A Response to Divided: The Film & Family Integration (Part 2)

In A Response to Divided: The Film & Family Integration (Part 1), I critiqued the movie Divided.

In part 2, I want to offer some solutions.

Divided: The Movie, while bringing to light a much needed discussion, provides limited answers. Simply tearing down every wall of demographic separation within the church does not fully address the problem. There must be sweeping changes in the way we view youth ministry.


John Maxwell is correct when he says that “everything rises and falls on leadership.”

First, the Change must begin with the pastor and other leaders of the church. There must be a paradigm shift in the way the leaders view the youth ministry and the youth minister. If they are not convinced, little can be done.

Second, we must view youth not as members of a particular sub-group, but as fully functioning members of the church. I am adamantly against youth Sundays—the practice where, in attempts to get youth accustomed to ministry, the church lets them run things for a Sunday. This is offensive. It suggests that they are, in fact, not real members, but a group who, under the graces of the church, is allowed to service once a year. If youth are willing and able to serve, let them serve regularly—not as youth, but as Christians! If we can get them involved as Christians in ‘Big church’ then integration won’t be such a culture shock after graduation.

Third, we must create demographically diverse small groups and ministry opportunities. Whether its Sunday school, weekday small groups, or men’s breakfasts, we must get our youth mingling with our adults. If we treat our youth like kids, they’ll act like it. When if we treat them like members of the body of Christ, many will rise to the occasion.  Divided: The Movie is right on here. Too much age segregation strips teenagers of the ability to rub shoulders with mature christians.

Fourth, we must abolish youth Sunday services. This is the core issue in The Divided film. There is far too much demographic separation in our churches. We are creating churches within churches. Even children’s church past a certain grade is problematic (but that is another issue). I believe sixteen year olds and and sixty-six year olds of the same church should be worshiping and learning and serving together.

Some might object that the language of an adult service is far too advanced for teenagers, and that the topics presented are not relevant. Some years ago I listined to an Alistair Begg sermon on Christian education. I hate to quote him without providing a reference, but he talked about the importance of having children in the main service. He agreed that they won’t understand all of it, but they will understand some of it.

As far as the main service not being relevant, how can the preaching of the Bible not be relevant to a fifteen year old? If the preaching in ‘Big church’ is not relevant to a fifteen year old, it’s probably not relevant to a fifty year old. That’s a preaching problem, not a youth problem.

Fifth, we must staff accordingly. Personally, I would never advocate hiring a youth minister or youth pastor, but I would advocate hiring or appointing a family pastor. The title speaks volume.

Unfortunately, in the industry of professional ministry, the youth minister is often viewed as the Diet Coke of the pastorate.  The youth minister is the pastor-in-training. They exist in order to learn the ropes so that, after having matured, they can climb the ministerial ladder into a real job–like a senior or associate pastor. I don’t agree with this view, but it seems common.

The most significant metric to appraise the ministerial value of the youth minister is his pay. Most youth ministers are part time and paid peanuts. As a result, the turnover rate is quite high. The standard answer for youth ministry turnover rate is 18 months, but that number have been challenged. It’s not only an issue of pay, but of respect and influence. No offense to any youth pastor (I was a youth pastor for 6 years), but it seems to be the least respected job in the church.

Since most churches in North American are under 100, the majority of them cannot hire a second full time staff. Nonetheless, If I were in a position to hire additional staff to work with younger people, this how I would structure it:

  1. Create a title that accurately describes the task. Family Pastor certainly works.
  1. Communicate to the church that this is a respected, pastoral position, designed to reach families. This is not an intro job for someone wanting to do real ministry later. The compensation must be consistent with every other associate pastor position.
  1. Make every effort to hire someone for the long haul. A new youth minister every other year ruins morale and ultimately creates indifference.
  1. The Family pastor would actively pursue the families of the unchurched youth.
  1. The Family pastor would work with other ministries of the church to get teenagers integrated, not as youth, but as Christians.
  1. The Family pastor would align his ministry with the pastor and other leaders. So often the church is moving in one direction, while the ‘youth guy’ off doing his own thing.

To summarize, our churches need to get our adults and youth aligned in fellowship, worship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and outreach. There is one body of Christ. The young can learn from the old, while the old learn from the young.


A Response to Divided: The Film & Family Integration (Part 1)
A Response to Divided: The Film & Family Integration (Part 2)


A Response to Divided: The Film & Family Integration (Part 1).

Amateur filmmaker Philip LeClerc noticed a disturbing trend among his peers: they are leaving the church in droves. In order to discover whether this was the fault of the church, the parents, or the youth themselves, he set out on a journey to find answers. Thus Divided: the movie was born.


The main idea of the film is that contemporary youth ministry is not Biblical. Youth ministry programs not only separate youth from adults, they influence parents to abdicate their responsibility as the primary Biblical educator of their children. The result is a generation of teens who were nursed with flashy programs, shallow Bible studies, and no real adult instruction.

