[This is part 2 of a two-part interview with Pastor Steve Wright. Part 1 can be found here.]
ALEX: You’ve been in youth ministry for over 20 years. How has it changed during that time?
STEVE: Unfortunately I see student ministry heading in a very dangerous direction. Many of us got caught up on the “bigger is better” treadmill. Bigger budgets, bigger programs, bigger personalities. We believed we could entertain students all the way to the cross. While I would have never confessed it early in my ministry, I was literally trying to prop up the gospel with gimmicks, giveaways, and all the rest of an entertainment model.
It is no surprise that now we have several “For Profit” ministries thriving in an industry to keep students entertained. Unfortunately, today the gospel within student ministry has become Big Money.
ALEX: What are the biggest challenges in youth ministry today?
STEVE: Two big challenges stand out.
1. The Gospel – What gospel are we proclaiming? Are we challenging our students and families to encounter the gospel afresh every day? There was a seeker who came to Jesus once that many know as the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus offered him grace and eternal life, but this young man walked away because of his pride and his possessions. Jesus did not chase him down to give him a latte and put an iPod on his head, neither did Jesus alter His message to “give all.”
2. Theology – Will we do ministry on His terms or will we seek trendy, business and entertainment models? Are we willing as pastors to REALLY dig into God’s Word for His direction, and do we have the conviction to change course where necessary?
ALEX: How do you respond to those who believe that churches should not have youth ministries?
STEVE: Our first response should be in a spirit of love and gentleness. I wish the solution was as easy as doing away with student ministries. I have heard this message for some time now as the solution, but I really do not see many churches rallying behind this thought. Do we do away with preschool, children’s, women’s, men’s, and senior adult ministries? Acts 5:38-39 says, “If this thought is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God you will not be able to stop it.”
The key element to me on this issue is do we believe God’s Word is sufficient? If it is, how does it guide us in the context of student ministry? I, for one, do not believe that God’s Word is silent in this area and that IT DOES give extensive guidance as to the roles of both the family and the church. Acts 2:42-47 gives us a clear picture of what the church should look like and that picture demonstrates cooperation between families and the wider church body.
ALEX: How do family dynamics impact the health of a church’s youth ministry?
STEVE: A student ministry rises and falls on the spiritual health of its families. As a youth pastor, it’s virtually impossible for me by myself to guide students to where they need to be spiritually. This was never the biblical model. Parents must assume the lead in this role; when they do, the results are amazing. God has blessed them with this amazing privilege of being daily mentors in the lives of their children. What a gift. We have already seen the results of this here at Providence.
ALEX: What do you hope this ReThink Conference accomplishes?
STEVE: Our utmost desire is that the pastors and other leaders who come will encounter the gospel afresh and see its power to change individuals, families, and churches. If I had to give you a short list, I would also say:
1. That we will make “much of Him.”
2. That the gospel of Christ and its rich provisions will once again be proclaimed as our only hope.
3. That pastors and church leaders will be inspired to do ministry “On His Terms”.