The thesis of the documentary Divided (available to watch for free here, and I encourage you to watch it before reading any response to it) is that the standard models for youth ministry are unbiblical (meaning antibiblical) and the mass exodus of teens and young adults in the church is either a direct result or a divine judgment upon parents and the church for a mutual failure in following scripture’s instructions for how to disciple the next generation (I didn’t know the Bible had instructions for that).
I found Divided through this blog post from Mark Oestreicher which also linked me to Walt Meuler’s thoughts here. While I fully agree with the criticisms of these two men and disagree with many of the film makers’ theological assertions what I have not seen yet is a synthetic solution to some of the film’s criticisms.
First, there is the idea that age segregation is anti-biblical because it is not seen happening in scripture. I would acknowledge that it is abiblical. We don’t have any evidence of children learning together with a single adult, but the film contends that this is borrowed from public schools which borrow from evolutionary theory and manufacturing processes to produce adults out the end of the school/sunday school/youth group chute. The way to bring this back within the guide of scripture is to eliminate all of these things. (They didn’t specifically address homeschooling, but I bet these people are proponents of homeschooling to the exclusion of public/private schooling.) They want discipleship to be done by parents and led by fathers. For those who do not have a father or do not have a Christian father (or just an inadequate/lazy one?), the other fathers in the church need to step up.
I take issue with some of this (okay, a lot of it), but what I agree with is that (1) the congregation should not be divided in worship beyond having different service times to handle larger numbers than a building can support in a single service and (2) parents need to have an active and primary role in discipling their children. As a youth director, I will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have a regular youth worship service. I believe that the church should worship together and I will always encourage families to sit together during worship services. I also am trying to figure out how to support parents in their roles as primary disciplers of their kids as well as how to incorporate more family activities into our ministry. I am currently being inspire by Mark DeVries’ work at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville through him books Sustainable Youth Ministry and Family Based Youth Ministry. My other challenge is how to interpret scripture in such a way that avoids the same trap of biblicism (read Scot McKnight’s first article of eight on The Problem of Biblicism) which the makers of Divided and the NCFIC fall into, but still regards its authority and inspiration.
My personal and professional plan of action is to read A Weed in the Church, a book prominently feature in the film. I also am working on ways that our youth ministry at FPCA is failing to disciple kids or stealing parents’ thunder (whether by commission or omission). Not necessarily this year (being my first here and as a director), but I intend to evaluate consistently what we are doing, why, and how it promotes or hinders the ministry of parents to their children. Mark DeVries wrote in Family Base Youth Ministry that things bear fruit through either growth or pruning. What do I need to grow in my ministry? What do I need to prune out? What about you and your ministry?