Several years ago I read David Wilkerson’s book, “The Cross and the Switchblade”. It’s an autobiographical description of his journey as a pastor, from leading a small town congregation in Pennsylvania to establishing the “Times Square Church” in New York City and also the “Teen Challenge” ministry, led by his desire to minister to youth gangs.
Here’s a brief summary from allreaders.com (click here):
“Wilkerson resigns as a church pastor, and begins to reach out to the toughest street gangs in New York. After finding respect and acceptance by thousands of inner city youth, Wilkerson branches out and eventually begins Teen Challenge, an outreach program for drug addicts, alcoholics, ex-gang members, pregnant girls, and others in need that now spans the globe. Wilkerson stands face to face with New Yorks’ murderers, heroin addicts, and the worst of criminals in his quest to bring hope to the inner cities.”
Wilkerson’s pastorate was built upon ministering to youth, but he was not a “youth pastor”. He was a pastor who happened to have a heart for youth. There is a distinct difference between being a pastor who has a heart for youth, and being a “youth pastor”.
Scripturally, there is no such thing as a “youth pastor”. There is no office referenced in the Bible, which is solely dedicated to only one age group. The New Testament uses the terms bishop, overseer, elders, and presbyters interchangeably, meaning they are all synonymous in referencing the pastorate. The pastorate office was created by God for ministering to the whole congregation, not just a segment of it.
Are there times when members of the congregation minister to particular segments of the congregation due to age? Yes…
“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.”
Notice that what is described here is that the older women are to train up the younger women. It’s a collective endeavor, not an individual one. It’s not an older woman (singular), but older women (plural) who train the younger women. Also notice that the younger women have husbands. They are not children, which brings me to conclude that the younger men who need the urging “to be self-controlled”, are most likely not children either, but are possibly even husbands as well. I am speculating, it’s not a slam dunk, but such a reading is consistent with what is described. It seems that Paul is writing about adults.
When Paul writes to Timothy (1 Timothy 5), teaching him about instructions for the church, none of those instructions include advice regarding what we would refer to as “teenagers” today. It refers to older men, younger men, older women, younger women, widows, children, grandchildren, relatives, and members of a household (which may include servants). Still, no reference to “teenagers”. The same goes for the rest of scripture. There are no references as to how edify the adolescent specifically. Why? Because according to scripture, there are children, and there are adults (younger and older). That’s it. There is no reference to an in between age group. There is no non-adult group besides children, referenced in the Bible, as there is in the world today (i.e. “teenagers”).
The designation of “teenager” is a 20th century invention. It’s also an age group which is rapidly expanding beyond the teen years, into the early to mid-twenties. Basically, this modern, age designation provides the excuse to hold off adulthood. Why is this such a big deal? Because it promotes the notion of not growing up. And when growing up is thwarted, so is the need to be responsible.
Paul makes this same point to the Corinthians after explaining the importance of having a loving maturity in their walk with Christ:
1 Corinthians 13:11
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
The point is, we are now in an age where the world vehemently upholds the delaying of adulthood. The question is :
Are we (the church) supposed to respond to the modern world’s artificial age creation (teenagers) as being legitimate, when scripture does not even hint otherwise, by creating a new church office (youth pastor)? Or, are we supposed to disciple our young adult brethren as though they have passed from childhood, and are now to grow up?
1 Timothy 5:1-2
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, YOUNGER MEN AS BROTHERS, older women as mothers, YOUNGER WOMEN AS SISTERS, in all purity.”
The younger men and women are to be treated as contemporaries or adults according to scripture, not as some expanded class of non-adults.
There has been an ongoing concern in the church that it’s youth are increasingly leaving the “Christian Faith” as they get into their college years. It is of my opinion that the “youth pastorate” actually contributes to this exodus, rather than thwart it. I think a fundamental problem is that kids are separated from the congregation under a youth pastor and then when it’s time for college and beyond, they are then ready for what? Youth church? No wonder they are walking away in droves. Our kids should be attending all adult Bible studies and gatherings from age 12-13 and up, not segregated from them. How else are they going to learn how to be Christian adults, especially if they only “grow up” exclusively around “Christian kids”?
“Teenager” is a 20th century myth. We need to grow our kids up ASAP… not anoint them with baby oil.
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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