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An Honest Look At Youth Ministry, Youth Pastors, And Youth Groups

In the spirit of this being the #YOHBT , I'm so thankful that this commentary was written.

It's a piece full of concern by Jon Rodebaugh appropriately titled "Spiritual Daycare: Why Youth Pastors Shouldn't Exist" and though it's a long one (yay! I finally found a Lutheran who writes as much as I do! haha) I strongly encourage you to take the time to read it, because it's so good with the many points that it makes, and if you still come away from it with fierce disagreement, then at least you'll be treated to one man's honest and fully transparent account of his experiences with such things.

Here's just a small sample of what I mean by that...

"So the attempt to manipulate youth to faith resulted two differing scenarios; the captive youth feeling either superior to their unsaved friends or disillusioned with the faith altogether. Sadly, this is a solid picture of many of my youth group friends and peers. To this day only a small percentage are still active in the faith. Of the core youth group attenders, a large majority have left the church with many of those not wanting anything to do Christ, Christians or His gift of forgiveness. I can relate to them in a way as the lack of adequate teaching coupled with an unhealthy focus on obedience and outreach nearly forced me from the church as well. While each of the youth pastors I sat under earnestly cared for me and my growth, the structure and function of the position was simply designed to fail. 
This post is not a hit piece against the youth pastors that I formerly sat under or served alongside or even against ones that I am currently friends with or even those I have yet to meet. I simply want to shed light on a youth ministry paradigm that was birthed as a perceived fix to a misdiagnosed problem resulting in the complete fabrication of an unnecessary church office. The failure of the office of youth pastor is a consequence of incorrectly masking the symptom instead of getting to the root of the problem. As a result, furthering the cause of this office, in it’s current condition, is a detriment to the church catholic instead of [being a] torch to carry forth to future generations."

To reiterate before we continue, he's right -- "this post is not a hit piece" at all.

If we believe that doctrine informs practice (and we should), then this topic goes hand-in-hand with our previous entry since the focus isn't so much on the well-meaning, sincere Christians engaged in such an un-Biblical practice as it is upon the false doctrine that leads them to practicing such un-Biblical things, and thinking they're "effective" and "normal" for Christ's Church even.

As we all know, you can be sincere while also being sincerely wrong about things.

Therein lies the danger with so-called "Youth Ministry," "Youth Pastors" and the "Youth Groups" that they lead.

To quickly summarize though?

