Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The role of youth groups in the seeker-sensitive and emerging church movement

Don't you just love getting books in the mail?  Today my new 3rd edition copy of John MacArthur's Ashamed of the Gospel arrived and I immediately sat down and read the preface to this new edition.  I just love John MacArthur and he has helped me once again to see a connection I've somehow missed before.  My husband is a pastor and he and I spend a lot of time wondering how the evangelical church today came to be in the mess it's in.  MacArthur blames much of it on the influence of postmodernism.  But he also connected some dots for me about the role GenX youth groups have played.  I'm quoting below from pages 22 & 23 of the new 3rd edition of Ashamed of the Gospel:  when the church becomes like the world.

Coming from the age group then known as Generation X, these postmodernized youth were mostly products of a ministry style that kept young people sequestered in youth ministry, away from adults.  They and their peers had learned to "do church" in settings where the focus was mostly on games and activities.  Their music was a whole generation newer than the supposedly contemporary stylings their parents favored.  They sported fashions that were even more cutting edge than the slickest seeker-sensitive church would ever think to feature.  And the attitudes of youth and youth leader alike were shaped to fit the postmodern style:  deeply cynical.

The main problem for those young people was that their parents' churches were indeed pathologically shallow and worldly.  The students had grown up being entertained far more than they were spiritually fed.  When they began to move out of the youth group into the adult world, they were turned off by churches that simply could not keep up with the changing styles.  In reality, even the trendiest seeker-sensitive churches were still wedded to the tastes and convictions of a modern, not a postmodern, generation. 

That is inevitably what happens when churches abandon biblical ministry in favor of worldly trends. 

The discovery of postmodernism by Gen-Xers in seeker-sensitive youth groups culminated in precisely the kind of disaster this book foretold (he means when originally published in 1993).  It was a recipe for the perfect apostasy:  thousands of young people had been indoctrinated with pragmatism as a way of life, raised with the idea that worship must be tailored to please "Unchurched Harry" in order to be relevant, and taught to regard truth as unattainable.  Now they were embracing all those errors at once and attempting to blend them all into A New Kind of Christianity.

I've written previously about the sinking ship of youth ministry, so I won't repeat that here.  I will however add as a disclamimer that while in college I was a member of John MacArthur's church and attended the College and Career class there.  He's not saying all youth ministry is bad, he has a youth ministry in his own church.  Each week I was encouraged by two sermons, one from Dr. MacArthur during church and the other from Scott Ardavanis, an excellent expositor of the Word in his own right.  Certainly, we can fill a room with young adults and feed them the Word of God and call it youth ministry.  No one is arguing against that.  The problem is very few churches are doing that.  MacArthur goes on to explain that postmodernism combined with the age of the internet has left people with shorter attention spans who are more interested in sound bites than the truth.  "Our culture has simply lost patience with reasoned discourse and careful exposition." (MacArthur in Ashamed of the Gospel p. 20)  Furthermore, it has "lost the ability to distinguish between what's trivial and what's profound."  (p. 20)

What does all of this mean to me?  It helps my husband and I to understand why our church will probably always be small.  It also reaffirms to us the significance of homeschooling in an effort to combat the postmodern mentality in our children.  And finally, it encourages us to stay the course in our church and not go the way of the world even though we understand it will limit the size of our church.  Yes, I've been told the Wednesday night Scripture memory class that I teach is boring (not by a homeschooled child by the way).  We do play games occassionally, but mostly we just memorize the Bible.  It's because we understand that only the Word of God will nourish and mature our children into a godly generation that will hopefully bring about Reformation in the evangelical church.  Our cry is the same as that of the Reformers.  Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda.  The church reformed, and always to be reformed.  Because we are morally corrupt and live in a fallen world, we must constantly endeavor to keep our churches and doctrine in line with the perfect standard of God's Word.  In the words of MacArthur's title, we must do whatever it takes to NOT become Ashamed of the Gospel so that the church will NOT become like the world.


  1. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I have a daughter that would have been entering into the youth group (6th grade) this August but have decided not to attend. I love my church but there are children that attend only on Wednesday night that I really don't want my child to have contact with. She really enjoys helping out with the younger children on Sundays after she attend her own Sunday School class. I don't think in the long run that it will harm her in any way staying away from the youth group movement. I mean all of this in the most respectful way. Great post.

  3. I'm with Diane here. My son is entering the sixth grade youth group and many of my concerns is that they will just get together to have fun. I want there to be a purpose in it!!!! I think they have heard me, but I'm still going to be really watching to see what happens.

    I think reformation is essential, because so many times we as a church just go with the flow and don't even realize we have gotten of track.

  4. I absolutely agree. I share more in the post I mentioned above about how we don't believe in youth ministry. It's been a long road and learning experience for us and especially my husband as a pastor. However, I did want to acknowledge that there are a few churches out there that do it right- involving parents, in-depth Bible study, etc. But they are in the vast minority. We have been shocked to see what passes for youth ministry at many churches. The child who was so bored by my Scripture memory class is a somewhat regular visitor who lives out of town and attends a church with video games in the youth room. How can I compete with that?! It's ridiculous how we expect these kids to suddenly turn into mature Christians when they turn 18 after we've let them spend their youth playing video games at church!

  5. I agree. I went to a church for awhile full of generationXers and it was really full of cynicism. I'm glad to be going to a different church where the gospel is preached in its pure form. Great post!

  6. I follow your discussion about this and appreciate your experience & your sharing of it. I did not grow up with 'youth group', but have been exposed lately (I have smalls 3 & 6 yo children). I find your thoughts to be spot on. I also have recently taught the highschool girls Bible class. and found it disappointing what they didn't know, except for those who went to schools requiring Bible study as a class.
    It is nourishment to the soul, the soul has to be nourished in order to survive & thrive in the service of the Lord. We're currently looking for a church and are simply at a crossroads. I'm not sure what we'll do, but our convictions about this subject weigh heavily on our decision. Thanks again for sharing.
    Thank you for

  7. I know you said your church will probably always be small, but there is a growing "movement" (really not fond of that word!) of families (GenXers to be exact) looking for the family-integrated, spiritually solid church...and coming up short.

    I have heard friends lament time and again about how they've had to "settle" for traditional church because what they are truly looking for is not out there.

    I think what the GenXers are really searching for is a sense of community...a place to be encouraged to fight the good fight because they spent years being wishy-washy and lost. I know for my husband and I that is what we crave the most...like-mindedness. I heard many years ago that the need for community is the reason the mormon churches have such a draw...people become a part of something bigger than themselves.

    Anyway, I've rambled long enough, but wanted to encourage you and your husband in this effort...it is well worth the hard work!



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.