It doesn't take a lot of intelligence to see that the marriage of the Bible (the lifelong union of a man and a woman for the purposes of procreation and complementing) is not the marriage of today. Nor is it any great insight to see the erosion of this position over the past century. It wasn't big steps, of course, but it wasn't invisible. There was the feminist movement that sought to free wives from the biblical construct of "wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord". There was the "free love" movement of the 60's that sought to free couples from the biblical construct of sex within marriage. There was the "no fault divorce" concept that sought to free married couples from the biblical requirement of a lifelong union. There was the romance of the media that sought to eliminate the biblical concept that husbands and wives were meant to complement one another rather than warm each other's hearts. And, of course, we're now at the "marriage equity" stage where, having stripped off all the components that made marriage marriage, they seek to eliminate the biblical concept of "husband and wife" and leave it at "spouses", whatever the gender. And children? Children are a nuisance or, at best, a rare and prized possession. So far have we drifted in such a short time from the original concept that to even suggest my biblical definition (the lifelong union of a man and a woman for the purposes of procreation and complementing) is generally regarded as ludicrous. "No one thinks that anymore."
What has this to do with youth ministry? I fear that I see the same thing happening in the church.
A couple hundred years ago families went to church together. The notion of "Sunday School" didn't start until the late 18th century, and they were started as schools, an opportunity to give poor kids an education. They spent their weeks working in factories, so folks like Robert Raikes promoted the idea of teaching them to read on their day off -- Sunday. The Bible was their reading primer, so that worked out well. When state education was established in the late 19th century, Sunday school became a solely religious endeavor. Prior to this, all families who went to church went together. The religious instruction they received was either from the pastor or the parents.
Now, of course, we live in a different world. Most conscientious Christian parents looking for a church will choose that church with a keen eye on the ministry afforded their children. What kind of youth ministry is there and does it reach my kids' age group? Lots of families elect to go to larger churches precisely because they provide the best age-distinct groups. (It seems obvious that to have age-distinct youth ministries you would need to have the numbers for it.) Churches of practically any size include a "youth pastor". Typically, a "youth pastor" is not a real pastor. He's more of a pastor in training, a youth himself to some degree. He wouldn't be the senior pastor of a church; he's too young. In fact, he may not even be a "he". But he's fun and he knows how to interact with kids. He knows how to entertain them and to speak at their level and to hold their interest. So a good youth group would have the music of the day and games and fun with, hopefully, a little truth snuck in there for good measure. And this is a good thing.
I see some serious problems here. We see all around us the disintegration of families (as we see in the simple decline in "marriage" itself), yet we are encouraging dis-integration of families in church. "Youth ministry" is designed to provide something separate from the parents and even, preferably, stripping out each age group from any other, separating parents from children and siblings from siblings. Yet we affirm the family as a unit. Isn't that a little problematic?
Sunday school in general and "youth ministry" as a whole serves to remove parents from the equation. Parents don't work with their kids; they drop them off. The content is not up to the parents; it's up to the youth leadership. The progress is not monitored by parents if it's monitored at all. But the Bible holds parents in general and fathers in particular responsible for the spiritual education of their children. Isn't that somewhat problematic?
Indeed, by taking children out of church services and removing youth from their families, parents are relieved of a lot of what should have been their responsibilities. They are no longer required to teach their kids how to behave in church. They don't have to provide spiritual instruction or disciple their children. (When was the last time you heard of parents discipling their children?) They don't really have to involve themselves in their kids' lives hardly at all because, after all, they're going to church! What could be better? And at this point the biblical concept of parental responsibility has eroded in the same direction that "marriage" has. Isn't that a little problematic?
Most of all, family cohesion is cancelled. We've all heard, "The family that prays together stays together." Seriously, how many families today pray together? They don't even eat together. The model of a "good Christian family" would have the kids going to AWANA on Wednesday night and the teens off to their "teen club" (that's probably dated now, too, isn't it?) on Thursday night and Mom is off to Women's Bible Study on Tuesday and Dad does the Men's Breakfast on Saturday and we've got everyone neatly ministered to ... completely separated from each other. That is not cohesion. That's incoherent. Isn't that a little problematic?
I grew up with "youth ministries". My parents changed churches when they saw indications that their kids were losing interest in church. I know the importance of conscientious parents in finding good ministries for their kids and I know the values of youth ministries. I just wonder if, like marriage, we've been sliding this direction so long that we've become accustomed to a dangerous condition and now would find a biblical approach a bad thing. Woe to Christians when we decide that a biblical approach is a bad thing! And woe to the church when our "ministries" encourage the dissolution of God's key component of all society. This seems a bit problematic to me.