Are youth ministry and kids ministry unbiblical?

One of the members of our church had a conversation with me a this weekend they asked me if kids ministry and youth ministry were biblical. He was asking not out of disagrement but more out curiosity as to what my response would be. This question has started to come up because of the state of the church in the west and the rate in which young people are leaving the church. There are some people who believe that youth and kids ministry have largely contributed to this phenomenon. Jesus never had a puppet explain the tora as a child and neither did he attend a conference as a youth where the Rabbi talked about the hotness of his wife. So because the bible doesn’t talk about teaching kids and youth separately from adults it shouldn’t be done? I say yes and no.

To start off I would say the ultimate responsibility of the spiritual life of every child lies with his or her own parents. Parents are the primary leaders, examples and communicators of biblical truth in the life of their children. Having said that kids need much more than just their parents influence in their lives. I had a mom from another church explain to me that she kept her kids away from youth group at their church because she knew that the youth pastor needed her kids to attend because they were more well behaved than all the other kids that went to youth group. He needed her kids to be a good example of Christlikeness to the other kids that attended. The only thing I could think was, awesome way to model humility, community, and passion for Christ’s church.

Here are the reasons I think Youth Ministry and Kids Ministry matter.

1. Every kid needs a friend – not a sibling not a family member, but a friend outside their family unit who believes the same thing they believe.
2. Every kid needs others voices in their life that are saying the same things their parents are.
3. You can only see and fully understand certain things about God  in the context of biblical community. If you think you can walk out the gospel in the context of just your family you don’t understand the gospel. It has to be worked out in biblical community. The gospel can be learned in a smaller setting but has to be worked out in a broder setting. When I speak of community I don’t mean church attendance alone but church attendance, serving in the church, living in community means you bump up against other people and have to work out the implications of that. Community is not creating a buffer of niceness between you and other members of the community.

Bonhoeffer says this about Community

Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.  No Christian community is more or less than this…

What does this mean?  It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.  It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.  It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

4. Unless your church goes out of it’s way to make church work for 5,6, 7 year olds (which most churches do not) by taking time to publicly explain things to kids. Singing songs that kids understand and enjoy. Then I would argue an age appropriate environment is need to  allow kids and teens to grow understand and teach others.
5. Lastly kids and Youth ministry allow kids to discover, grow and use the talents God has given them.  In most churches you may see kids be “Jr ushers”in big church but for kids to see themselves as a valuable contributing member of the body of Christ is priceless.

The thing that frustrates me in this whole argument is that we all have this tendency to be dogmatic about the the things that the Bible isn’t dogmatic about. We froth and fuss over the validity of kids and youth ministry but avoid the weightier things like are we living the gospel in our homes and in our churches. Kids don’t walk away from their faith because of youth group they walk away from their faith because they never came to a clear understanding of the gospel. So if you want to be dogmatic about something be dogmatic about gospel clarity.


22 thoughts on “Are youth ministry and kids ministry unbiblical?”

  1. "We froth and fuss over the validity of kids and youth ministry but avoid the weightier things like are we living the gospel in our homes and in our churches." Well put Sam!

    I would add that Jesus often preached outside – as such, air conditioning is clearly of the devil.

    Jesus never used PowerPoint or Worship Videos to create converts. – I guess we should avoid those too.

    Jesus didn't have indoor plumbing – time to get rid of church restrooms!

    Jesus tended to rebuke religious leaders who were more concerned with the outside than the inside – wait a second, maybe he's got something there.

    1. Nice Wayne. You are to much. Agree we focus on the wrong stuff to detract from the truly important. Love it.

  2. Amen and Amen!! Thank you for posting about this Sam! I really appreciate it, and whole-heartedly agree!!

  3. There was no coffee and donuts in the Temple, ban those next! LOL Great post. Arguments from silence are just plane silly, and actually, there was age appropriate teaching in the Jewish temple. People need to do their research before they just make stuff up. People also forget that the disciples were teenagers… do the math on their ages and the years they died. They weren't men in their 30's and 40's as is always depicted. They would be considered "teens" by today's standards.

    Again, excellent post.

  4. Hey Sam. Thanks for a good post. I'm wondering if you've seen or read the following article:

    In it, Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological School, try to debunk the dropout myth, i.e. that anywhere from 7 to 9 out of 10 teenagers completely leave the church in college. Good stuff to think through. I'd be interested to know your thoughts on this.

  5. The other thing we often forget is that what Moses spoke in Dueteronomy 6 was not spoken specifically to parents. Rather it was spoken to the PEOPLE of Israel. In that culture they though more in tribes that in families. Family was not simply Mom, Dad and their kids, but it was everyone from that that tribe.

