Friday, October 15, 2010

Ministry to Youth

Dan Stockstill, Ph.D., Harding University

Note: The following notes are from three sessions on youth ministry that Dr. Dan Stockstill presented at the Harding University lectures, Sept. 2010. I am presenting the notes here as I wrote them down - in a very simple, outline form. I hope they are useful. And thanks to Dan for his great class.


The challenge for teens - they don’t know how to grow up. What is adulthood? There is no definition. It is subjective. It is not discussed in detail in scripture. It is an assumption.

Many churches see the ministry of the youth minister ending at high school graduation. But, where do they go next? Many churches do not have a college ministry, and they may not feel like they fit in the adult class or programs.

When does a teen become an adult? "I am an adult when I say I am an adult." We may say they are adults when they are ready to accept the privileges and responsibilities of this life stage.

Alvin Toffler -

Historical periods -

1) Agrarian Wave - 3,000 BC to 1700 AD
The male became an adult when he could run the farm
The female became an adult when she could bear offspring and manage the home.
Adulthood was achieved when one could function as an adult.

2) Industrial Wave - 1700 AD to 1950
Adulthood - when you could get a job.

The Agrarian model was communal - running a farm contributed to the larger clan.
The Industrial model is individualistic - stand apart from others.

In the Industrial model you buy a house, but not on the farm. You have separate living arrangements. Also, there was a move from barter to money.

3) Informational Age - 1950 - 1990
Information is key.
Education now emphasized. The GI Bill gave a new perspective on what it meant to be an adult. A watershed event was mandatory high school education (1875?). In 1904 the word adolescence entered the English language.

In the Agrarian model everyone had to farm. The value was in having children, because then you had other hands to help on the farm.

The Industrial era saw the development of an upper elite. The elite had education, leisure and time to think. These privileges were for only a small percentage.

In the Information age, the longer you go to school, the longer you put off adulthood.
High school - college - graduate school.

In the Agrarian model you had to toil or perish.

4) Digital Wave 1990 -
Industrial wave - accumulate information
Informational wave - control of information
Digital wave - information is for everybody.

What does it mean to be an adult?
When they want to be.

How do we help them?
Extend family support until they can make decisions.

In our culture what defines adulthood? Independent decision making, responsibility, managing finances, relationships (how they are formed, maintained, kept)

The Generations
GI Generation
Buster (Gen X) - in the middle
Millenials - about age 30
Digital - about 8 years

The Industrial approach no longer applies.
This model segregates and separates; divides and conquers.
When used in churches this segregates and separates by age, grade, gender, etc.
Smaller churches group a wider array of ages by necessity.

A mission - reach the ones that don’t fit.

Our definition of adulthood affects how we interact and what we expect.
Ministry that segregates creates competition.
Isolation by generation creates generational competition over resources, time and recognition.

System - when one part suffers it all suffers. It takes a village to create a community where it is safe for a child to become an adult. Loving, nurturing. This environment doesn’t exist elsewhere.

The model of youth ministry for the last 40 years has been to keep good kids, good kids. We have had activities, trips for them. The unspoken message is that kids go on mission trips, to youth rallies, etc., but adults don’t - "This is what I do as a teenager, but it is not what adults do."

Teens go on mission and fun trips. But, from about age 15 to 25 many of them become inactive. During the years 25 to 35 many become active again, but often in other religious groups. We must build intergenerational bridges.

Questions of Adolescents (but, is really true of our whole life):
1) Whom Am I?
2) What is my community?
3) What is my purpose?
When we are young we ask these questions in the security of the home.

Congregations must ask these questions of themselves, too. Must ask about our identity, community, and purpose in ministry.

Interaction - invite people to mission trips who are not part of the teen generation.
Kids want to be respected.
What do we owe the kids at church? Mark 3 - Jesus asked, "Who is my family?"

How divisive can we make our body? How do we do outreach to connect with those not in our church? What we win them with is what we win them to.

The pursuit of a youth group is not necessarily the pursuit of a youth group in Christ. If a youth group is valued only in the box - class, devotional, leading singing - it is not big enough for a kids to give their lives to. Christianity is not defined by the box.

We need to concentrate on what goes on outside the box - ministry to the world. That will make what goes on inside the box more relevant.

Who is weak? Weary? Wounded? What are we going to do about it? If we focus on the box - our own little group - that is self-serving. It promotes narcissistic values. The end result of narcissism is self loathing. They end up hating what they should love.

Images of church/worship:
1) Water station in a marathon race. Refreshing.
2) Family meal - talk about your day. But you don’t spend your whole life at the table.

Adulthood is not the certainty of a final decision, but the certainty of direction.

Are we giving teens tools to
1) Handle their questions
2) Place them in community?

The single most significant cry of teens over the last 60 years has been "I’m lonely!"

Most teens feel like an island in the sea. If they feel that way when they graduate high school, they will not be an island in the sea, but a boat in the sea, blown about. (Who knows to what they will be tossed and finally feel connected?)
Stuff today - like plastic. Not quite as good as the original stuff, like Facebook.

Three key questions of pre-adults
1) Who Am I
- Giftedness
- Becoming
- Christ’s

2) Community
- God
- Authority
- Same gender
- Opposite gender

3) Pursuit of purpose
- Mission
- Sustaining
- Equipping

How you define adulthood has a lot to do with how these questions are answered.

