Youth and Theology

April 24, 2012

‘The vast majority of teens, who call themselves Christians, haven’t been well educated in religious doctrine and, therefore, really don’t know what they believe.” Certainly, these results, at least to some degree, reflect the typically shallow theological culture of youth ministry. Why, then, does there seem to be a gap between youth ministry and theology?

We live in a society where we have relegated the teen years to something of a carefree vacation, protected from consequences and responsibilities.

It is strange that we teach young people complex calculus and physics but don’t think they can handle or will be interested in understanding the significance of the Trinity or atonement.

Churches have different expectations of youth ministries.

Some pastors view youth ministry as a necessary bother. They see youth ministry as required yet do not want it to cause them problems or drain their time. Some churches view youth ministers as entertainers and buddies, not serious ministers of God’s Word. Hence, they may hire energetic young adults without theological training (this varies between denominations) to run programs and do little to invest in their theological formation. The care with which we select youth pastors is not typically on par with the process we go through to call other clergy. Often the first question a church leader has for the youth pastor is, “How many came this week?” The second one may be, “Did they have fun?”

Youth pastors just love kids and want them to meet Jesus.

Evangelistic passion among some youth pastors has meant a neglect of theology—both studying it and teaching it. We can aim for “decisions for Christ” and overlook the spiritual formation that follows conversion. It is easy to get so wrapped up in doing evangelism and relationships that little time is spent deepening our own understanding of doctrine. Given that most people who come to faith do so before they complete their teen years, a youth minister can easily take on the attitude that “students don’t need deep theology, they just need Jesus.” Yet presenting the gospel without a solid theology is dangerous. A youth pastor with weak theology is more susceptible to developing a messiah complex, thinking we need to save these students. Students who don’t grasp good theology cannot articulate a faith that will stand up in college or beyond.’


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