I am sure that a 22 year old graduate fresh out of college can plan a great game night and give a good relevant pep talk about doing your best for Jesus, but the truth is that isn’t shepherding…that is pacifying. It’s pacifying the parents because their kids are in church, at youth group. It’s pacifying the kids because there is an event with friends, games and pizza. It’s pacifying the youth pastor because his attendance numbers are showing signs of a successful ministry. Shepherding, on the other hand, calls for proper instruction through love and discipline. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller once said “Youth Evangelism” is the Millennium Falcon of false doctrine smuggling” and I believe he is correct. What the kids need the most is catechesis. They need to be taught something substantive. Doing this may make some kids leave, and while that is discouraging, attrition should be expected because the gospel is ultimately offensive to our human nature. Many times the gospel isn’t presented in the current youth ministry paradigm due to this very fear. To expound on this, many times parents make things worse by complaining about a shrinking youth group or allowing their kids to attend supposedly cooler, mor relevatn youth groups instead of their home church. The problem here is ultimately two-fold. First, a youth ministry bachelor’s degree (or less) does not give the youth minister adequate training to properly teach and disciple the youth. Second, the mere existence of a youth pastor in charge of a youth ministry gives the parents an out to stop home catechesis. 
Catechesis, or teaching, needs to be done at home. As fathers, we are responsible for teaching the bible to our families. It is not the sole responsibility of our pastors to do the teaching. We should be rearing our children in the faith by reading scripture with them, teaching the creeds, and generally discussing spiritual matters. I understand that children of unbelieving parents do attend church and that those children do not have the advantage of receiving proper catechesis, however, their unfortunate position does not lower the bar for us as fathers. The bar remains the same. We are to teach our families. The primary unintended consequence of the youth pastor is a devaluing of home catechesis as youth group has become the spiritual daycare of modern Christianity. The problem only starts here. Many fathers aren’t teaching at home because they do not know the faith that they supposedly believe. The faith of many in the modern visible church is superficial at best. Sunday’s are no longer even set aside for the modern Christian. Sports and activities have taken priority of the church services in many Christian homes. This too is a fruit earned by failure to catechize at home. Lastly, many Senior Pastors are shirking their shepherding duties and spending Sunday mornings talking about things they think will draw in unbelievers such as sermons on the latest Hollywood blockbuster or giving advice about “10 steps to a better sex life” instead of preaching Christ crucified for our sins. The cornerstone of the modern church movement is growth and relevance instead of Christ. The reaction by many in the church has been to treat the symptom instead of fighting the disease. It seems that many are perfectly fine continuing to treat the symptoms. Treating the symptoms pacifies the patient. It masks the real problems while the diseases battles forward. Treating the disease isn’t easy and it is painful. Treating the disease means that your church may lose members and the local news might not reach out to you for interviews anymore. It means that your budget may be reduced and that you may not be able to afford a Starbucks in the foyer. It also means that as Christ is restored to the foundation of the church, the healing salve that is the gospel is delivered to the congregation. Proper teaching can begin and people will begin to have a desire to learn about the faith that was watered down and de-emphasized the previous years. Catechesis must happen at home and be continued in the church whenever the church doors are open. Otherwise the youth group is relegated to a spiritual daycare and Sunday mornings is no more than a self-help dissertation with guitars and a smoke machine. 
Sadly I cannot remember one lesson about Jesus, the cross or anything remotely biblical when it comes to my youth group days. I do remember the outreach events and service projects. That really seems to be all we ever did. Thinking about it now is quite sad really. So much time spent trying to get our friends to church and when they finally got there, they received nothing of eternal value. Just a safe fun time with wacky Christians. I am all for teaching the youth to serve their neighbor in vocation. Christ came to serve, not to be served. We too should serve our neighbors in Christ. However, STOP with all the outreach malarkey. If Youth Pastors spent half the time truly ministering to their youth about Christ that they normally spend planning fundraisers and events, the kids might actually have something to grab onto that will stay with them and allow them to want to serve their neighbors without manipulating them into it. Amusement parks, water parks and lock-ins are great, but they are utterly unnecessary within the context of building and strengthening the church.

It's really such a strong article that makes a powerful case against the entire "Youth Ministry" practice so prevalent today.

It also reminds me of several funny videos that are worth sharing at this point (funny, because they're true!) to help underscore the points he's trying to make about Youth Ministry as it currently exists within Christ's Church regardless of one's denomination.

The Truth About Youth Group 
10 Kids You Meet At Every Youth Group 
Playing The God Card 
The Top 15 Youth Group Cliches 
The One About Missions Trips 

Who can't relate to any of that? It's been over 20 years since I was personally involved in any kind of Lutheran Youth Group and I guess nothing's changed since I found myself nodding my head in agreement and laughing to 99% of the things presented in those videos.

As one Lutheran Pastor said in his sermon addressing youth in the church today, "pizza is great but it isn't the Gospel" so give 'em the Gospel, which is the only "food" that can nourish and save their souls (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; Romans 10:17).

Now, I realize that there will be some of you who will read this who will take issue with Mr. Rodebaugh and myself for taking this stance primarily because you yourself are involved in Youth Ministry somehow or perhaps you had a much more positive experience with it. 
However, please try to put your presuppositions aside and prayerfully consider the Biblical case that was made here today.

I thanked the author for his honesty and willingness to write something like this. It's definitely not an easy thing to do in the current climate where the 11th Commandment of "Thou Shall Not Offend" reigns supreme even despite what God's Word has to say about things.

Ok, so where do we go from here then?

"Properly teaching vocation will go a long way in supporting home catechesis."


"Lastly, stop and ask yourself what you believe about justification. If you truly don’t believe you can manipulate someone to faith, then stop acting as if you can. Stop the bait and switch tactics that are present in youth groups and adult small groups alike. Focus Sunday mornings on preaching the proper distinction between law and gospel, sin and grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Cater Sunday service and youth ministry activities around teaching these things to the believers that are present. Sunday morning is not for the unbeliever, but for the believer. Focus on continually equipping believers to receive Christ’s gracious gifts so that they can leave service and serve their families and neighbors."