Divided: The Movie raises some questions that desperately need answers. All the statistics show that our older teens are leaving the church en masse. Can this exodus truly be traced to the simple division of youth and adults in church?

This is not a new issue. The front cover of the July-August 1995 issue if Group Magazine boldly declared “Abolish Youth Ministry!” The article is an interview of then, 20 year youth ministry veteran, Ben Freudenburg. Here are some of his comments:

…the reason we have to change is that the church’s outreach to teenagers isn’t working. If we continue to do youth ministry the way we’ve done it in the past we are going to continue to see a failure rate rather than a success rate.”
“What I see youth ministers often doing, and we’ve trained them well to do, is say to parents: “Bring your kids to church and I’ll teach them the faith, and I’ll encourage their Christ-like living. I’ll shape their values. I’ll teach them how to be servants. I’ll teach them how to witness. I’ll help them to be in Bible study. I’ll provide prayer groups for them. You just bring ’em.

Ben Freudenburg now heads a family friendly ministry whose goal is to train parents to partner with the church in faith and family formation to the third and fourth generation.

See his website: http://www.familyfriendlypn.com

Divided: The Movie doesn’t break new ground. It raises questions that were raised by Group Magazine in 1995: why is youth ministry not working? Our industry definitely needs some self-evaluation. I don’t think the solution, however, is simply to eradicate youth ministry or to shut down any age divided program. Even Ben Freudenburg said: “I don’t believe youth ministry should be abolished. Rather, the way we do youth ministry does need to change.”

Like most issues, the problem is infinitely complex; and causation is difficult to ascertain. Rather then lumping the blame on youth ministry, I think we can trace the exodus to five core issues.

First, there is the Christian family issue. It was addressed at length in the Divided: The Movie. It is true that according to the Shema, the father and mother are the primary parties in charge of educating their children. It is also generally true that Christian parents are not actively teaching their kids the scripture. Outside of perhaps a dinnertime prayer, parents are not praying with their kids. Outside of church attendance, parents are not incorporating spiritual disciplines into the life of the family. Divided: The Movie is right that this is problematic.

There is a second problem. It is the Non-Christian family issue. Most youth groups are reaching youth whose parents are absent, indifferent, and not of the faith. Of course these parents are not going to be educating their children in the faith when they, themselves, don’t believe.

This was why Sunday school was created in the first place. It was an attempt to educate the children whose parents had abdicated this critical responsibility. The fact that a church has youth whose parents are not teaching them is good thing. It means that the aforementioned church is fulfilling the Great Commission by reaching the fatherless. Nonetheless, these motherless and fatherless teens do not have family role models and are statistically at a high risk of dropping out.

The third issue is an industry issue. For good or for evil, American ministry is deeply intertwined with ministerial vocation. That is, churches are hiring people to work with teens, and people are looking for jobs working with teens. The vocational side of youth ministry presents some challenges that contribute to our problem.

Unfortunately, youth ministry is sometimes viewed as the intro job into real ministry. It’s where people start. There is an unwritten belief that no one of quality would want to actually stay in youth ministry. As a young prospective minister, you do your time, gain some experience, and then move into a real job. I do not agree with this sentiment, but the industry makes it very clear. Just about every pastor I’ve ever met made his beginning in youth ministry. The majority of youth ministry positions are part-time. If they are full time, they are usually lower in pay (and in respect) than, say, the minister of music or education. I’ve even known experienced youth pastors in their fifties who were fired because the governing body decided they were too old!

This upside down industry practice does two things: One, it insures that there will be a high turnover rate for youth leaders. Two, there will always be a lack of quality people running our youth ministries. The statistics tend to vary on this issue, but the average youth pastor stays at a church for somewhere between nine and eighteen months. As many of you know, very little can be accomplished in that amount of time. Short term ministry yields little fruit.

I am not suggesting that youth ministers lack quality. I am only suggesting that quality people do not stay in positions where they are not paid enough to feed their families. I am suggesting that quality people don’t stay in positions when they know they are going to be let go at the first sign of a gray hair because they supposedly can’t relate to the teens.

The bottom line is that the very teenagers about whom we are so concerned are being led by a group of underpaid, under-respected group of ministers-in-training who will not stay for more than a year. This is certainly contributing to the problem.

The fourth issue is a ministry culture issue. Churches tend to create two churches with two cultures. In youth ministry circles, a church’s main service is often referred to as ‘Big church.’ Big church has a particular order, a particular style of music, and a particular culture about it.

In attempts to better reach young people, the typical Wednesday night youth program is clearly different from the Big Church. It also has a particular order, a particular style of music, and a particular culture about it.

What churches do, then, is create two very different ministry cultures that rarely interact. There is a demographic wall of separation. It’s almost like having two churches that meet in the same building.


