I grew up Catholic, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I was becoming a disciple of the Catholic church. Being a disciple of the Catholic church, or any church, is not the same as being a disciple of Jesus. Churches have philosophies, ideologies and strategies for growth but I would contend that real discipleship was killed on the altar of church growth.
I recently read an article called THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH IS BREAKING APART by Peter Wehner and it nails what I have been saying all along, youth ministry needs to come up with a new way to make disciples of Jesus and less ways of making disciples of the youth group.
in my book the Disciple Project I talk about the difference between youth group and youth church, the essence between the two are
Youth Groups exists for themselves, Youth Church exist to glorify God.
Youth Groups make human or moral standards the only standard, Youth Church has the bible as its standard.
Youth Groups have random activities, Youth church plans on purpose.
Youth Groups are held together by common interests, Youth Church is held together by shared values
Youth Groups invite students to be one of them, Youth Church invites members to be like Jesus
In the quotes I’m about to read, you’ll hear the word catechism. It’s a word I heard often growing up, it means
a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.Oxford Languages
A more secular version would be: a rote response or formulaic statement to pre-determined questions
In my book, The Disciple Project, I talk about the difference between youth group and youth church. The definitions are a type of youth ministry catechism, it teaches to answer the questions,
Why Are We Here?
What Is Our Standard?
Why are We Doing This?
What Do We Believe?
Who Will I Become?
If you want to dig deeper you can pick up The Disciple Project here.
Churches are facing this on a larger scale and these three quotes sums up why I think churches (The Church will never die) are dying at the rate they are.
Lack of Catechism
What we’re seeing is massive discipleship failure caused by massive catechesis failure,” James Ernest, the vice president and editor in chief at Eerdmans, a publisher of religious books, told me. Ernest was one of several figures I spoke with who pointed to catechism, the process of instructing and informing people through teaching, as the source of the problem. “The evangelical Church in the U.S. over the last five decades has failed to form its adherents into disciples. So there is a great hollowness. All that was needed to cause the implosion that we have seen was a sufficiently provocative stimulus. And that stimulus came.”Wehner, Peter. “The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 30 Oct. 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/evangelical-trump-christians-politics/620469/.
So many students, in my opinion, leave youth groups because there is no journey to take, no end game, just meetings and occasional events meant to show how much fun youth group is. Students are asking, “Where is this going?” and if youth pastors do not have an answer for this, they’re gone.
Self /Culture Catechism
“Culture catechizes,” Alan Jacobs, a distinguished professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University, told me. Culture teaches us what matters and what views we should take about what matters. Our current political culture, Jacobs argued, has multiple technologies and platforms for catechizing—television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, and podcasts among them. People who want to be connected to their political tribe—the people they think are like them, the people they think are on their side—subject themselves to its catechesis all day long, every single day, hour after hour after hour.”Wehner, Peter. “The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 30 Oct. 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/evangelical-trump-christians-politics/620469/.
You’ve heard books called the Gun Bible or the Cooking Bible to represent a canonized set of principles and doctrines you should know in that particular field. Students are writing, creating their own catechism that fits their narrative and it is filled with the doctrines from the Book of Politics, The Book of Sex, The Book of Science, etc and then a small book called the Book of Religion filled as many quotes from Ghandi , Edel, Trump, as there are from Jesus.
Students are finding their tribe outside the church. It used to be the that the church was where student could find their tribe, but, churches do community/relationships so poorly these days, the drift was bound to happen. In addition, churches are not loving their neighbors outside the church well. Students take note of the fact that the one thing the Church is to be known for, loving others, doesn’t meet their own standard. Another reason to find a tribe outside the church.
That’s not a problem limited to the faithful on one side of the aisle. “This is true of both the Christian left and the Christian right,” Jacobs said. “People come to believe what they are most thoroughly and intensively catechized to believe, and that catechesis comes not from the churches but from the media they consume, or rather the media that consumes them. The churches have barely better than a snowball’s chance in hell of shaping most people’s lives.”Wehner, Peter. “The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 30 Oct. 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/evangelical-trump-christians-politics/620469/.
Media is a problem, but it’s always been a problem. Smart phones and the internet is not the problem, not having a reliable way to filter the messages being received is the problem.
Center for Parent/Youth Understanding has a great episode, and resources, on helping students filter the hundreds of messages they hear everyday.
Even a greater problem is that the church seems to have given up shaping peoples lives. Shaping requires time, relational energy and change but the church has to keep the machine running otherwise Pastor’s are out of a job.
These are my thoughts and these quotes are from smarter people than I, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I would ask that you take time to create your own catechism by answering the question above and then comparing it to your calendar. How close does your programming connect with your catechism?
Find a process of discipleship, that includes doing and not just hearing, that works for your youth ministry and then maybe you’ll have better than a snowballs chance in hell of shaping a students’ life.