Over the last year or so I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Steve Wright. Active in youth ministry for over twenty years, Steve currently serves as Pastor of Student Ministries at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Last year he published a book entitled reThink: Decide for Yourself – is Student Ministry Working?. Having come to faith in the context of a high school youth ministry, but aware that many such individuals abandon Christianity during the college years, I read Steve’s book with great interest. I found it to be extremely insightful, biblical, and balanced.
Wright maintains (from Deuteronomy 6 and elsewhere) that parents have a primary responsibility for the discipleship of their children, both prior to and during the pivotal teen years. He calls upon youth pastors to come alongside parents in this venture, equipping both the students and their parents. Unfortunately, some parents see spiritual formation as the exclusive job of the youth pastor, who in turn too quickly accept the responsibility. The results have been disasterous: 58-84% of children from evangelical families are leaving the church as they enter adulthood (in their college years). The largest Protestant organization (the Southern Baptist Convention) saw a 35-40% reduction in baptisms among teens aged 12-17 over the last twenty-five years. With regard to biblical literacy, the data are equally perplexing: In a study of teenagers of which 70% were active in church youth groups, and 82% identified themselves as Christians, Barna found that 63% believe Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and all other people pray to the same god. While 87% believe Jesus was a real person who came to earth and 78% believe He was born of a virgin, 46% believe He committed sins and 51% believe He did not rise from the dead. 58% believe that all religious faiths teach equally valid truth. In response, Wright notes:
“Student ministry in many cases has become the local YMCA or teen amusement park; students check in and out, but mostly out. After all, once they have experienced years of fun-and-games, all-you-can-eat, no-responsibility, free-from-parents amusement, then we have helped train their appetites for pleasure to find more alluring fulfillment in the adult world.”
ReThink is a sober yet hopeful plea to reconsider the common youth ministry paradigm whereby youth ministers are tacitly encouraged to prioritize quantity of students gathered (for events, outreaches, etc.) over quality of long-lasting discipleship. In preparation for tomorrow’s ReThink Conference, I interviewed Steve about his testimony and ministry. The next two posts will be the content of that interview, after which I’ll be live-blogging the Conference.