I never wanted to do youth ministry. In fact, in Bible college, I used to make fun of the guys who wanted to be youth pastors as less gifted and educated than those who worked with adults. God in his infinite wisdom has provided the last laugh. In every Church I have served I have also been one of the youth group leaders and often the primary director.
Two weeks ago, I started my 25th year of working with teenagers while serving as a preacher. Through the years I have seen my share of changes. In the beginning, there was no internet. No Church had a projector in their youth room; most did not have them in their main auditorium. I used a chalkboard, relied on audio tapes, and occasionally brought in a huge box TV that weighed hundreds of pounds to play a VHS tape. Here are five of the most significant changes I have personally witnessed in teen ministry over the years.
1. No One Respects Church Functions. In the early years, the school did not schedule any events on Sunday evening, and few things were planned on Wednesday night. Our Church recently gave up trying to have anything on Wednesday night because the schedule is already full. Sunday evenings are slowing filling up with extracurricular activities. The calendar is always packed for everyone, including teens.
2. Teens Have More Access to Christian Material. Whenever I encounter a young adult who wants to grow in the Lord, I have hundreds of resources for them. I used to have to search to find Christian music. The local Christian bookstore had a room where you could listen to cassette demos to see if you liked the latest band. Now you can find hundreds of songs through different online sources. There are more books, bands, lesson material, and possibilities than ever before.
3. Pornography is Changing Everything. While there is more access to Godly material than ever before, there is also more access to evil. Kids as young as 10-12 have open access to pornography without restriction. They consume it to the point that some claim it is rewiring their brains. It has an impact on the way they view sex, marriage, the opposite sex and themselves. The impact of this surge is going to be felt for years and years to come.
4. Sports is the New Religion. People worship at the altar of sports (at least in the areas I ministered). Once school is done each day, there is an undying commitment to athletics. It consumes time, energy and money. People throw all their efforts into the making sure their kid is involved in every activity, and it supersedes anything else, especially Church.
5. Grace is Needed Now More Than Ever. Teens today seem more lost, alone, hurting, full of shame and guilt, confused and empty. Suicide and addiction are on the rise. The need for the message of Jesus is growing with every day and every school year. I continually invite adults to join with me in reaching out to this generation with the grace of Jesus. They need people who model real faith and can teach the truth.
Many things have changed, but with God’s guidance, the work of youth ministry is more important now than ever. I pray you work for God’s glory in this generation.