The Frontlines of Youth Ministry

Excerpted From 

Youth Ministry as Mission

By Brian Hull and Patrick Mays

The Frontlines of Youth Ministry

Have you ever had two friends who have common interests but have never met each other? When you hang out with one friend, he or she sounds a lot like your other friend. For whatever reason, they have never met, but you feel like the world would be a better place if they just got together and talked. 

We would like to introduce youth ministry and missiology to each other, so they can start having that conversation. In this book, we are going to familiarize our youth worker friends with some of the literature and ideas in missiology that we believe will help make a better youth leader by providing tools to analyze the current context. 

As youth ministers, we are on the frontlines of the American religious milieu that often makes youth ministry frustrating. The National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), led by Christian Smith and first introduced in the book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, helped the church name what was happening to the faith of most young people: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). The NSYR revealed many adolescents in Christian churches have a “misbegotten” faith that is only “tenuously” Christian. 

Kenda Creasy Dean, who was a member of the original NSYR research team, was charged with the task of giving a pastoral response to the findings of the study. She addresses MTD in her book, Almost Christian, saying that MTD is not “durable” or robust enough to last into adulthood. She invites the church to take this issue seriously by recognizing that youth ministry needs a different approach. She suggests an effective response involves the whole congregation engaging youth in a missionary way. She heartily draws on the work of missiologists Lamin Sanneh and Andrew Walls to indicate that mission is translation work, whether that translation occurs in a new geographic location or within an emerging generation. 

This book aims to develop further the mission principles of gospel transmission to younger generations in more practical and theological ways by connecting to missiology. We believe that youth ministry is mission work. Youth ministry is going to new lands, crossing cultural divides, living with a new people, learning a new language, translating stories and concepts, and transforming lives through sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a youth pastor, or you are a student studying youth ministry, or you are the person that said “yes” to leading a youth Bible study, or you are the youth coordinator because the church board “suggested” it was your turn, then you have this sense of the cultural gap between you and the youth you love.

The task of missiology is to study the history and work of mission and learn from it. We believe that the Christian faith is missionary. It joins God’s mission to reach out to the world so that God can be known (in the fullest form of knowing). We believe that good youth leaders— youth leaders who care—learn about the culture of the people they care about. This is mission work.

Excerpted from Youth Ministry as Mission: A Conversation About Theology and Culture © Copyright 2022 by Michael Matthew Mauriello. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.