Consider the case of a particular high school senior who was brought up in the youth program. His parents aren’t believers so he doesn’t get Biblical role models from home. He is not necessarily comfortable with church culture, because it was not part of his upbringing. He’s not accustomed to the formal dress, and the style of music is nothing like the music on the radio. Even the way the pastor speaks is of a different culture. But that’s okay, because the youth ministry is tailored to him.

In the youth program he gets to worship God with songs that sound similar to what he listens to during the week. The environment is up to date. They sit in chairs, not pews and are guided with projector presentations, skits, and cutting edge videos. He hears sermons from a person who can speak teen lingo, but who also limits religio-speak. In short, the culture of the ministry fits him perfectly. He learns, worships, fellowships, and becomes more like Christ. Then he graduates.

Most churches do not have a strong collegiate ministry nor do they staff for it. So what is he supposed to do now? The expectation is that he moves up to ‘Big church.’ Of course he had been reluctantly going to big church for all of these years, but they had a great youth Sunday school program and all of his friends were with him. Maybe the church even had a separate youth service. Nonetheless, although many of his friends have gone off to college, his only option is to attend the under-funded and comparatively smaller college Sunday school class and attend a service that is of a completely different culture. Moreover, the service is stacked with people who are, for all intensive purposes, strangers. At the end of the story, he will be one of the eighty percent of youth who leave the church during the first year of college.

The last issue is a developmental issue. Even if our churches skirted the edge of perfection in how it reached teenagers, many high school graduates would still leave the church. Why? Because of normal developmental issues associated with the coming of age.

This is a season of testing for them. No matter how well we train them or how strong our programs, they are going to quickly be confronted with an avalanche of new ideas, new temptations, and new worldviews. Although some of these same temptations existed during high school, there were, in most cases, structures and boundaries that made it easier for them to choose the right path.

When they go off to college, it will be the first time that they have adult freedom and low levels of accountability. This time is the ultimate test of their faith and some will fail.

Divided: The Movie, while bringing to light a much needed discussion, provides limited answers.  I agree that there must be some changes in the way we practice youth ministry, but this film is an overreaction to the problem. Simply tearing down every wall of separation is not the solution.

In the next post, I will propose some solutions that are more balanced and workable.

Here’s the film’s official website: http://www.dividedthemovie.com/

You can also watch the film here:

Starbucks, straw men, and false dilemmas

Starbucks released their 2015 holiday cups last week. Instead of the usual festive red, shown here,


They opted for a minimalist, ombre red, shown here:


Apparently, some Christians are upset about Starbucks cups—or at least Twitter and the media are suggesting so.

I’m not sure why Christians should be upset. Starbucks changed it cups from snowflakes to a two-tone red. It’s not like the 2014 holiday cups had images of mangers and shepherds.

The strange thing is that I have many friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media, and I haven’t seen a single tweet or post expressing Christian outrage. I’m not saying they don’t exist, only that I haven’t seen them.

I see people talking about all of the angry Christians, but I see no angry Christians.

I’m not sure what’s happening here, but this is a straw man argument. That is, people are claiming (falsely) that Christians are mad about a cup, and then criticizing Christians for being mad about a cup.

Not only are Christians inappropriately angry, they are simultaneously abandoning their  care of orphans and widows.

In fact, in response to the hordes of Christians abandoning their usual philanthropy in order to wage war against the evils of the Starbucks, people have started tweeting this:

I’ll worry about if Starbucks says Merry Christmas as soon as we Christians find homes for all orphans, comfort all widows & feed all poor

Not only do we have a straw man argument, now we are dealing with another argumentative fallacy called a false dilemma.

A false dilemma simply says that it’s either/or.
It cannot be both/and.

The argument is that if Christians decide to boycott Starbucks, it must mean they’re abandoning their charity and missionary endeavors.

One cannot possibly send a tweet against Starbucks or start drinking coffee from Peet’s without neglecting orphans and widows.

Sorry, but that’s why it’s called a fallacy.

Some time back I made the decision not to watch Game of Thrones because I’ve heard it’s so sexualized. Guess what? The same week I was able to preach the Gospel, give my own money to charity, and live out my faith to the best of my ability.

Don’t give in to the poorly reasoned false outrage!

For more information on logical fallacies, see this affiliate link:

Only money works for Syrian refugees

I’m glad that posts about Syrian children are going viral. I’m happy that the worst humanitarian crisis of our time is getting social media attention. I’m glad that there is a hashtag being used (#refugeecrisis)

At the end of the day, however, sharing or linking or liking a post does very little.

Refugees need food and supplies, which costs money.

Consider these photos:

3 - Copy 01 02 - Copy

This is the 5th year of this crisis and over 12 million people have been displaced. Many of them are children. Many of them are being killed only because they are Christians.

Enough talk! Send Money!

Forgo an iced mocha or a red box or a movie ticket and send some actual money. Here are two  options:

Samaritan’s Purse
World Vision

There are, of course, other charities. Find one you like and give!


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