The Role of Intentional Spiritual Formation in Youth Minstry

So what role does Intentional Spiritual Formation play in the life of a youth ministry?

This question depends in large part on the Church’s understanding of the reason the youth ministry exists.

I will not chase that rabbit here (for a more detailed discussion on this topic, check out my post on The Role of Youth Ministry). For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume that youth ministries exist in order to have a long lasting impact on the lives of teenagers for Christ. While there are different ways of looking at this goal, I work from a three-fold purpose of partnering with families to: introduce teens to the life of Faith; aid their development of tools intended to sustain and increase that faith across the lifespan; and connect them to the life of the Church – both the present and historical .

If the above is true, then we cannot proceed without an intentional plan of Spiritual Formation. If we are working without an intentional plan the question arises, “Are we affecting any significant life change or are we simply keeping them busy?”

LaGard Smith and others have claimed that youth ministry is nothing more than a glorified babysitting service that lets parents off the hook for fulfilling their spiritual obligations. Many churches have decided that it’s okay to hire “green” ministers who are viewed as junior ministers in training for “real” ministry. I have heard more than one undergraduate youth ministry major at ACU complain about having to take too many Bible text courses.

What exactly are we trying to do with youth ministry?

Spiritual Formation needs to take a more intentional role in our whole church ministry in order to focus our commitment to being formed into the likeness of Christ. We need intentional spiritual formation in youth ministry because it is a ministry of the church. If we are going to have a youth ministry at all, it is imperative that the youth ministry, like the church as a whole, be intentionally committed to forming the students into the likeness of Christ.

Barna and others have been putting some very disconcerting numbers in front of us. Several studies (I will have to look up citation information) have shown that a large number of young people are leaving. Upon graduation from high school, too many of our teens also appear to graduate from faith. I have addressed the issue somewhat in my discussion on the purpose for youth ministry in the church. However, there are important implications for this conversation as well.

If our ministries become centered on Spiritual Formation there will undoubtedly still be those who walk away. We are dealing with human individuals living in a world that glorifies sin and immaturity, there is then a great struggle for any us to grow beyond our present understandings. Yet, I must believe that the One who is in us is more powerful than the one in this world.

If then I, or anyone I serve, is to succeed in this growth, we must realize that it is only in aligning ourselves with the one who is more powerful that we have any hope of success. Spiritual Formation is the process by which we accomplish this, by our faith in God’s grace.

So Spiritual Formation should then find a central place in the life of a youth ministry. Our teenagers are engaged in a terrible battle for their purity and character. This culture entices them with false images of what it means to be an adult and encourages them to rush ahead. God is not impotent! Our churches need to aid these young people in developing the tools and even more than that, the identity that they need to stand in opposition to that which seeks to drag them down. The Message has a very interesting translation of Romans 12 and says that we should avoid the temptation of the world which seeks to drag us down to deeper levels of immaturity. God on the other hand is interested in moving us toward maturity; formation into the image of Christ.

Let us then begin to move our ministry in a direction that focuses on partnering with God in what he is already doing in this world and in the lives of our young people. Focusing on Spiritual Formation in our Youth Ministry will enable us to partner with God in urging our teens toward maturity in spite of what the culture around us is teaching. Spiritual Formation moves us beyond a message of “if you would just trust Jesus, everything would be okay” and aligns us with the message we read in 1 John of “walking in the light, as he is in the light.” Trust in Jesus is difficult if we are not actually walking with him.


Posted on June 15, 2005, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This is good stuff Bret! I pray that more of our youth ministers (not to mention our churches) would chase after the contemplative life and teach it to their students.

    I’d love to hear you write more about what exactly it means to be “confromed to the likeness of Christ” in relationship to something like Bernard’s On Loving God.


  2. Bret,

    1. So many Churches emphasize a “spirituality of opposition and substitution”, that is: (a) they continually preach that the world and everything in it is bad and that we should oppose it, by (b) building an alternate Christian sub-culture that is populated by bands that sound the same as the world and styles that look the same as the world, except they just have “Jesus” plastered all over them.

    How do you deal with this type of spirituality? I would say that we should instead opt for a “spirituality of revolution and transformation”. That is (a) we see ourselves as Christ’s hands and feet in the world bringing the powers and principalities under His authority by (b) transforming our lives and everything our lives touch into the image of Christ. This spirituality doesn’t seek to hide from the world (revolutionaries never hide), but instead to get the world to surrender to the revolution and then actively become part of the revolution.

    2. On a completely separate note, in shifting to a spiritual-formation type of youth ministry, how do you keep from merely becoming a set of practices? How do you keep from becoming just another recipie for youth discipleship that says “Do x, y, and z, and you will get results a, b, and c”?

    3. What is the role of good old fashioned fun and fellowship in youth spiritual formation? While fun and humor has historically been way over-emphasized in youth ministry, it seems that this shift to spirituality could have the opposite effect. Where do you make room for an authentic experience of fun, humor, and comraderie in your spirituality?

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