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BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

GEORGE W. TRUETT THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

YOUTH MINISTRY IN CONTEXT

SUBMITTED TO:

DR. GREAR HOWARD

FOR THE COURSE:

PRTH 7V51: ESSENTIALS IN YOUTH MINISTRY

BY

ELI GUTIERREZ
INTRODUCTION

This paper is a reflection and application of my understanding of youth ministry. It is based upon

my learning in the course “Essentials of Youth Ministry” (in Truett Seminary) with Dr. Grear

Howard and Jake Mulder (Fuller Youth Institute). My reflections and applications are based on

my personal experience and research on youth ministry within the context of Mexico City, and the

works of experts in youth ministry such as Growing Young1, Almost Christians2, Desiring the

Kingdom,3 and Sustainable Youth Ministry4. For the outline of my paper, I will use Richard

Osmer’s approach,5 answering the four main questions he proposes for practical theology. Since

all these useful studies are done within the context of American Christianity, my work will be also

a work of translation into the context of Mexican Christianity. I will consider the situation of the

country in general, but my focus will be on Mexico City and Horeb Baptist Church, the church

where I grew up, where I served for several years, and where I hope to go back after I graduate

seminary. First, I will answer the question “what is going on?” offering an overview of the Mexican

situation regarding young people in relation to Christianity. Second, I will answer the question

“why is this going on?” to explain the situation. Then, I will describe “what ought to be going on?”

in order to offer my perspective of youth ministry. And finally, I will answer the question “how

might we respond?” to propose what should be the next steps in order to lead the situation towards

what I think it should be.

1
Kara E. Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad M. Griffin, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People
Discover and Love Your Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016).
2
Kenda Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (Oxford: University
Press, 2010).
3
James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker,
2009).
4
Mark DeVries, Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why most Youth Ministry doesn’t Last and what your Church can do
about it (Downer Groove: InterVarsity Press, 2008).
5
Richard J. Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

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WHAT IS GOING ON?

According to INEGI (National Institute of Statistic and Geography)6, the total population of

Mexico is 119,938,473. The census of 2016 shows that 82.7% of the total population identifies as

Catholic. However, only 47% of the Catholic population attends weekly to church and only 6.5%

is actively participating in church. Moreover, only 9% of the total population identifies as Christian

other than Catholic. The Baptist population, as an example, is only %0.5. My purpose in this paper

is not to discuss whether the Catholic church and Catholic people are to be regarded as true

Christian followers of Jesus. Nevertheless, I have to say that the situation of the Catholic church

in Mexico is different from the situation of the Catholic church in America. I could say that many

who practice Catholic faith in Mexico practice a syncretic religion, a combination of pre-Hispanic

cults and Catholic beliefs. Catholic faith in Mexico is, in general terms, idolatry, centered in the

worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe and many local saints. There are, of course, Catholics whose

faith is Christocentric and Bible-centered. While there are no statistics to measure the proportion,

I would say that they are few. That is why I sadly report the situation of Mexican Christianity as a

minority struggling in many ways, lacking resources in areas such as finances, infrastructure, and

theological education.

In Mexico City the situation is similar. The census reported a population of 21 million

people. The Catholic population is 81%, other Christians 12%, and the non-religious 5.4%.

However, when considering the population between 14 and 29 years old the Catholics are 78%,

other Christians 11%, and non-religious 7%. That is the wider context of my hombre church in the

south of Mexico city, Horeb Baptist Church. Horeb is a three thousand members church that

experienced impressive growth between 2000 and 2010. In 2000 the church was only three

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INEGI. Censo General de Población y Vivienda 2016.

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hundred members and now it is around three thousand. However, the church membership has not

increased in the last eight years. Throughout the last eighteen years, the youth ministry has had

ups and downs. Nevertheless, in general terms, it has been a growing, dynamic, and thriving

ministry.

Since 2009, when occurred a re-structuration, the youth ministry is divided into four different

groups: Middle school, Highschool, College, and Young Adults. Every group is led by a couple,

or two couples, of volunteers that we call youth counselors. The general director of the youth

ministry is also a volunteer. Every Sunday afternoon (5:30) the whole ministry gets together for a

youth service of worship, which is no more than fifteen minutes. Then they divide according to

the four groups and have a bible study and other different activities led by the youth counselors.

