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. The statistic highlights major failures in many contemporary church ministries on a number of levels, but not all churches are seeing this lack of fruit.
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 over the past 25 years we’ve seen approximately 80% of our graduates stay faithful to the Lord. We’re not seeing the mass exodus in this church that many 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 context, 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 integrally a part of our local church body. Our students may 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. Throughout His Word, God gives clear instructions to parents to teach, disciple, and nurture their children in the ways of the Lord. Many families have adopted a bit of a secular approach to the 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 to the task. The problem is not that the church is teaching the Word, but that the parents are not.
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 “spiritual environment.” It’s not either or, it’s both and! For twenty-five years our children’s and youth ministries have partnered with families, equipped families, and strengthened families in developing faith and discipling young people. While some youth ministries are structured to separate the family in spiritual contexts, ours has always been structured to unite the family. Together, the church youth ministry stands united with parents to fight 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 a.m. men’s prayer meeting. I will never forget meeting in Pastor Chappell’s office with a group of men that 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 marriages, 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 Effort
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 several 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.
Finally, Galatians 4:2 gives fathers permission to appoint tutors and governors in their children’s lives to assist in instruction and education.
God has blessed these simple but powerful principles at Lancaster Baptist. In ministry 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. And movements that are “anti-student ministry” or “anti-local church” are also missing the mark. Biblical student ministry is all of the things above, but it is first and foremost about the Bible!
Somewhere over the past few decades, many churches began to believe that young people couldn’t be serious about faith or truly interested in a personal relationship with Christ. This errant assumption led to a “dumb it down” mentality—an attempt 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 program or an entertaining activity. And when they grow older, when they out-grow juvenility, they won’t out-grow 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 our church has never been merely a group proposition. It has always been a personal, relational process. In addition to our group teaching times, it has always been about an older man or an older woman from within the church family investing into a younger man or younger woman spiritually. This happens in coffee shops, McDonalds booths, and living rooms every week all across our city. 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 wonder how young Timothy would feel about that. Long before he was a pastor or a minister in training, he was a lost youth without a Christian father, who was reached and discipled by the Apostle Paul.
In ministry to children, youth, or young adults, we can’t take the parent’s place in training the child, but thanks to local church and biblical principles, we can stand united with them—striving together for the faith in young lives. Parents should never hand off 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—the local church and the family laboring together to build faith in young lives—still 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