    These days we do not belong to certain tribes as the Israelites did. Rather our churches are our tribes. While I do still feel that the parents are to be the PRIMARY spiritual voice for their children, they are not to me the only ones. The entire tribe should be speaking truth into our children.

    Matt N.

  6. I left children's ministry precisely because I feel that it Bibically doesn't hold much ground. So, if you argue that it IS Biblical, where is your support for that in this post? You've got a lot of "practical" thoughts and ideas – some of which I agree with – but ultimately we MUST place our ministries squarely on the shoulders of God's Word.

    1. Well I don't desire to start an argument, because there is a lack of biblical mandate to do children's ministry or student ministry.

      However, I think practically the two things that come to my mind are:

      Effectively preaching and teaching God's word (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 4:1-2)


      to shepherd the flock of God (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Peter 5:2)

      To me, in order to do those effectively to children as much as adults, we must have an environment to teach them and at the same time come alongside parents helping and guiding their parental roles.

      I could be wrong about this but didn't children go to age specific areas in the temple for classroom instruction?

      1. Not, there wern't segregated children's classes until the 1900's – and they are based on secular and even anti-God ideas of raising and teaching children. Look up info on Horace Mann and John Dewey and read "Weed in the Church."

        Those verses you point out are great verses! But, according to the Bible, who's job is it to teach children? Whose job is it to shepherd children? Virtually everyone agrees it's the parents – yet we create programs that encourage parents to NOT teach them!? Something isn't jiving…

        1. Depending on parents to shepherd children is fine…. When you aren't reaching any families who aren't in church. What about the students who don't have parents who will shepherd them? Would we have those students sitting in an adult service? There is a huge difference in the spiritual understanding of a child who has been brought up in church and an "unchurched" kid. We have students who come to youth because a friend invited them and it's a relatable environment, but we are eventually (once we secure connections with them) able to get them to come to Sunday evening (family, but geared primarily to adults) services. It would be difficult to compel them to come if we didn't have an age appropriate service… And difficult to keep them coming if we didn't have teaching they could understand. During Jesus' days, there may not have been kids' church in the temple, but their kids also didn't attend public school, get hit with the media, and live in broken homes. Ultimately, Jesus was about meeting people where they stood, getting on their level, and delivering the gospel, so shouldn't that be our main concern?

    2. Paul said, "I become all things to all men so that some might be saved." If that means that I become a clown, then I will become a clown. If that means that I plan ice cream parties, lock-ins, and pool parties, then that is what I will do. If that means that I spend hours of my week planning environments aimed specifically at the unique needs of children, then that is what I will do.

      I think we should remember Jesus response when the disciples thought that ministering to adults was more important than ministering to children. Mark 10:14 says that Jesus was INDIGNANT. I know that this is not a call to children's ministry as we know it today, but I do believe that Jesus is pointing toward the importance of ministering to children.

      At the end of the day I am not opposed to creating environments where children, youth, and adults can be taught, and where the Gospel can be shared to people of all ages. What I am opposed to is is trusting children into environments that were created for adults and then expecting them to grow. This is exactly what many people in the church are doing with children in the name of being more "Biblical".

      Matt N.

  7. Well Pastor Sam, there is one fact that can't be overlooked which ever side one might take. Not one single moment of the world around us is wasted in its mission to capture the minds and souls of our youth. Need evidence? Check the headlines folks. The unconscionable, the inconceivable is being committed by our youth. If God found it necessary to give us a sense of right and wrong from birth then there is little to debate. If that's early enough for God then it better be early enough for us. I for one am thankful I heard His message at the age of fifty three. Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I had been in a place that delivered His message the way you and your staff do to our youth today. I can't begin to imagine the difference it would make. I do however get a glimpse into that image when I bus children and teens that are in that experience. Let me tell you, the difference in those people grows my faith immeasurably. They never cease to amaze me. So thank you and your team because you are making a huge difference in a world that is in need of at least that.

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  9. Nice post. in reading through the post and responses I would like to add this thought. To those who would argue against ministry geared to children or youth, didn’t Jesus take time to minister to them? Jesus was a master teacher and He taught largely through illustrations. He also taught them based on things they understood and things that were on their level–farming, fishing, etc.
    If we are to be a part of the whole together with no separate youth or chidren focus…maybe we should model Jesus style more and lecture less. The truth is most people don’t actually learn well from a lecture format as well as other methods. We need to do a better job of adapting to those we are speaking to and illustrating the point in a meaningful way.
    I very much enjoy the discussion. Thanks for the thoughts Sam.

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