Issues In Youth Ministry: James Tippin

By Tim Schmoyer Posted on January 12 2010


Series Editor, Tim Schmoyer This is the twentieth installment in my on-going series as I try to discover current issues facing youth ministry. Over the past several months I've collected interviews from youth workers all over the world. James Tippins is an associate pastor in Salem, VA, and gives direction over a growing student ministry. Visit his blog at Being Wise and More Stupid.

What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today? I think youth ministry is struggling in many areas, but for time’s sake there are several that I think are critical: First is calling. There are so many adults working with youth that have no ideas WHY they do it in the first place. If everyone would take the time to discern the reason for wanting to INVEST in the lives of teens in the beginning, they would better respond to their needs and be able to track the main THING in response to God’s calling.

Teens need acceptance and, unfortunately, we give them a substitute savior when we offer ministry and acceptance through some of the programs that youth ministry is so known for today. Our calling should be to BE children of God and pant after Him so that teens can see HIS power in our lives. We should “do” youth ministry because of our love for God, no other reason.

Second, I think that youth ministry feels that it must divide and conquer when it comes to the family. My heart is to see the church reach the family, not just the youth of culture. 2006 has been a year for me to minister more to and with the family in response to the needs of the teens than ever before. Unfortunately, even parents are not aware of their role in the lives of their teenagers. This in itself is a response that student ministry has struggled with for years. We can’t expect teens to love Christ more than anything when the very role models of their lives don’t have that same passion.

I could talk for years on this, but must cut it here: Family is God’s first institution and it points to CHRIST as everything does. The church should not ignore it. I have answers to the issue and that’s to become healthy and balanced and quit relying on our abilities to administer and fall in Love with our LORD! HE IS OUR FATHER! 

I also feel that because of many pressures of culture to make youth ministry a rad, hip, off-the-hook “thing” for teens, we miss the truth. I mean, the TRUTH! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Why does that have to change?

Our focus on deep teaching, understanding and the like has gone out the window for pop-culture approval. Sadly, the church as a whole in America has followed the youth ministry trend and keeps the “What’s gonna get em here…” mentality. It’s now what gets ‘em, it’s WHO changes em.

The WHY live a righteous life question is only answered in the I LOVE JESUS more than anything and I don’t care what people think about it! That’s the focus. I could go on and on, but you’re probably tired of my rants by now.

What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is responding to effectively?

Youth ministry over the last decade alone has made some major changes in thinking. I think that today’s teens are some of the most hurting and confused generations that have ever lived. I see first hand how many youth ministries and churches have responded to teens in crisis.

Teenagers need acceptance, and although we unknowingly lead them to the wrong acceptance, we are seeing more and more focus in helping teens find acceptance in the right places and ultimately Christ!

I think youth ministry is looking beyond itself. I see more and more churches reaching out to the communities and other churches in their area to serve and do ministry together. Jimmy Draper said many years ago that “Churches have ingrown eyeballs.” I see youth ministry breaking this paradigm in many ways.

I also see youth ministry being better prepared and trained. Ten years ago, to work with teens you just had to be able to breathe. A personal revival is taking place in the hearts of many youth workers and they are becoming well trained to deal with teens and most importantly, the Word! Nothing is greater than seeing young men and women who are willing to grow and lead and learn.

In what ways does youth ministry need to change?

Student ministry needs to change first in the heart of Lead and Senior pastors across America. God’s given them a vision to lead a church and a community in the purpose of the Kingdom, the youth are no exception.

Sr. Pastor’s need to have a heart for youth and SHARE their vision to their youth pastors and leaders, not just set them free to hope and get it right. Churches need to stop building “Federations of Para-church Organization” as Bill Hybels says. They need to unify under the banner of Christ and make known to the world that “We Are THE Church and we have the TRUTH.”

The focus and dependence on GOD and PRAYER are going to have to change in youth ministry if it is going to be effective. Instead of coming up with all the answers, we need to be stupid before God and seek HIS wisdom and expect His hand to move among us.

In order for this to take place, we must first seek HIS will and not the will or desires of the students, parents and pastors. What is always popular is usually not God’s way. This all leads to the most important change that must occur in youth ministry: exalting the TRUTH and making DISCIPLES.

We must thirst after God because of what He has done for us and WHO He is. In turn, He will reveal His Will for us and our ministry that will result in powerful transformation in the lives that we shepherd. One of the greatest discoveries in my youth ministry was found through a sinful mindset to get my way.

Our Wednesday night study four years ago was failing in attendance. I decided that I would just begin preaching through 1 Corinthians verse by verse, exegeting the scripture and outlining the principles as God meant for them to be known. For 90 minutes straight I lectured week after week. My hope? To run the small crowd off and do another program that night. The result? 1000% increase in attendance and that is NO exaggeration. I realized that if we teach the truth and train teens in righteousness they will hunger for more.

Today, we have dozens of youth graduating into a call to ministry. There are more students now in our ministry that have a LOVE for Christ and not a love for youth ministry. This is something that all youth pastors and leaders need to grab tightly and carry forward till their race is done.

Jesus is the only way. Students deserve to know it!




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