The End of the Superpersonality Youth Pastor

Originally written September 1992.

While I was in Bible college in the Mid-Eighties, I was blessed to have a close relationship with the youth ministry professor in his classes as well as the times he spent with my youth ministry.  I learned from him timely strategy on how to reach the unchurched youth.  It involved much on my part.  I was to eat lunch in the school cafeteria with the students, be a guest speaker in classes, and bring in assembly speakers.  Through these high exposure situations, I was to meet those unchurched youth.  By meeting them and getting to know them , this would encourage my youth to invite them to the youth meeting.  The thinking was if they liked me, they would like the youth meeting.  If they liked the youth meeting, they would then be exposed to the gospel and make a decision to follow Jesus.

This model did not allow me to witness to the youth at school since that would be considered proselytization which was not allowed on school grounds. I could just “hang out” with them.  This model also gave my youth an easy approach to witnessing since all they had to do was invite their friends to the youth meeting and not actually get into their testimony or the plan of salvation.

As the saying goes, “That was then, this is now.”  Now laws have limited yours and my exposure on the public school campus.  Just recently the Supreme Court ruled that graduation prayers given by a minister are unconstitutional.  That is the most recent example of how the public school campus is being closed to us adult youth workers.

However, at the same time the laws have moved greatly in favor of student rights to shire their faith on campus.  These rights are greater than what we could ever have hoped to achieve.

The next paragraph of information may be family to you but please allow me to give a brief overview of this particular that I am referring to.  Back in 1984 Congress passed a law called the Equal Access Act which stated that Bible clubs have the same access rights on public school campuses as any other non-curricular clubs.  In June of 1990, the Supreme Court upheld that right in a case called Board of Education of the Westside Community Schools vs. Mergens.  What the Supreme Court decision said was if a school is 1) a secondary school, 2) receives federal funds, 3) and has other non-curricular clubs, students have a legal right to start a Bible club.  This right also allows students to hang posters, distribute flyers, use the public address system, wear Christian t-shirts, etc.  I have plenty of information on this if you want to know more.

Let me take this information a step further as to what it means to us as youth leaders.  The season has passed where the quality of the youth program or the personality of the youth worker is what draws youth into the kingdom of God.  Now the work of evangelism lays mostly on the youth.  We will still be meeting youth who do not know Christ and we will still be desiring to offer the best program possible for the youth ministry.  However, our youth can share the good news of the gospel with their lab partners, lockermates, team mates, etc., on their territory.  Our job is to equip our youth to do just that.  Our focus needs to be on building you youth to do this work.

For those of us who are veterans in youth ministry, this may be a hard change.  We’ve relied so long on our personality and/or program that our security in ministry may rest in it.  For the rest of us veterans we may shout for joy because it frees us up from planning yet another event to draw unchurched youth in the hope they come to Christ. It gives us an opportunity to practically teach our youth how to live out their faith.

For the majority of youth workers are volunteers, you are now freed from the time pressures you may have felt.  The thoughts you have wrestled with concerning “if only I were on full-time staff” or “if only I had more time to put in” no longer are of great concern.  Not that you can still desire to be in full-time youth ministry but that you can now focus on equipping your youth to do the youth work you haven’t had the time to do.

Another plus in this new ‘90s youth ministry is the work of evangelism is not being done by one church or one youth ministry.  It is being done by Christian youth.  No matter what denomination they come from, they are all meeting together for one purpose, to spread the good news of Christ.

I know we all have the desire to be unified among all denominations and churches in our youth work.  We have worked hard and spent much money to do events together to cross these denominational boundaries.  The results have taken a toll on the time we can allocate to our youth ministries and very little of the unified goal is accomplished.  Through these Bible clubs (which include prayer meetings or whatever the students which to do) we may finally have found the solution.

While in Bible college, the same youth ministry professor had us praying in class we as out of class for the youth revival of the ‘90s.  This is what he lived and bread for beginning in 1984.  It is now 1992.  Two years have passed but the groundwork is there.  Revival is beginning.  The laws of the land have given us new keys to the kingdom to reach this generation.  There is new strategy to be planned.  We are in for some exciting years.

Reflections from 2011:  It was 10+ years later that my wild-frontier opinion completely changed on the effectiveness of school Bible clubs.  I had hopes in 1992.  By 2004 this plan has been mostly ineffective. 

Also the 1990s and now the ‘00s have passed and I’ve yet to witness this widespread youth revival.  Though I do have hopes this year from what I predict will be the results of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  We’ll see over time if this wild-frontier thinking is correct. 

What is amazing is how Brenda-centered youth ministry was in the 1980s and how Brenda-centered it was taught to be.  I see here an early glimpse of my frustrations which led to the revelation in 2003 of how youth ministry was centered on the youth worker which led to the wonderful fruit of Church Family-Based Youth Ministry.