Saturday, February 18, 2006

the 1st commandment of youth ministry

"Thou shalt not teach doctrine"

This may be the one commandment that most youth pastors will never break. Of course it is nothing like adultery. Everyone is tempted to flirt at some point but youth pastors and their ilk are not even tempted by this transgression. Anyway, this "staying away from doctrine" is so serious that if doctrinal ignorance for young people were a sacred cow it would be holding an "eat more chikin" sign. Get that? There are a number of reasons for people who work with students to stay from doctrine. Not all are true in every place and at all times for all people but they ring true regardless.

Doctrine is not fun. Or so the argument goes. Not being labeled as fun in youth ministry is almost as bad as not being cool. The logic goes like this...youth ministry is supposed to be fun. Doctrine is not fun. Therefore youth ministry should steer clear of doctrine. If this was math we would call it the Transitive Property (a=b, b=c, so a=c) of fun youth ministry as it relates to doctrine! Of course it isn't true. Youth ministry can be fun. But for fun to be the litmus test of whether a thing is done or not is idolatry pure and simple. Success cannot be a measurement of fun for youth ministry since much fun is had...well, everywhere else. There is nothing unique about fun. Fun is there for the taking 24/7 by kids throughout this land. I am not sure I want to sell them something they already have.

Doctrine is divisive. This is wrong on so many levels but let me hit 2 of 'em. First, to say doctrine is divisive is a divisive statement itself. It divides the one who believes it from those who do not. Second, it assumes an alternate reality. It assumes a world where kids do not like divisive ideas. Kids love divisive ideas. Sure, they are usually sheep when it comes to fashion but get them talking about the sovereignty of God over all things and you will see some passionate discussion about what the Bible says...done by teenagers.
They can't handle it. This may be the coup de grace of staying away from doctrine. Even if it is never said out loud it lies hidden deep in the hearts of youth pastors everywhere. "Youth cannot handle doctrine. It is too complex. It requires a mental toughness that young people should not be required to display." Is it harder than chemistry? Physics? US Government? Geometry? I rest my case.

how do you break this commandment?

here are a few ideas on how to successfully break this commandment of youth ministry...

Cold turkey. Quit giving little moralistic "I just love Jesus" studies. Cold turkey is the only way to slay the beast of non-doctrinal teaching. Even if they do not get it all they will get something...and you will get better at it through prayer and study and patience.
Add mustard. Get creative. Add some spice to your lessons. Use provocative language. If someone gets onto you for it tell them you will stop and then tell them you will instead move onto the Song of Solomon. "What looks like twin gazelles!?!?"

Slow burn. Be patient, it may take time. Work them through it. Doctrine is worth the mental power and energy required. Giving up and rushing through it all teaches young people that it is not all that important. Slow, deliberate discussion and instruction and meditation teaches them how very important it is that we deal carefully with the things of God.

If you break this commandment, be prepared to lose some kids and some parents and maybe your job. I just talked to a guy recently who lost his job as a youth pastor for doing this. He now will not even look at youth ministry jobs. I however am in a position to break this commandment each and every day and do so with great enthusiasm. Most are not so providentially recommendation is for them to break it anyway.

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