Richard Ross, co-founder of True Love Waits and known for his passion for seeing young people come to know and serve Jesus, says while the youth minister plays an important role in raising up a generation of sold-out Christians, the senior pastor holds the keys to unlocking “true reformation” in youth ministry. He writes as much in his new book, The
Senior Pastor and the Reformation of Youth Ministry.
Unlike some of his other books geared toward youth ministers and parents—including 50 Core Principles of Youth Ministry, Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ and Accelerate: Parenting Teenagers Toward Adulthood—Ross’s new book is written with senior pastors in mind.
“I believe in youth pastors,” Ross says. “The vast majority of them are sacrificially investing their lives to see teenagers join Christ in changing the world. But they do not have the voice, the pulpit or the influence to lead the entire congregation toward a true reformation in youth ministry.”
Only the senior pastor has that kind of influence, Ross writes in the preface.
“That is why this book is targeted specifically to you,” he says to senior pastors.
Ross, who spent 30 years serving churches as a youth minister before joining the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) as one of the major issues stifling revival in both teenagers and adults. The term, coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, is used to characterize a common religious worldview held by many American young people. When speaking at the 2014 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Bible Conference in Fort Worth, Ross described someone who has bought into MTD as someone who would like to have a little Jesus figurine to carry around in his or her pocket. These people pray to Jesus when they are in a bind or when they need to pass a test, but when it comes to serving Jesus and revering him as king, the God-Man is simply a byword and less than a passing thought.
“A little Jesus is no Jesus at all,” Ross told conference attendees.
Part of the reason teenagers buy into this empty philosophy, Ross says, is that this sort of shallow easy-believism has been modeled before them by parents and even youth workers.
“Why focus on senior pastors?” Ross asks. “Because some of the adults who have the greatest impact on teenagers are spiritually shallow. Church teenagers aren’t shallow because the pizza got cold but because some of their parents and even volunteer leaders are shallow.”
Involvement from the top and attention to solid teaching can help to rectify that, Ross says.
“As this book will make clear,” Ross continues in the preface, “the youth pastor can and should have a role in the spiritual transformation of parents and volunteer leaders. But the senior pastor must take the lead role, and he has to know specifically how that role should look.”
The reformation of youth ministry, Ross says, will require change—some systemic and some more specific with the design of youth ministry itself. Hence, the need for a team effort that includes the senior pastor, youth pastor, parents, youth workers and the entire congregation.
“Some of the most needed reformations involve systemic change that will ripple through the entire congregation,” Ross said. “Even the brightest and most influential youth pastor cannot lead such change alone. That is why I am issuing a call to senior pastors.”
Ross points out that time is of the essence in the effort to demonstrate true faith before teenagers’ watching eyes and to introduce them to passionate devotion to the king.
“At high school graduation, about half of church youth group members leave the church,” Ross said. “Another 40 percent join that mass of shallow adults who enjoy the benefits of the church but who make little impact on the world. Only 10 percent follow Jesus as disciples, in awe of his majesty and courageously joining him in advancing the kingdom. If we keep doing youth ministry the way we have for decades, we will keep getting these same results. That is why I am calling for a complete reformation and not business as usual.”
Right now, pastors have everything to lose and everything to gain based on their choice to either avoid or engage the youth ministries within their churches.
“Only the pastor can take the lead with a full reformation in youth ministry,” Ross writes. “If he doesn’t, he likely will witness waves of successively shallow and impotent believers. If he does, he likely will witness teenagers, families and future generations of his church carrying the aroma of Christ and impacting the world for the glory of God.”
The Senior Pastor and the Reformation of Youth Ministry is available Feb. 1 online at RichardARoss.com.