Three Issues Facing Contemporary Youth Ministry – an Excerpt from Adoptive Youth Ministry

The following is an excerpt from Adoptive Youth Ministry, edited by Chap Clark.


Even as the greater focus on practical theology in recent years has provided the theological framework for ministry and most youth workers have been more theologically deliberate in their ministry thinking and efforts, three related but distinct issues have emerged.

While they have come from different people and directions and for different reasons, none of the three seems to have been the catalyst for the other two, yet all three now make up the bulk of our collective discourse. Each of these issues impacts the other two, but up to this point little has been done to pull them together. In no particular order, the three issues are:

Cover Art• The struggle related to youth ministry’s long-term effectiveness, in that we are “losing” kids once they leave our ministry programs.

• The concern that people in contemporary culture, including an increasing number of young people, report to have written off “traditional” faith (a movement labeled the rise of the “Nones”). Current literature seems to confirm that many young people do not even want to give youth ministry a chance, and there is ample evidence that great numbers of adolescents and emerging adults have a negative view of the church and confirm wanting nothing to do with “us,” meaning the institutional church.

• The widespread recognition that as the world has changed dramatically over the past few years and decades, these changes not only affect how we do ministry but also who we do ministry with— primarily adolescents and their families. The world the young now inhabit is the precarious, often painful, clearly confusing, and “abandoned” reality that middle adolescents (fourteen- to twenty-year-olds) and emerging adults (twenty- to early-thirty-year-olds) live within.

Each of these issues and the corresponding focus that results has created a new day for youth ministry. Over the past decade we have come to recognize and admit that we are losing ground in terms of our ability to theologically engage students in a way that engenders both current and lifelong faith even while we try to go theologically deeper ourselves.

While each issue has received a great deal of attention, there is a growing consensus that these three are born of the same parent. Today’s and tomorrow’s youth worker cannot simply be aware of the dynamics that affect ministry to the young; they must thoughtfully and theologically engage them head-on, recognizing that the day of gathering kids in a dedicated youth wing or living room and getting them to sing and play and listen to a clever talk (regardless of how well delivered it is) no longer guarantees lifelong spiritual interest, much less life transformation.

©2016 by Chap Clark. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


For more information on Adoptive Youth Ministry, click here.