Be patient and persistent
Are challenging a cultural norm
Will take extended energy before change that norm.

How do we help young people become adults as God intended them to be?
Cultural norm - minor/adult. Age limit. Not always valid.
An adult who is weak or immature may need more legal protection than a minor.

The church must encourage and equip.

1) Giftedness.
The age of the individual and connection to the body may not be otherwise where we expect them to be.
Giftedness is not an arrival but a process.
Grow like Jesus. In one year, will we be more like him?
Governing question - what can I do to please him?

2) Becoming
Purity, community, sin

3) Christ’s
Be more serious in how we do church.
It is Christ, first, last, always.

1) Authority
All of our authority is reflective, none inherent.
We all answer to God.

2) Relationships
Same and opposite gender.

1) Mission - pursuing what God has left us to do.

2) Sustaining - supporting those doing mission - uphold their hands.

3) Equipping - getting people ready.

Generational segregation leads to generational competition. How overcome?
1) Listen to one another’s stories, so they become our stories.
Kids should hear stories of grandparents - dating etc.
Teens would be amazed at struggles of grandparents.

Find ways for table time to be table time.
This is more important than the number of songs and efficiency of delivering.
Hurts, helps, challenges that brothers and sisters have faced, are facing, will face.
Share stories. Start with our stories.
[Blog article - Granparents - tell your stories to your grandkids]

2) Organize the learning of life skills.
Find projects to work together. Not church supporting teens doing it, but church doingit together as a group - young and old. Can be highway cleanup.
When people work together, they begin to work together.

Think about intentional bridging.
Mix and match instead of segregating.
Parents and teens open Word together.
Family devotions - can’t jump start. Equip.
Everyone in congregation has something to do. Ex. A 4 year old can pick up bulletins lying in pews.

Tom Sawyer - getting people to do job. How?
1) Make it appear it takes someone special to do it.
2) They invest themselves to make it work.
3) He projects an image they buy into.


Do not be negative, be positive.
Not a public speech, but a personal connection. "I need help with this."
Thousands heard Jesus, 120 (or 12) changed the world.

Mentor. Mark 3:14. To be with him, 3:6
Try to get adults to help teens.
Get teens to help adults. Prayer.
(Tutor sewing. Make bags for single moms)
Find something for everyone. Good at counting? Count kids on a trip :)

God’s grace is without limit, his gifts are without limit.
Gifts - find someone who is good at finding people’s gifts.

Things we can do immediately
1) Integrate teen and parents of teens. Small groups.
2) "Teen explosion" - break up. Have to sit with someone you normally don’t.

3) Be willing to learn from others. "I want to learn your songs" instead of "I want you to learn my songs."

God sets the orphans and widows in family. (cf. Psalm 68:6)
Mentoring - woman-teen girl; man-teen boy
The only work is to pick a mentor. Do stuff together. Whatever the lady wants to do with the girl, or man with the boy.

On new kids who are destructive to the building - "If we let them abuse our stuff like they abused Jesus, then we are starting to live like Jesus."

Everyone is worth something and Christ paid the cost.

Dan Stockstill


Working from some of the suggestions by Dan, I have begun setting up mentoring relationships in our church between adults and teens. Some of the following materials and ideas are to be shared in a meeting with the mentors before they begin meeting with their mentoree. I’m still working on this, and will make changes/additions as they develop.

For mentoring program:
1) George Smythe article on respecting teens
2) Mentoring purpose statement
3) What mentoring is:
4) Mentoring form
Date _______________________
Nature of visit ___________________________
To commend ______________________________
To be concerned about _____________________________

(3 on a page)

5) Assessment form
Name of Mentor _______________________________________________
Name of Mentoree _____________________________________________
Number of visits _______________________________________________
What were some good things about your visits:

What are some things in the life of your mentoree that we need to encourage (e.g., pursuing their education, work habits, relationships, self-esteem, etc.)

1) All good kids. Not trying to help them overcome criminal orientation (that we know of)
2) Light-hearted, fun. Just trying to get to know them better; connect.
3) Guidelines:
A] Lunch, dessert in your home, attend sporting event together.
B] Talk. Some openers -
How was your day?
What is your favorite sport? What do you like about it?
What is your favorite subject in school? What do you like about it?
Have you thought about going to college? Where?
C] Key off of their answers for further conversation.
Tell part of your story.
If they talk about struggling in school, tell them about a struggle you had in school.
If they are heart-broken over a relationship, tell them about a dating struggle you had.


  1. Great post..very helpful. I once led the young adult group of our church (roughly 18-30). It was always difficult for the teenages turning 18 to leave their youth group (roughly 14-20). They rarely felt ready to join the young adults. We as leaders never pushed them. Each person had a different maturity level.

  2. Thank you, Lynda. That is a wise to let each group mature at their pace. The tough issue for a small church is where to help them fit in. wb

  3. Wow. Such wisdom. I've often said our society discourages kids from growing up. They dress like adults, and want adult priviledges, but aren't expected to take adult roles and rules. It's confusing to them!

  4. Jeanette - Yes, this was a great series of lectures by Dan. I came a way with a pretty different perspective on youth ministry, helping youth grow up, etc.