Doesn't seem all that difficult, does it?

You have to start somewhere though and there's no better place than in your own home.

The wrong response to this attempt at having a serious discussion with our brothers and sisters in Christ by first peering behind the curtain that's protecting Youth Ministry and everything that's associated with it?

That's an easy one.

The wrong response would be to do nothing and to simply take a apathetic approach and say, "Well, we already do catechesis in our home so I'm not worried at all about the Youth Ministry program at our church and neither should anyone else even if I agree with all the legitimate points you made." (believe me, I know people who will respond that way!).

In a Lutheran layman's terms, we must take an honest look at Youth Ministry, Youth Pastors, and Youth Groups and be willing to bring this subject up for discussion in our own churches, if necessary.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.


  1. Thank you for sharing my post and adding your commentary. I truly appreciate it!

  2. @jonrodebaugh

    You bet! I'm just grateful I found your blog and can make it a part of my regular reading (hmmm...something tells me In, With, And Under might be the focus of a future "Rock 'N' Blogroll" post too!).

    As a Newtheran, I already know that I'll continue to learn a lot from the content you've already published (and continue to publish). Keep up the great work!

    Grace And Peace,

  3. Pastor Matt Richard's reporting on a new study only CONFIRMS everything that @JonRodebaugh wrote!

    "A New Discovery On How To Keep Youth In The Church"

    Grace And Peace,

  4. I'm so grateful to have come across this piece this morning. We've been allowing our 13 yr old daughter to attend a local evangelical church's youth outreach on Thursday nights (we ourselves attend a small PCA church). We are in agreement with many of your points and have discussed a few of them with our daughter. Some of her friends attend and she likes to see them so she becomes somewhat defensive when we voice our concerns. Her answer is always; "you should come one night." As you've stated above, they are pretty much the same. This one seems no different. They get together for basketball to draw in youth from the community, have dinner together, have a devotional and then play more basketball. We've already put restrictions on how often she goes (we only allow it twice a month instead of every week) and we pick her up 2 hours early-- if you can believe it this is a 6 hour event they do every week. So my question is, since she is getting a good foundation at home; catechism and such; is it still bad to treat it like just a social outing for her? We home school, so this is one of the few social (unrelated to school) outings where she can hang out with her friends. She already sees that we (her father and I) are "different" than many of her evangelical friend's parents. Not that she sees it as bad that we are thoughtful about such things... but obviously it isn't just youth groups we see as an issue in the larger evangelical church today. I don't believe I can manipulate her into the gospel, however, I think our relationship with her is tender because of these things. Any thoughts? In the meantime, I will have her read this and watch the videos, though some of it I'm sure she won't understand for a while yet because it just isn't relatable; over time it will be. Thank you.

  5. I just commented regarding my 13 yr old and youth group. My email is stampingsam@cox.net Thanks again!

  6. SAM-I-AM,

    I'm so glad to hear that you found theses resources as helpful as I did and I'm sorry to hear about the conflict that has come up recently that's related to this subject matter.

    Boy, it's a difficult and delicate balancing act, isn't it? Of course, as her parents, you know better than anyone else what the "right" decision is in her particular case and no one can fault you for that even if they may disagree.

    I guess the question comes down to whether or not she's attending these events as her primary means of Bible study (which you've clearly indicated isn't the case due to the catechesis that's been going on at home) or just a means of getting together with kids her own age to have fun (other Christians too). Perhaps it's as simple as continuing to keep having this discussion with her when you're able to so that she begins to see where you're coming from, but I would definitely ask her to share what was presented during the "devotional" portion of these get-togethers so that you and your husband can identify the problems with what was taught and then point out the inconsistencies of that with that you've been teaching her about what you all believe, teach, and confess her whole life. That might be helpful for her too. Most importantly, please consider seeing your Pastor for advice/guidance and maybe even check our Higher Things (higherthings.org) for a ton of youth-oriented materials that will appeal to her and her friends. In fact, maybe you can attend one of their Conferences/Retreats with her or talk to you church's Pastor about a Higher Things Rep visiting the church even.

    Bottom line, keep doing what you're doing -- especially the catechesis at home.

    With Prayers,


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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