question has now been put out there. Any veteran in youth ministry
may have already had the thought but Time Magazine put it in
print. Is the teenager disappearing? Is the age of sweet 16, slumber
parties (girls only, not mixed), and hours of car talk becoming
something of another time? The life stage of teenager has only been
around for 50 years, but will it be around much longer?
We are seeing
the changes first hand. Boys and girls are becoming men and women
physically between the ages of 10 to 13. Most ten year olds are not
even invited to our youth meetings yet. Many high schoolers are
getting into their career jobs while still in high school. My high
school hires students to do their computer networking and webwork.
Students are doing work on their teachers’ computers and getting
paid. Think about that.
As USA Today
noted about the shortage of life guards, “There once was a time
when a lifeguard’s job was a plum assignment: Sit in the sun, chat
with your friends and earn spending money. But today, high school
and college students can earn more working at a grocery store or a
fast-food restaurant. And their opportunities are increasing: Pools
and beaches now must compete with Dell and Microsoft. ‘If your
choice is between a wonderful job as a lifeguard at the beach for $7
an hour or $20 an hour working for a dot-com company, the decision
may be purely economic.’”
system used to protect minors but more and more teens are being
charged as adults for their crimes. Teens are exposed to serious
issues at younger and younger ages. They have to decide by age 11
whether they will be sexually abstinent or not. We need to be giving
True Love Waits rings at 11, not 16. Then with adults postponing
family responsibilities until later and later, where is the line to
be crossed? At what point is someone an adult these days?
In the Time
article (February 21, 2000), the author, Walter Kirn, said, “The
age of James Dean, the Ford Mustang and making out will seem, in
retrospect, like what it was: a summer vacation from larger human
history.” Human history is changing at a fast rate. With all those
frightening changes, we as youth ministers should be providing our
youth with a period of transition. But as one youth minister told
me, we have forgotten to explain this to them. We have been
operating with the assumption that the teen years are an assumed
privilege when no one else seems to be giving them that any more.
Mark Senter, author of Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry,
wrote in response to the Time article, “If Kirn is right,
what is youth ministry: summer camp?”
times are truly needed. But is this what youth ministry is all
about? Personally I want to be able to do more than that. I don’t
want my youth ministry to be an extracurricular event that gets
added in if there is time and if it fits a schedule. I want to
provide true support in the time of growing in wisdom, stature, and
in favor with God and men. Luke 2:52.
interrupt these thoughts for some history about me to get my
perspective. I’m an 18 year youth ministry veteran, nine years as
a youth pastor and nine years as a youth evangelist. It’s that
youth evangelist in me that makes me find time to substitute at my
high school and get involved in many, many teenagers’ lives--many,
many unchurched. As a camp/retreat speaker, I tend to talk to
Christian youth. Youth evangelist is such a misnomer but it is still
how I choose to call myself (vs. youth speaker, etc.).
Group wrote a recent report entitled Third Millennium Teens. They
found the top-rated issue for teens these days is educational
achievement. This is a different top need from the Busters. For the
Mosaics (as Barna refers to them), no other issue comes close.
ran a poll among their summer Group Workcamp youth. Their number one
concern was school grades. These would be a heavy majority of youth
I ran a very
unscientific survey with youth ministers across the United States
and found that 50 percent of youth ministers did not know when
interim or report cards came out. Many said they encouraged academic
achievement but few seemed to have it incorporated into the program.
It was an add-on. Someone told me that his church wouldn’t allow
him to do anything but “spiritual” stuff. Someone honestly told
me that he had never thought about it. He had focused on sports and
stuff. Only 31 percent honored honor roll students which is an
achievement and a behavior pattern we should praise. This is a life
skill that will shape them now as well as in the future.
No one had any
academic requirements for leadership. Hopefully it is the
disciplined youth we are putting into leadership which makes such a
requirement nil--but this is not what I see at my school.
achievement is such a large need to youth and youth spend the
majority of their time at school, why do we run our youth ministries
in a separate circle from that? Want more proof? Why do parents feel
it is okay to ground their child from church youth activities? In
their perspective, they are just grounding them from summer camp so
they can help them focus on what is important. What if we were
helping with that important thing?
When I come to
speak to a new group, my identity as a substitute teacher is what
they grab onto. After I’m done speaking, I have crowds around me
to talk. Not too unusual for a youth evangelist. Yet what I am
hearing is stories and stories about school. Even such mundane stuff
as an assignment. Could this be because they have a connection with
a “church person” and school?
caused me to think back to when I was a youth pastor. I saw the
school as a mission field--not as a place where my teens spent the
majority of their time, the place where their future is formed and
where high school alone brings great pressure. From my youth group
meetings I was preaching “win your schools for Christ.” Was I
just adding another pressure without addressing the real pressure?
Was I running my youth ministry in a separate circle from their
There are some
in our groups who are true achievers--and busy. How many (guilty
here) have given our youth a choice between youth group or something
at school? And we have used guilt in that process. Or we’ve asked
them to add one more thing to their plate. All of this done without
recognizing true needs.