Once a month all the groups remain together for the whole service and there is a special speaker

who preaches. Additionally to the weekly meetings, there are some other activities. Once a year

the youth ministry hosts a two-day congress for young people. Also, once a year there is a Christian

camp. October is usually a busy month for the youth ministry, we call it “Month of Youth”. Some

young people are chosen to preach in some of the church services and to write thirty-one

devotionals to be read each day of the month. Finally, there is an important participation of young

people in other areas of the church as worship, Sunday school classes, children ministry,

community service, and missions. The youth is a strong force in this church, they are present in

many ministries of the wider church and they add strength, dynamism, and joy the church

meetings, services, trips, and all kinds of activities of the church.

Every Sunday there are around one hundred young people in the youth service, which is not a

bad number but it should be noted that it is a number that has not increased in the last ten years!

Moreover, there is a gradual decreasing through the four groups, from Middles School to Young

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Adults. Middle School and Highschool have been consistently the larger groups, around thirty

members each. The College groups have been inconsistent, sometimes being a strong, dynamic,

and growing group, and sometimes being the weakest. The group of Young Adults has been

consistently the feeblest, sometimes being only five members. Therefore, it is evident that

something is not working well. In the next section I will try to answer why, but now suffice it is to

say that something is happening with the young people in this ministry that they do not keep being

active in church when they enter college or the adult life.

Finally, something needs to be said about the spiritual state of the members of the youth

ministry in Horeb Baptist Church. It is not easy to measure spirituality. Actually, I do not think it

is possible to measure exactly how well a person is doing in obeying the Scripture, loving God,

following Jesus, and being led by the Holy Spirit. However, there are some indicators that point to

the spiritual state of people. Enthusiasm for community experience with other Christians is one of

them. And, as it has been shown, that is something that it is decreasing towards the older groups

of the youth ministry. Witnessing the gospel is another indicator of spiritual growth. And that is

something that cannot be seen a lot in this youth ministry. It is not too common that a young person

invites a non-Christian friend to church or shares the gospel with others. Indeed, it is so uncommon

that when it happens it is celebrated as a heroic action. Beliefs could be another indicator of

spirituality; what young people believe, how important are those beliefs in their daily life, and how

committed to those beliefs they are. I have no precise data to measure beliefs, but when I was

reading about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism I immediately thought that such is the faith of many

young people in my youth ministry. Of course, there are several whose faith is vibrant and they

are committed to the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, the goal of the youth ministry is not that

several young people have a consequential faith but that all or at least most do so.

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WHY IS IT GOING ON?

It is not always easy to answer why something is going on, and even less when it is about human

groups. Therefore, it is not possible to offer a simple answer to the question why is going on what

is going on in the youth ministry of Horeb. There are many factors, of course, but I will offer four

main reasons. First, the family context of each young person plays an essential role in their path

of faith. Particularly their parents. Statistics show that the most important influence in a person’s

life decisions is still their parents and their closest family. Second, the responsibility is inside the

church. What we preach as a church affects directly to the faith of young people. The church is

responsible to communicate a message, not only through words but through actions and,

especially, through lives that model the importance and meaning of God’s story in Jesus Christ.

Third, the surrounding culture. Young people are immersed in a culture that is not Christian and

that is influencing them. They are receiving messages in many different ways through the internet,

social media, school, friends, etc. Finally, ultimately there is a factor that affects the spiritual life

of young people and it is their personal decision. While they receive the influence of their families,

the church, and the culture, at the end each person takes her/his own decision. In the next

paragraphs I will explore further each of these reasons, but, since this is a paper about youth

ministry, I will focus on the second one, the responsibility of the church.

1- The family context

Too often parents want the church to communicate a message with which they are not even

committed. When I just started as a youth leader in Mexico City, a sixteen-year-old boy came to

the Bible study. It was the first time I saw him so I asked him how did he get there. He answered

me that his mother sent him hoping that we could help him improve in school and quit bad habits

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that he had acquired. When I asked him “who are your parents?” I realized that they were not

members of the church and not even Christians, they just sent him hoping we could rescue him

from his poor decisions. I tried to do my best in order to help him, but after a couple weeks he

stopped coming to church. Sadly, that was not the last time that something similar happened. Some

people think that a youth ministry is a place where you can send problematic boys and girls to

solve their behavioral issues. Of course, the Holy Spirit can transform their behavior, actually, the

work of God in a person will transform something more than just actions, but every aspect of

her/him from the most profound to the most external. But too often that work that the church can

do is competing with a more present and influential force, the family context. That is why a youth

ministry should work also with the parents and the family of young people. I will say more about

this later, now I will turn to the second main factor, the church.

