I'm reading R. L. Dabney's The Practical Philosophy, which is a book on Christian ethics. The beginning chapters are very important and I cannot help but relate them to "youth ministry".
His thesis is that a person's feelings play an absolutely critical role in how he lives. The feelings are the motivating part of our hearts. Unless feeling is involved in an intellectual decision, there will be no action following the decision. Indeed, without the feeling, there would be no motivation to do the thinking in the first place. Without feeling, writes Dabney, "man would be reduced to both apathy and idiocy."
Here is an excellent passage:
"The feelings practically make the man. Intellect is the cold, feeble magnetism which gives the ship its compass to steer by. Feeling is the motive power, throbbing within the vessel and propelling it; without which the ship, in spite of the needle pointing with its subtle intelligence to the pole, rots in the harbor and makes no voyage any whither." (p. 3)
Now let us consider the way we are bringing our youth up at home and in church. We feed them information: Bible knowledge, tradition, whatever. But, if the kids do not have the feelings that are appropriate for those subjects and necessary in order to bring that knowledge into fruition - in decision, action, pursuit - it does them no good. Without proper Christian feeling, they will not pursue Christian living.
What are we doing to develop in them proper Christian feelings? Feelings cannot be taught, they have to be nurtured. What feelings are we nurturing in them? Lets consider the Church. What else are we doing with them beside teaching them the Bible? Are they in "youth church" and not worshipping with the rest of the family of God? What kind of feelings about the Christian life does this cultivate? Are they in youth meetings which are entertainment based? Are they in schools that are based more on academics or sports than on community worship and learning? All these various activities are like a particular kind of gardening. Their potential is specific to the tools being used. Frankly, I cannot help but question whether some of these things do not cultivate feelings that are more in common with secular America than historic Christendom. It's no wonder so many of our youth do not stick with the Church. Their feelings are more for the things of American culture.
We need to spend time thinking about this and re-evaluating.