I know this
“campus missionary” movement is the hot thing right now. But
what good is a campus missionary who has low grades, tardies, and/or
bad class behavior? I know most of the Christian youth at my school
of 2500. There are many who are more of a witness with their grades
and classroom behavior than those who are involved with the campus
hit home March 9, 2000. One of “my boys,” someone I was
discipling, died. It was a sudden accident that devastated the
entire school. During the mourning (with wails and fainting),
stories came out about Frank. Teachers were visibly upset because
they enjoyed him so much. Other substitutes came to his viewing
because he made such an impact in their classes. He was the type to
set the tone for a learning environment, even for subs. The students
told story after story of Franks’ achievements. Everyone knew him
as a Christian. Thirteen hundred people came to the funeral. Twelve
hundred made a commitment to pick up where Frank left off.
preach. He didn’t hand out tracts. He didn’t start a Bible club
or attend one. He was a good student. He was polite in class and
didn’t push his limits, even if it was a substitute. He worked
hard and got good grades (not his strength). He played with that
little extra on the football field. He smiled at everyone. He talked
to everyone. And he always gave the answer as to the reason why he
lived. Twelve hundred students were affected by Frank for the glory
of God. (To read the full story of Frank’s life and death, go to
I know, I
know. Not your youth. They are not tardy. They don’t take an extra
lunch. They don’t sit in the corner and talk during class. But how
do you know? I know you can’t sub at every school your youth are
at. So what are you doing to know?
A most curious
thing I have found out recently is that this “campus missionary”
movement is a culturally white youth ministry concept. The past few
months I have been grabbing every black youth person I know and
asking such questions. I was the only white speaker at a youth
conference (what a great experience) and when testimony time came,
the youth gave testimonies of education and achievement. When white
youth are asked to give testimonies, it tends to be about personal
needs being met. One church I talked to is actually having
fundraisers to give college scholarships (and not to Bible college)
to their youth.
One of the
leading black youth ministers told me that black churches see
education as a way out and up. It is incorporated into church life
placing the church as one more infrastructure to develop their
youth. He stereotyped culturally white youth as having the family
infrastructure to help education which is why we don’t incorporate
it into our church youth ministries. He was surprised to learn that
a lot of our family infrastructures are not healthy and there is a
gap of youth group and school. We both learned a lot.
It seems that
culturally white churches compartmentalize faith. One youth pastor
told me the problem with youth ministry is the youth just need to
commit to God more and the youth need to be asked to commit to what
is important in their lives. With a compartmentalized faith, God
will never be that important thing because He’s not a part of the
important thing. I recently had a student in class who I also just
happened to be at his youth group to preach. I was riding him harder
than the other students. When he asked me why (I thought you loved
me?), I told him I expected more out of him because of his faith in
God. He had never been challenged like that before (he gave me the
proof with his report card). He told me that he goes to youth group
on Wednesday nights but this is school. That was not a cheeky
remark. It was a remark caught off-handed that spoke volumes.
black churches don’t do it all right either. In my opinion, some
of them lack holiness teaching. They just have a different approach
to youth ministry and in my self-consumed world, that is new to me.
also said, “For the major part of the twentieth century youth
evangelism has tied relationships to entertainment... If extreme
sports symbolize postmodern youth’s fixation on the thrill of the
moment and MTV’s Spring Break and Road Rules depict social norms,
if WWF Superstars capture the fantasy of middle school kids and
Crystal Meth is the drug of choice in middle America, how can
entertainment possibly provide the basis for relational evangelism?”
compete. We’ve known that for years (since MTV, etc.). We are able
to offer safe places for youth to have fun (without fear of doing
something that will get them grounded). Or a place to meet God, to
have an experience with God. Then it doesn’t matter if it is MTV
or WWF. It alone is different and positive and summer camp. All
needed and required in youth ministry. But is that all we can offer?
What if we
tied relationships into life skills? What if our Bible teachings on
integrity, perseverance, honesty, obedience and other Christian
living principles took life because it would directly help
achievement? What if youth group became something of success
importance and brought compartments of their lives together?
This is more
than tutoring (which is not a futile effort). I don’t see an exact
form for this yet. I do know in my youth ministry we are moving into
an entrepreneurial model. We will be helping students take their
skills and ideas and turn them loose in some business adventure.
Every Bible lesson we teach will be directly applied to their
education and achievement. Report cards will directly matter. We
will continue to have our times of fun that make memories and
spiritual markers. And when we have helped create another of the new
millionaires who get there before age 30 (and maybe retire), our
ministry will be a financial recipient of this growth. I’m
dreaming here but it is still a possibility.
That is just
one look. In my opinion, students who make honor roll should be
brought before the church and applauded wildly every quarter. We
should be giving our young women life training and “turning them
out” with high class debutante balls. We should teach our teens
how to eat at a 5-star restaurant with a “church” person. Faith
just moved into another compartment--and think of the memorable
conversation you could have.
These are just
ideas free to be stolen and used. Ideas that tie life skills into
relationships which will hopefully have long-term effects on someone’s
life. There has got to be a zillion other ideas that are tying
relationships into life skills. Many in practice right now. And I
would guess those are the youth who are growing in wisdom, stature,
in favor with God and men.
If you have an
idea that is tying relationships into life skills, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seefeldt has been doing youth ministry for seventeen
years, eight as a youth evangelist. Her first nine years she
served as youth pastor of churches in Minnesota and Virginia.
Brenda attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis,
Minnesota, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in
Behavorial Science with a minor in Youth Ministry and was
ordained by the Assembly of God denomination.
Brenda's work as a substitute teacher - somehow and with many
individual stories - dozens of students have become
Christians. These now make up her youth group known as
"God's Family" or simply "Mrs. Seefeldt's
Kids." These are not your stereotypical youth group kids
but God has a plan for them also and part of it is Mrs.
Seefeldt and her husband, John Amodea, literally helping raise
Brenda was married to John Amodea, after fifteen years of
ministry as a single. When Brenda announced the news to
"her kids" (whom she has known years longer than
John), they were not as happy. One of them said, "We like
John and all, but we think he will be like any other
stepfather and take you away from us." So the kids became
the ushers, singers, hostesses, and groom's attendant and the
wedding became a huge life lesson as well as a memorable