2- The church (youth ministry)

The book of Kenda Creasy Almost Christians is revealing, provocative, and challenging. I can

agree with almost everything she says; however, I think that she overstates the responsibility of

the church. She argues that most young people in America embrace the Moralistic Therapeutic

Deism faith and that it is the responsibility of the church. According to her argument, the church

has been preaching MTD to young people and that is why they believe in it. Maybe it is my lack

of knowledge about American Christianity but I need to push back a little. While I see that it is

true that many churches are softening the gospel, sometimes to be more “culturally relevant”

among young people, it is also true that there are many churches that are preaching the true gospel

of Jesus Christ with all its consequences and implications. And, it is also true that the church is not

the only influence in the life of young people. The family, the culture, and, ultimately, their own

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decision, also have influence in their decisions of faith. Nevertheless, that does not mean that the

church is not responsible. Indeed, the church has a great responsibility in translating the gospel of

Jesus Christ and handing down to each next generation the story of God, of which we all are part.

Of course, each church has its particular situation, strengths, and areas of opportunity.

Therefore, I will explore now the specific context of the youth ministry in Horeb Baptist Church.

One of the main weaknesses in my church is the fact that we do not have a position for a youth

minister. All the people that work in the youth ministry are volunteers. It needs to be said that they

do a great effort, passionate and committed, especially the general director, but they have their

own jobs and responsibilities outside the church. For the sake of clarity, I will order in a list the

needs within the youth ministry that are holding back its growth:

• Lack of a paid youth minister. In sum, there is no one whose main job is to take care of the

youth ministry and make it work.

• Lack of vision and common purpose. It is not clear, or at least it is not stated explicitly,

what is the reason for the existence of a youth ministry.

• Lack of motivation. Since there is not a clearly stated vision, the youth ministry seems like

something you do not know why exists. And that is demotivating.

• Lack of collective identity. In other words, the sense of belonging needs to be strengthened.

Sometimes the youth ministry seems just like a bunch of people together for no reason.

• Lack of integration. While there is a group of at least eighty regular attendants, there are

hundreds of other young people in the church and the surrounding community. It seems

that the youth ministry is a place where it is not that easy to fit when you are new.

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• Lack of keychain leadership. I borrow this term from the book Growing Young. It seems

that the leaders do not trust young people to let them participate actively in what is going

on in the youth ministry.

• Lack of spaces of service. Maybe there is no keychain leadership because there is nothing

to entrust, no responsibilities to hand down.

• Lack of discipleship. While there are some efforts to mentor and disciple young people

one-on-one, the truth is that many young people are left without close mentorship.

• Lack of intimacy. One of the most valuable lesson that I have been learning in the last

weeks is the importance of close relationships when it comes to Christian ministry. This is

something that needs to be improved in my church, both between leaders and young people,

and between peers.

• Lack of planning. Since there it is not a church position of youth ministry, it is not a surprise

that sometimes there is lack of planning. Too often youth ministry is about improvising.

• Lack of organization. To be honest, there are also attempts to grow in organization and

planning, but there is still much to do, especially to do it in a sustainable way.

Some of the above statements may be qualified, when I say that something lacks it does not

necessarily mean that it lacks entirely but that it is needed more of that, whatever it is. Also, it

must be said that there are other areas where the youth ministry is strong. For example, the

involvement of young people in the larger church. As I said there is strong participation of young

people in worship, mission trips, children ministry, and all kinds of activities. And finally, I think

that the strongest area of Horeb’s youth ministry is the preaching of Jesus message. Led by our

pastor, the youth counselors are committed to preaching seriously what does it mean to follow

Jesus. We are strong in affirming the importance of the Bible, especially in face of the counter-

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message of the secular (and sometimes anti-Christian) culture. Which is exactly what I will address

next.

3- The surrounding culture

Every generation of Christian faces its own struggles, with its own particularities and difficulties.

The generation of young people today is facing new challenges that did not exist generations

before. The world is changing at a very fast rate. I cannot go deep in all the implications of these

changes but suffice it is to mention some examples. Young people today have easy access to

pornography all the time. They are being bombed with secular and anti-Christian narratives all day

and from many sources such as television, social media, news, books, journals, etc. The moral

decadence of values has come to point were the socially accepted is exactly what Christianity and

the Bible condemns. Young Christians today are going against the current of the world in a way

that resembles the most difficult times for Christians in history. In Mexico, being Christian is being

the weird person in the classroom. It is being different, and many decide they do not want to pay

the cost of being Christians and they become just like everybody else. However, there are also

many who decide to follow Jesus and accept the cost of being a true disciple, because, ultimately,

it is a personal decision.

