The contemporary church is seeing a mass exodus of young adults walking away from their faith in their late teens and early twenties. Some studies say the percentage is around 80% while others estimate it to be much higher. As a father, I am passionate for the faith of my children. As a pastor, I am passionate for the faith of others. And as a youth pastor, I am passionate for the faith of families and young adults.
While we are never content to see even one young life walk away from the faith, God has seen fit to bless biblical principles in the ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church. He has blessed the application of His Word across all ages of ministry and teaching. And over the past twenty-five years we’ve seen approximately 80% of our graduates stay faithful to the Lord. In other words, we’re not seeing the mass exodus in this church that many other churches are seeing. And often we are asked “why?” What is God blessing?
In the next few paragraphs, I would like to share a concise summary of Bible principles that God is using to help young people grow up at Lancaster Baptist with a real faith that sustains into adulthood.
A Local Church Focus
Simply put, while our church may have classes and groups of many ages and life contexts, we are one local church with one purpose and heart. The youngest to the oldest members of our church are a family. We grow together, pray together, serve together, worship together, and function as a church body.
God’s institution for reaching the world, changing lives, and carrying out His work on earth is the local church. Christ died for the church and the New Testament pattern for establishing others in the faith of Christ (of any age) is the New Testament Church. Our student ministry has never been an entity unto itself. It has always been an integral part of our local church body. Our students graduate from the youth group, but they never graduate from the local church.
“…that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
A Family-Orientated Ministry
The first “institution” that God ever established was the home—the biblical family. And throughout His Word, He gives clear instructions to parents to teach, to disciple, and to nurture their children in the ways of the Lord. Many families have adopted a bit of a secular approach to faith education of their children. They have essentially handed off the responsibility of Bible training to the church—considering themselves either too busy or inadequate for the task.
Nothing could be more dangerous to our children spiritually. No local church entity can out-influence a parent. And God never intended for us parents to abdicate our responsibility simply because we place our children in a “church environment.” It’s not either/or; it’s both/and! For twenty-five years our children and youth ministries have partnered with families, equipped families, and strengthened families in developing faith, discipling young people, and standing united for the next generation.
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
A Father-Led Philosophy
My first morning on staff at Lancaster Baptist Church included a 7:00 am men’s prayer meeting. I will never forget meeting in Pastor Chappell’s office with a group of men who came in early to pray. This was not a staff meeting. It was a group of laymen. That morning we prayed around the room for over an hour. And one by one I heard young Christian men—recently saved husbands and fathers—on their knees, pouring out their hearts to God. They prayed for their children, their marriage, their pastor, their church, and for lost souls.
That meeting is forever etched into my memory. I knew that morning that God was going to do something great at Lancaster Baptist. Here was a Pastor dedicating himself to building and discipling men to be godly fathers and leaders both at home and in the church. And since that time, God has continued to honor Pastor Chappell’s commitment to disciple faithful men.
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
An Age-Based, Biblical Education Plan
Every now and then someone will ask me, “…is youth ministry in the Bible? Is age-graded education really a biblical concept?” The answer is a simple yes—when done biblically! While the title of “children’s pastor” or “youth pastor” isn’t found in the Bible, there are two passages that very clearly promote the concept of the church bringing order to age-based education.
First, in Titus 1:5, the Apostle Paul commands Titus to “set in order” the things that are wanting. This is a broad command that gave Pastor Titus a directive to establish structure and order in ministry. Then, later in Titus 2, the Apostle Paul gives a clear pattern for older men and women (not just parents) to teach younger men and women. Titus 2 is a key Bible passage for establishing a biblical ministry to youth and young adults.
He begins by telling us to teach sound doctrine, then proceeds to give a longer, more detailed list that older Christians (men and women) in the congregation should impart to younger Christians.
God has blessed these simple but powerful principles at Lancaster Baptist. In ministering to young people, we focus on faith-building, Bible teaching and training. Student ministry isn’t about entertainment. It’s about meat—content—prepared, delivered, and applied to young lives, just as the Apostle Paul did by addressing different age groups and life-contexts in his letters. (See Ephesians 5 and 6.)
“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded” (Titus 2:1–6).
A Biblical Student Ministry
The contemporary church has missed the mark in modern student ministry, and the statistics prove it. Movements that are “anti-student ministry” or “anti-local church” are also missing the mark. We’ve already seen Titus 2. Biblical student ministry is many things, but it is first and foremost about the Bible!
Somewhere along the way, many churches began to believe that young people couldn’t be serious about faith—truly interested in a personal relationship with Christ. This errant assumption led many to feel the need to “dumb it down”—to sort of sneak up on kids with spiritual things by masking it in fun and flippancy. The false assumption was that “Christ is not attractive enough, so we need to make the faith attractive by making it entertaining or humorous.” Don’t misunderstand me. We have lots of fun with our young people. We laugh—that’s biblical. We enjoy and rejoice in the faith and with each other—that’s biblical. We love living life for Christ—that’s biblical. But we have never felt a need to mask the sober things of Scripture or the doctrines of God’s Word with the “icing” of the world. We don’t lower God to their level. We would rather, by His grace and Word, lift them into His presence.
Guess what?! They get it! They understand the truth. They appreciate it. And more importantly, they fall in love with God—not merely with a juvenile program. And when they grow older, they may outgrow juvenility, but they never outgrow their Saviour.
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
A Personal Mentoring Commitment
Developing faith in young lives at Lancaster Baptist Church has never been merely a group proposition. It has always been a personal, relational process. It’s not about one personality—eg: youth pastor—standing to teach, though that happens often. It has always been about one older man or one older woman from within the church family taking a young man or young woman and spending time one-on-one in personal nurture. This happens in coffee shops, McDonalds booths, and living rooms every week all across our region. And this personal ministry gives the public teaching context an even greater depth and effectiveness.
When I read or hear of someone questioning the validity of youth ministry, or when I hear someone say, “Youth ministry or age-based ministry isn’t in the Bible…” I often wonder what Paul and Timothy would say to that? Seems like the Apostle Paul ministered to a youth pretty effectively—and in this case, where his father was absent.
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).
In ministering to children, youth, or young adults, we can’t take the parents’ place in training the child, but thanks to the local church and biblical principles, we can stand united with them—striving together for the faith in young lives. Parents shouldn’t hand us the baton of faith-training. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with being in the same boat (the local church) together and grabbing an oar!
I challenge you—parents, pastors, youth workers, children’s workers, and local church family—stand united in fighting for the next generation. God’s pattern works, if we will commit to it! “…that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:27).