Teens today face many problems unique to their generation. They live in a society that constantly attempts to pressure them into ungodly living. Meanwhile, church attendance by younger generations seems to be declining. Often, when teenagers reach adulthood, they drop out of church completely.
The modern youth pastor wants to build a lasting relationship with teens, one that he feels will enable him to influence them toward Christ and keep them connected to church. Therefore, he feels pressured to relate to them, to be relevant. So he tries to be “cool.” His plans “trendy” activities. If he doesn’t, the teens will be bored and refuse to come or take him seriously.
Yet the problem continues. Cool, trendy youth pastors are losing teens also. Their graduates are leaving church also. Their youth groups are small and immature. Why is this? Below are four reasons:
- “Cool” youth pastors are bad at being cool.
It’s time to face the facts, youth pastor – you simply are out of touch with what’s “in.” It doesn’t matter if you’re 45 or 25 years old – you’re no longer in high school every day. You’re an outsider, no longer immersed in teen culture. Your teens, rather than thinking you relate to them, are thinking, “This guy tries way too hard to make pop culture references – and fails miserably.”
- “Cool” youth pastors don’t offer anything different from the world.
It won’t take your teens long to figure out that they can have more fun by going to the mall, playing Xbox, or watching TV, and they won’t have some guy making a lame attempt to find a Bible truth hidden in it. If all they get at church is a “Scripturized” version of the fun they could have literally anywhere else, they won’t come.
- “Cool” youth pastors are not a source of sustaining truth.
When you try to be trendy, your teens don’t get a firm foundation in anything but Mountain Dew, Playstation, pizza, and catchy choruses. When life happens (a parent gets cancer, they don’t make the team, they break up with a boy/girlfriend), there’s no truth deep inside to guide them. They stop coming to church because they know all you will offer them is a can of pop, a bag of Doritos, and some cliché about God’s will.
- “Cool” youth pastors are focused on self.
Trying to be a “cool” youth pastor is basically admitting that you want teens to come to your youth group because of you. Your ministry becomes a means to satisfy your own desire for acceptance. Everything becomes centered on you – how cool you are, how many pop references you can make, how much fun your games are – and teens know when you’re trying to “buy” their devotion with candy and video games.
What can we do instead of trying to be “cool”? Well, we could be Biblical. There’s that. By Biblical, I mean focused on the Bible, not on cultural relevancy.
Being Biblical doesn’t require a constant connection to some ever-changing top-ten trending list. It requires a connection to the never-changing Word of God – hard work, but not nearly as hard as trying to keep up with teenage culture.
Being Biblical does offer something different from what teens get in society today. If they walk into your youth group and get solid Bible preaching about sin, judgment, holiness, and service; if they hear hymns that contain deep truth; if they see that you talk, dress, and act Christ-like; then one of two things will happen. They’ll either like it or dislike it – but they’ll know it’s different, and when they grow tired of the façade of happiness that the world has to offer, they’ll know someone that offers something that is the opposite.
Being Biblical offers truth that can guide them through good times and bad. They come away from youth group having heard something of substance that they can apply to change their lives. They come away with anchors that they can cling to when circumstances change suddenly.
Being Biblical takes the focus off you. You desire the teens to come because they want to hear God’s Word, not just because they like you. As you and your teens focus more on God’s Word, you build a true relationship of love that’s centered on Him, not a superficial one bought with movies and food.
You can fit in with the culture or you can change lives – but you cannot do both. Many, attempting to do both, do neither. Only Bible-centered youth pastoring can supply something unchanging, deep, different, and life-changing; and in the end, that’s what will keep a teen who’s looking for answers coming back for more.