4- The personal decision

Of course, following Jesus is a decision influenced by multiple factors. But there is no way to

guarantee how a person will respond. There are young people with Christian parents, a family that

loves them, a church that preaches seriously the Christian message, pastors and leaders who care

for them, all the odds in their favor, and they finally decide not to follow Jesus. On the other hand,

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there are also some that have all the odds against them and they decide to follow Jesus. Because

in the end, it is about a personal decision. But that is not a call to inactivity. The church needs to

do all in its hands to influence young people, to preach the gospel, to care for them, and to hand

the story of God to the next generation.

WHAT OUGHT TO BE GOING ON?

Mainly, in this section, I will answer the questions: why a youth ministry? What is a youth ministry

for? How should it be? Those are not easy questions but it is of vital importance to answer them.

It is not wise to do things just because that is what we are supposed to be doing. We need to be

aware of why we do what we do. First, and for the sake of clarity, I will list three main reasons

why youth ministry exists or what is it for.

a) Spiritual formation

Without doubt this is the main reason for the existence of youth ministry. It can be summed in one

word: discipleship. That is what Jesus commanded us to do: “…go and make disciples of all

nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and

teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to

the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV). Everything the church does is in order to fulfil

what Jesus commanded us to do. Youth ministry is not the exception. But how do disciples are

made? Jesus said it clearly:

• “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptize

someone is much more than immerse her/him on water, it is about integrating someone

in a community where now she/he belongs. It is becoming part of a bigger story, the

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story of Go the father the creator of the world. It is the story of the Son, God incarnate,

the Messiah, fulfiller of the old promises to Israel. And it is the story of the Holy Spirit,

the real presence of God acting in the world and in the hearts of people through those

who surrender their will to him.

• “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Discipleship is about

teaching, but not just about teaching information but the transformation of being like

Jesus. Discipleship is about modeling Christlikeness. Disciples are those who not only

know something they did not know before but those who are people that did not exist

before. Discipleship includes the whole being: spirit, soul, and body. It includes all the

areas of life: values, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, decisions, and actions. It

• “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Discipleship is also

trusting that the world makes sense. God has the last world, even when it seems that

the world makes no sense he is in control. Meanwhile, Jesus promised he is with us and

that is our confidence. Making disciples is sharing this truth, that Jesus is God with us

and that we can trust him. It is the hope of the real presence of God in the world.

Therefore, discipleship is: 1) being part of a bigger narrative, the story of God, 2) it is a process of

transformation towards Christlikeness, 3) and it is a trust that the world makes sense because God

is with us. That is what I mean when I say that youth ministry exists to make disciples. Everything

the youth ministry does ought to be leaning to make disciples.

b) Community experience

If the main goal of the church is to make disciples, it may be asked why to have a separate group

of young people. On the one hand, it is a valid question and that is why the church is not always

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divided into age groups. The worship services and the proclamation of God’s word are usually in

a multigenerational setting. Moreover, the youth ministry is also a multigenerational space where

there are together middle-schoolers, high-schoolers, college people, young adults, and adults. On

the other hand, it is true that age groups are a natural setting to inform, form, and transform. In

other words, a part of the process of discipleship occurs together with other people that are in the

same path as me, usually those of my same age.

Many have highlighted the importance of relationship in spiritual formation. More than

technology, buildings, programs, music, skinny pants, or any other strategy, relationships are

crucial and fundamental to the process of disciple-making. In general terms, three kinds of

relationships are needed.

• Family. As I said earlier, the family is the most important influence in a person’s spiritual

decisions. Therefore, a youth ministry should care not only for young people individually

but also for their family relationships. The youth ministry should not work separately from

the parents of young people, and of course not against them, but together with them.

• Mentorship. What young people need is not a cool, handsome, talented, young leader. What

they need is someone who cares. Someone who loves them so much that is concerned about

their spiritual life. The most meaningful learning comes from people that love us and care

for us. Thus, there is no substitute for one-on-one discipleship.

• Friendship. Finally, the environment in the youth ministry is also of great importance.

Young people are looking for identity, a place to belong, and being accepted. And they will

find such a place among their peers. Peer pressure can be so harmful, but it also can be a

good influence to follow Jesus. Youth ministry should be a place where young people are

surrounded by others who love God and follow Jesus.

