Mythbuster #1-4

Originally published in 2006.

I am no Adam Savage or Jamie Hyneman, real Mythbusters.  No cast models or explosives were used in this Pair of Cleats.  This is just some quotes and some of my thoughts to blow up these youth ministry myths.  However it is up to you to declare each myth as “Busted”, “Plausible”, or “Confirmed” as you follow what God leads you to do in your own youth ministry.

Myth #1 – Program-centered youth ministry is what is wrong with youth ministry.

Since Youth Specialties came out and apologized for their role in attractional youth ministry, the ire has been released from youth workers blaming programming for what is wrong with youth ministry.  I appreciate Marko’s and Youth Specialties’ apology and the discussion it brought up.  Something is wrong with attractional youth ministry but is something really wrong with programs?


Not one of us got into youth ministry to run programs.  Not one of us will say we run a program-centered youth ministry.  We got into youth ministry because of the relationships we want to form to help teens find and grow in faith.  But the nature of the job requires us to run programs.  Yes, discipleship isn’t a one hour a week program but we need that hour a week to teach principles of discipleship.  Teens are not mini-adults.  They are students still learning.  They need to learn how to have a quiet time, who the actual Jesus is they are trying to follow, how to discern what is right or wrong.  This is what we need to teach and it is done through programming.  We can have our relationship-based times but to plan and function with more than one youth at a time, you have to program.  Maybe its the word program we don’t like.  Maybe we should call it designing or drafting or another cool synonym for programming.

As a youth worker, we do programs.  It’s part of our job.  It’s when we program the Holy Spirit right out of our programs that it becomes a problem.

Myth #2 – Relationship-based youth ministry means youth ministry is about the youth worker’s relationships.

As I mentioned above, we got into youth ministry because of the relationships we want to form to help teens find and grow in faith.  However, relation-based youth ministry has become about the relationships with the youth worker.  In the name of ministry, it is us who eats the pizzas and ice creams with individual youth.  It is us who MySpaces them.  It is us who visitors have the first adult conversation with. However as Dayle Rounds of Princeton Theological Seminary has correctly stated, “We think youth ministers are paid to have relationships with young people.  That can undermine the sense that other people should be having relationships with young people too.” (Youthworker Journal, May/June 2007)

Youth ministry should really be about the relationships between the youth and the entire church family.  Our role is to do relation-based youth ministry which correctly defined is us setting up the relationships between the teens and the church family.

Part of adolescent development is modeling.  When teens see others live out their faith commitment, they become encouraged when they can see their own efforts in relation to the efforts of others.  This comes from more than your faith walk.  And even more than your adult leadership team’s faith walks.  There is much that the grandmas, the already-busy children’s ministry leaders, and empty-nesters can pass on when you redefine your role to set them up in these one or more time occurrences.

Myth #3 – Youth Ministry is for the young and hip.

This myth has been “busted” for many years now, mainly because youth ministry is now nearing 70 years of existence.  That puts a lot of us defying that myth.  However, most of us old timers began as whippersnappers.  I began at the age of 18–what a brave or naive church that was.  One of my junior high youth from those years just turned 40 last month.  Even my grown youth are not young and hip anymore.

Monday Morning Insight had an article on another side of this myth: “50-year old youth pastors?: The notion of telling young women not to do things because the Bible says so just doesn’t wash in this culture. Pre-adult women are looking for a real live person who can demonstrate the wisdom of biblical concepts from the story of their own life. Interestingly, our friends commented that a 23-year old youth pastor simply may not have lived enough life to be able to supply this kind of credibility. Their comments made me wonder if we need a generation of youth ministers in their 40s and 50s who have enough personal history to be witnesses to the truth they proclaim.”

There will always be youth workers in their 20s but maybe the growing market is for older youth workers.  Maybe those many formerly young youth workers who left ministry, their training and their calling because of church wounding will return in their 40s and 50s.

Myth #4 – Youth ministry veterans are the smartest.

What is a youth ministry veteran?  Is there a defined number of years of experience that qualifies you as a veteran?  I don’t know but when I read articles with bios that say “6-year youth ministry veteran” I do laugh.  That is similar to a 20-year old giving advice to an 18-year old because they’ve been an adult for so long.  You know how much the 18-year old thinks he/she knows and you know how little that 20-year old has learned in two years.  Six-years of youth ministry experience is great (especially if it is at one church, not two or more) but I can’t grant that veteran status.

By the way, I want nothing to do with coming up with the criteria to grant that veteran status.