Text messaging, playlists, MySpace, oxy and youth ministry.

March 22, 2007 at 9:48 am 7 comments

Having been a youth pastor years ago and for almost 2 decades a strong and vocal supporter of church youth ministry and with a son in youth ministry, I think I know a little about what youth ministry needs to be about.

Two recent articles have caught my eye making me wonder if most churches including the ones I know something about, are serious about really ministering to kids.  The report recently out from the State of Washington on youth health risks and an article in the Salt Lake Tribune about the amount of time spent plugged in to various media makes me wonder if the traditional means of touching the lives of kids has any future.

One church felt they needed to have a seminary trained youth pastor, believing that some how if they can get some one who really knows his Bible and can preach well (after all that is what seminaries train their students to do), that their youth ministry will some how deal with the staggering complexities of being a teenager today.

20% of high school students have been drunk at school in the last year. More than 20% of 10th graders reported being “high” at school and 10% say they have gotten high on prescription pain killers (do seminaries know about Oxycontin?) and 28 million dollars was spent last year by the State of Washington to try and stop this abuse of drugs by students.  That approach isn’t working.

Then take the fact that students spend 22.7 hours a week watching TV, 8.3 hours playing video games, 13 hours listening to music, 4.6 hours text messaging (I stood in line at a Wendy’s yesterday watching a girl text messaging with fingers flying like the wind, the person she was messaging was standing just behind her in line!) 2.0 hours downloading music and 2.0 organizing playlists and 19.5 hours on the Internet.  That adds up to more than half the week being massaged in some way by electronic media. 

Is there anyone in church leadership today paying attention to these kinds of stats?  Is there a seminary anywhere training it’s students to serve in this kind of a drug and media saturated culture? A seminary education alone is not going to help you break through this collective fog and reach kids.

What will make a difference?  My opinion, and it is one formed over years of seeing who is successful in youth ministry, is that it takes at least 5 things to be an effective youth pastor, in this order:

1. continuity. that is staying in one place long enough to get to know kids and be trusted by kids so that they will turn off both the chemical and media and listen, not so much to the youth pastors words but to his heart. The average youth pastor stays less then 2 years in a church.   

2. skill in media communication.  Being able to preach is so far down the list it doesn’t even rate a mention, but skill in using media to catch kids hearts is near the top. Doesn’t change the content it simply re-forms it for kids spending 80+ hours looking at some kind of screen.

3. leadership that doesn’t meddle in the trivial. Trying to get a youth pastor to dress like the senior pastor or come to work at the same time the senior guy does or go to meetings is a stupid waste of time.  A successful youth pastor works when kids are free and really doesn’t need to be in meetings to decide how many burgers to buy for the church picnic.

4. youth pastors who know the youth culture, not because they are young but because they read and listen and ask questions and then formulate answers that are real and hopeful, not some 3 point message with a cool poem.  They know how to tell stories and to help their students tell their story.  They know the importance of saying what needs to be said in 10 minutes and not 45.  They know how to touch hearts more than touching heads.

5. pay them what you pay the top assistant in your church.  My experience tells me they are way, way more valuable than ANY other staff person.

There are some seminaries working hard to be relevant in youth ministry education.  Ron Marrs at Western Seminary is one, but any church that thinks that hiring a seminary trained youth pastor will some how get at the problems faced by our youth culture will just be trading one guy for another for another until they learn that a pastor with a seminary education without the 5 points I list above is just another pretty face.

If they can’t text message, and don’t have a playlist don’t hire her (or him).


Entry filed under: Church, Culture, Faith, Music, News, Northwest, Thoughts.

Zion’s hope? Thoughts that make me go “hmmm”…Anger

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kristen F.  |  March 27, 2007 at 12:33 am

    hey, i’m glad i found your blog. And i really liked this one. I’ve been really thinking/reading alot about YOUth ministry, effective and not so effective. Brad hit all those five points right on. I found this book called “Hurt”(can’t remember the author. it’s sold at Borders Books) that is about youth culture and relevant youth ministry. Haven’t read it yet but it looks like a good one.

  • 2. Ron Marrs  |  March 24, 2007 at 12:39 pm


    Thanks for the props. God has been consistently reminding me of Psalm 78 and the responsibility of the family and congregation to raise their children to know and praise the living God. My burden is for parents, church leaders and youth ministry personnel to lock arms to raise up the next generation to know Christ-those inside the church and outside.


  • 3. Sara Hansen  |  March 23, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    good thing the original blog post wasnt talking about lights/stage/fog/sound/videos… it was talking about the PASTOR. and being a youth I would have to agree.

  • 4. KC  |  March 22, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    Mr. Price’s comments are well stated and certainly appreciated. I too recognize that the loud music, cool videos and bright lights as often times (not always) glaring misdirection of biblical purpose. However, I see it in big church too. As long as pop culture and technology continues captivate the majority of society (I type this Bluetooth ready), you can expect the Christian mission field to follow and toe that fine line in the name of Jesus.

    One interesting point of clarification for Mr. Price’s last comment on what Jesus offered. He certainly offered himself, however I think he did preform some rather stellar acrobatics. . .or were they called miracles? Not any type of showmanship easily duplicated.

    All in all, Greg, I think your post reflects a deep understanding of these end times and the difficulties facing true ministry.

  • 5. Trent Price  |  March 22, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    My name is Trent Price and I am a Youth Ministry major at Multnomah Bible College.
    I agree with you for the most part on your thoughts. Seminary education alone, though very benefical, cannot prepare you for ministry to youth…or to anyone else. If a person spends all their time studying theolgy and the Bible but they never get out in real world and experience life, they will never be able to put the principles that they have learned into practice.

    I also agree that it is important that we, as people who hope to reach youth, must understand the popular culture in which teens now live. Text Messaging, My Space, iPods, and video games are all a part of that. I do not disagree that we need to be familiar with these things. I do not disagree that we need to understand the impact that they have on our culture. What I am leary of saying is that we must be experts at these things. Contrary to your last sentnece (and possibly this was written satirically), a person doesn’t have to know how to text message, have a myspace account, or even own a TV in order to be able to care deeply for teenagers and to make an impact on their lives.

    Also, what you see these days in a lot of churches is a youth ministry program that has the coolest stage set up, the best rock and roll worship band, the most hip videos, and the highest in media technology. Youth programs are becoming hip media displays. A program is often judged on how cool their set up is and how many kids show up each week. But somewhere, in the bright shine of the stage lights and the smokey mist of the fog machine, they are losing the heart of their purpose. This is not always the case and I am not saying that I disagree that we must present the Gospel to youth in a way that will engage them. We just have to be aware of the line that exists. It is an easy line to cross.

    In closing, I agree with your observations. I agree mostly with your first point. I believe this to be the absolute MOST effective method of reaching kids. Everyone, no matter who they are, desires to know that they are cared about. If we can show kids on a consistent basis that we love and care for them, we will speak the love of Jesus louder than any powerpoint presentation ever could. Christ didn’t offer people acrobatics to direct them to the Father…he offered them Himself. That is exactly what we are called to offer.

  • 6. Sara Hansen  |  March 22, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Again, Brad IS the greatest youth pastor ever.

  • 7. Brian Eberly  |  March 22, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Great thought! While we need to know the Word of God and how to present it, we need to know how to present it in ways that are relevant to todays students. We must know and understand today’s youth culture. In doing so we earn the right to be heard and followed. In knowing and understanding students and their culture we are communicating to them that we care. When we care, they will listen and they will follow.

    There’s another text message…gotta run!

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