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The main goal of youth ministry is spiritual formation, which is discipleship. The setting and way

in which youth ministry makes disciples is relationships.

c) Integral witnessing

Finally, youth ministry exists to witness with words and actions the gospel of Jesus Christ. One

aspect of being disciples is to witness who is God to the world. The Kingdom that Jesus preached

was about love, compassion, and kindness. It is about caring for those in need, attending the

orphan, the poor, and the hunger. And, of course, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to those

who do not know them. Young people are in search of purpose, they are looking to make a

difference in the world, and there is no better way to live purposefully than to live out the Kingdom

of God. The call to follow Jesus is not a call to just contemplation inside the church. It is a call to

give it everything in following him. A Christian youth ministry should never be a place of

entertainment, but a place where the message of Jesus is preached seriously and young people are

being challenged to give their life for that Kingdom.

HOW MIGHT WE RESPOND?

In light of the above, what are the next steps in order to move from what is going on towards what

ought to be going on? First of all, a time of prayer and thinking should precede any action. Then,

the questions above should be shared, reflected, and discussed with the church leaders. Out of such

talks, the general vision of the youth ministry should be shared with the whole church.

In terms of staff it is needed to:

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1) Create a youth ministry position. A church of more than three thousand members needs

desperately a youth minister. It is not that the church is not convinced of the importance of the

youth, it is that in Mexico it is not that common to have a youth pastor. Nevertheless, it will be

necessary to express to the whole church the great necessity of a person who can lead the youth

ministry. Of course, the process of selection should be prayerful and thoughtful. God will lead us.

2) Recruit volunteers. This is something that the church has been doing very well. Indeed,

only volunteers have been supporting the ministry for years. However, there should be a time in

which the volunteers, together with the youth minister, reflect, discuss, and pray over these four

questions. Especially, about what ought to be going on and how might we respond. It should be a

deep commitment and understanding among them about the purpose of a youth ministry (spiritual

formation, discipleship, relationships, witnessing, identity, purpose, etc.). This must be a solid

group of leaders that model the life of Jesus Christ.

3) Choose youth leaders. In order to start a re-structuration as the one I will propose, it will

be needed the cooperation of young people willing to participate. They would be chosen

prayerfully.

In terms of structure:

1) Establishing a vision. I suggest to develop what Mark DeVries calls visionary documents,

in order to establish what are the purposes and goals of the youth ministry. The vision includes a

mission statement, a statement of values, and measurable goals in short, mid, and long-term. The

vision should be created during some meetings designated to it together with the youth minister,

the volunteers, and the youth leaders. The vision is created in order to establish clearly a sense of

purpose, and it should be spread among all the members of the ministry and the whole church.

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2) Building organization. It should be created what Mark DeVries calls control documents.

Directories of all the members of the ministry. An annual events calendar. Position descriptions

with clearly stated responsibilities. And a curriculum template that includes a plan of what and

how the teaching is going to be realized.

3) Developing a plan. On the run, it will be necessary to review the visionary documents and

the control documents from time to time. What is important is to stay on track in an organized

way. Therefore, weekly meetings are essential.

In terms of realization, I will suggest following the six core commitments found in Growing

Young:

1. Unlock key-chain leadership. The youth ministry is led by a youth minister and volunteers.

But the authority should not be centralized. Young people, especially those in the older

groups, will be entrusted and empowered with responsibilities.

2. Empathize with today’s young people. We will step in the shoes of the younger generations

instead of being judgmental. We will speak their language and be culturally relevant.

3. Take Jesus’ message seriously. Youth ministry will be Jesus-centered. The focus, center,

and goals of the ministry will the story of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

4. Fuel a warm community. Intergenerational mentorship and peer friendships will be

strengthened for spiritual growth. Discipleship is, above anything else, relationships.

Therefore, the youth ministry will be a place where people are valued, and where everyone

has someone who cares.

5. Prioritize young people everywhere. We will encourage young people to be involved in the

larger church. Also, we will involve families and not only individuals.

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6. Be the best neighbors. We will enable young people to make a difference in the world

witnessing the gospel of Jesus Christ with words and actions.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dean, Kenda. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American
Church. Oxford University Press, 2010.

DeVries, Mark. Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why most Youth Ministry doesn’t Last and what
your Church can do about it. Downer Groove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Osmer, Richard J. Practical Theology: An Introduction. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Powell, Kara E, Jake Mulder, and Brad M. Griffin. Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies
to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.

Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.
2009.

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