I have worked with young people, but I am not a youth pastor or a youth worker. However I have often stated that one of the hardest jobs there is in the church today is to be involved in youth ministry. And there is good reason for this.
We have a whole generation of kids who have grown up in a culture which disdains involvement, serious thought, deep commitment, real contentment, dedication, and solid content. Instead, image, instant gratification, pleasure, focus on self, distractions, selfishness, and entertainment are everything.
We seem to have an entire generation which is afflicted with ADD. This is not just affecting a few, but the whole lot – and the ability to sit still, to concentrate, to focus, to not have to be entertained, to not have to change topics every few minutes, is simply disappearing.
Kids raised on Sesame Street, video games, pop culture, mp3 players, and MTV have a hard time even just sitting still, let alone being committed to one thing, dedicated to a task, or involved in altruistic and selfless service for others. Our modern culture, in other words, is all about self.
And with the worship of self we have non-stop entertainment, obsessive self-gratification, and constant amusement. No wonder it is so hard for youth leaders to be able to reach and disciple the young in that sort of environment. It is a whole different world out there, and what Jesus demands of us is nothing at all like the surrounding culture.
Yet instead of being radically cross-cultural, so much of the church – and so much of youth ministry – is simply involved in trying to be just like the world. Thus youth ministry is all about entertainment, videos, and parties. The trouble is, the world usually does a far better job of these sorts of activities, so bored Christian youth eventually just give up their faith.
That is the thesis, and the challenge, of this book. With the subtitle, “Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture,” Cosby asks some important questions: How in the world are we going to reach young people, and keep them in the faith? Why do most teenage Christians leave the church and lose their faith once they leave home? How can we reverse these worrying trends?
Cosby knows full well that simply relying on gimmicks and entertainment is certainly not going to cut it: “The numbers are staggering for those leaving the church after high school, yet youth ministries across the nation continue to pack in more and more pizza parties and video games to keep youth coming back – thinking that somehow their lives will be changed.”
Simply offering our young people yet more entertainment will do nothing. The truth is, “teens are leaving the church because they have not been nurtured and established in the faith through a Christ-centered means-of-grace ministry.” The rest of this book is about elaborating on such a ministry.
Cosby believes that youth not only need such a ministry, but in fact want it as well. Despite all the glitz and glamour of pop culture, despite the endless and mind-numbing entertainment and amusement, many young people actually want something more. They want something to hang onto, to commit to, and to dedicate their lives to.
That is just what the church should be giving these young people, but that is often just what they are not getting. Instead they get more mindless amusements and trivial pursuits. No wonder they eventually drift away, bored and dissatisfied.
Cosby offers us a five-fold ministry to reclaim our youth. It is a ministry that “seeks to communicate God’s grace through the teaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, a life of prayer, gospel-motivated ministry, and grace-centered community.”
In other words the very things that nurture the church as a whole, and Christians of all ages, is what must be recovered if we are to effectively minister to our youth. And it must be a family-centred and church-centred approach, bathed in Scripture.
Writing from a Reformed perspective, he seeks to wed biblical principles to youth ministry. The five components are detailed in the bulk of this book, and helpful appendices round it out. Although a brief volume (under 150 pages) it does move us back to the basics – something which has been missing for far too long.
His chapter on the importance of Christ-centred service for others is itself rather unique. How often are our young people being told it is not about them? Not too often I suspect. Instead, it becomes all about them – they are pampered and coddled and made to feel like little gods, with plenty of self-image and self-esteem teaching, but little about giving your life away for the sake of the Kingdom.
Far too often we have pitched Christianity as a sort of divine therapy to our youth. Says Cosby, “God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists, but isn’t really part of our lives.” With that way of thinking, no wonder most Christian youth are self-absorbed and blind to the needs of others.
Teens are taught – even in our churches – that the main thing is to be happy, and if your happiness wanes, then it is time to move on. “Both churches and marriages have seen the devastating effects of this anti-commitment tendency.”
That has to change, and getting young people to become aware of the needs around them, and doing something about it, is part of the road to recovery. Instead of providing yet another movie night or games weekend, why not take the young people to a local poverty-stricken area, or on a short-term missions trip to a nearby country in the developing world?
Let them know that there is more to life than just themselves. Let them see real needs, and how they can be part of rectifying those needs. Jesus of course taught his disciples about this by actually doing it. He performed acts of service all the time, and modelled for his followers what the Christ-centred life is all about.
At the end of the day, much of what is found in this book is just basic old Christianity. But we need to have this reemphasised because we have simply lost track of so much of this basic Christianity. For those frustrated with entertainment ministry and lukewarm youth, this book may serve as a way to get things moving in the right direction.