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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Divided: Should Youth Ministry Go Away?

Many are the views on Divided (www.dividedthemovie.com), a high-quality film that looks at the problems of youth ministry through the lens of the family-integrated church (FIC).

The filmmaker, Philip Leclerc, does the church a service by bringing us many interviews and ample information on the topic of family integration. Divided also has us talking about real problems in youth ministry—which should lead to real solutions. I applaud this and I’m happy the DVD is on my shelf.

The mixed feelings for the film come down to fairness.

Speaking as a former journalist, Divided’s biggest detraction is that it approaches the issue of age segregation not to find solutions—but with a solution in mind. Whether this was the filmmakers’ intention, I do not know. But as a result, the film comes off as one-sided as every interviewee endorses FIC and mostly disapproves of youth ministry.  Most of the film’s critics cite the usage of a straw man.

Though never voiced in the film, Divided implies that youth ministry is not working and therefore should go away. Instead of adhering to this unspoken conclusion, I think parents should recruit and work with youth workers. They are incredibly valuable. They seek out students who don’t live in Christian homes. They come alongside those who desperately need loving mentors. And they want kids to walk with Jesus.

Even so, youth workers are not the answer. Parents are. This is Divided’s greatest take-away.

Dads and moms cannot continue to outsource their teenagers’ spiritual lives. They must impress the gospel on their young, as clearly shown in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The reason an estimated 85 percent of professing Christians abandon their faith before college is that they’re watching hypocritical lifestyles and not hearing the Gospel. Dads and moms must be the spiritual influencers. And youth leaders must point to parents.

That said, I do not believe home discipleship and youth ministry must be separated. If anything, they should be combined.

What this looks like is different in every church. The key principles to take away are:

  • Gather together
  • Ask hard questions together
  • Get real together

When we, like the Bereans in Acts, explore today’s cultural hot topics through the lens of God’s Word, powerful things happen. And, by and large, youth workers are more immersed in cultural hot topics than moms or dads, which makes them a valuable and perhaps eye-opening source for parents. A simple word here or statistic there can help parents dive into the real problems young people are facing today—and that can be a big relief for young people. They want to be understood. 

Family integration is biblical. It’s ideal. But the church and her people are not. I grew up in a family integrated church with great parents, but I “played church” until I was 17-years-old. It is not an end-all solution for unshakable faith and lasting fruit by any means.

Overall, Divided asks great questions and should be watched. However, viewers should keep in mind that it is a one-sided discussion—not a give-and-take investigation of how the church should move forward.

Some viewers have responded to this film with grace and love, others with knives and spears. Uphold the Gospel and camp with the former.

Youth ministry shouldn’t be thrown away. Much of it requires an overhaul—i.e. entertainment over the Gospel, youth pastors over parents—but there is much good that would be lost if it went away.

© Caleb Breakey. Used with permission.

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