 people are going to church on Sunday, the youth side of this is going to be similar.

      If Youth Minister’s own our part of the problem (which I think good YM’s are already aware), then how do we move forward when (1) Youth Minister’s are usually hired to specifically meet the discipling needs of a particular faith community, and (2) Evangelism tends to be a slow process due to the relational nature of real growth in people’s lives, and (3) We don’t own American Culture – the majority does – the “Common”, and there is little interest in faith in the public sphere. In fact – there is currently a purge going on. (on a side note – if a YM is a MTD, I have a hard time believing that they are going to be paying attention to this debate.

      Perhaps, and this comes from my own perspective, the best solution is to keep doing what good YM’s have always been trying to do. Create small groups of disciples who meet for growth in the faith and mutual accountability.

      Cultures move in waves, and the tide does turn from time to time. I think that this message of “fear” for the future does not work for Christian’s who believe in the providence of God, and the viability of their call to continue working in faith even when everything else seems to be caving in.

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