“Biblical Rationale for Youth Ministry in the Old Testament”
(Pt. 2 of a 3 part series)
The model established by God through God’s people to instill God’s Truth within the Next Generation can be describe as such: begin religious instruction in the family home as spiritual practices, add knowledge through the larger community of faith, and provide mentoring from key spiritual leaders for specific practices and duties.
This model was utilized throughout the Old Testament era due to some foundational concepts about young people, a developmental stage that was not fully identified at that time outside of Scripture. However, God has specific principles to follow in ministering to this pre-adult age group.
The priority of Youth Ministry in the Old Testament is evident is the important passage of Ecclesiastes 11:9, “Be happy, young man (bachuwr), while you are young (yalduwth) and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth (bĕchurowth).” One short sentence utilizes three different words to define the time of adolescence. The Hebrew word ילדות, yalduwth, describes the time period of youth, which differs from the Hebrew word בְּחֻרִים, bĕchurowth, which was used to describe a group of people, “youth” or “young men”; this is one of the three verses utilizing this arrangement (Strong’s entry). The latter word has its root in the Hebrew word בחור, bachuwr, which commonly (89 times in 45 OT verses) describes a young man of mature age, but unmarried as in Ruth 3:10 or of fighting age as in Isaiah 31:8. The Teacher Solomon reaches the conclusion of his thesis in Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1 that ultimate of life is to worship, “remember”, God while you are young and still can determine the course of your life, holding off the affects of age and unwise decisions. This truth is emphasized by the repetition of the variety of Hebrews words that can be translated “youth”.
Solomon had pursued the most “popular” pathways of Life, seeking fulfillment of purpose and came up empty. Many of these pathways are exalted by youth today through song, movies, TV and even academia, as each young generation before this one has chased after them. It is for this reason Solomon addresses his conclusion to youthful readers, and it is this conclusion that becomes our foundation for a Biblical rationale for Youth Ministry. Many adults have become entangled in the affairs of the world, missing the peace and joy that God designed us to live by according to His Truth. The purpose of Youth Ministry is to teach, equip and motivate young people to “remember” their Creator, before Life is “wasted on the young” and becomes “troubled”. This mission can be stated many ways, but we can all agree the benefits of a young life fully devoted to the LORD, living out his or her full potential to make a Godly Kingdom impact, is worth all the sacrifice and efforts made by youth workers around the world.
Biblical Rationale #1) Life-tested Truth that the ultimate of Life is to worship God from Youth, to fully grasp all that God has for each of us. (Eccl. 12:1)
The story of Samuel provides for us the second Biblical rationale for youth ministry in the Old Testament: God is calling Youth to himself. Whether you hold onto “Sunday School assumptions” that Samuel was a small child when God called to him or was a Jr. High aged-teenager as Josephus states is of small consequence, either way – God spoke to Samuel, calling him to follow, obey and serve the Almighty God in his youth, not just later when he was an adult. God was not designating Samuel for “assignment to be determined later”. When Samuel was “old and gray”, he testifies himself that it was from the time of his youth that he was a leader for the people of Israel (1 Samuel 12:2). This word “youth” is, na`uwr, used to describe “early life”. Another example of God calling young people to serve Him is Joshua, who was Moses’ aid since “youth” [bĕchurowth] (Numbers 11:28). Besides our previous discussion of Ecclesiastes 11 and 12, this is the only other time this word is used in the Old Testament (Strong’s entry). As the Ecclesiastes context informs us that the conclusion to follow God in adolescence, we can assume Joshua himself is a young adult when chosen to aid Moses.
One young man whose exact age is recorded when God first spoke to him, initiating a relationship, is Joseph. Genesis 37:2 tells us that, “Joseph, [was] a young man of seventeen” when God interrupted his sleep with some amazing dreams. The Hebrew word used here is, na`ar, the range of this word in the Old Testament is birth through early twenties, but often centers on adolescence. While Joseph may be described as an immature brat from a dysfunctional family (he is not smart enough to keep his dreams from his brothers who already hate him), he seems to have a faith in Yahweh that sustains him during the most difficult of circumstances. After the betrayal of his family and being sold into slavery, instead of taking advantage of the sexual advances of an older married woman, Joseph refuses to have sex with her not because he fears her husband, or the potential of losing his job, but rather Joseph clings to purity out of his obedience to God. Joseph declares, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). This relationship with God results in God’s favor resting with Joseph even when it appears Life turns from bad to worse. God uses Joseph to save the world from starvation and deliver his family, the bloodline of Christ, to prosperity in Egypt. It is was because Joseph listened to God, that he remained faithful for the 22 years that it took for the fulfillment of those dreams and the saving of many lives. Youth workers bristle at the thought that ministry to youth is merely “baby-sitting” until they are old enough to do real ministry or make a true confession of faith. Youth Ministry is a vital calling of the Church to engage teenagers to become fully-devoted followers of Christ both now and for future service.
Biblical Rationale #2) The Old Testament is full of examples that God calls teenagers to Himself to be with Him and serve His purposes.
We see the last element of the “New Pathway”, spiritual mentoring, in the life of another Old Testament hero, Joshua. Joshua went wherever Moses went. When Moses interceded with the LORD in the Tent of Meeting outside the camp, Joshua would go with him. After Moses received the message to pass onto the people, he would leave “but his young aide Joshua son Nun did not leave the tent” (Exodus 33:11). This unique benefit of being Moses’ mentee was part of God’s plan to rise up Joshua for future leadership. Joshua’s preparation also included: watching Moses leadership style change from single ruler to developing layers of leadership (Ex. 18), listening in on the intimate conversations between Moses and Yahweh (Ex. 33), and taking on challenging assignments given by Moses (Ex. 17, Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites while Moses prayed). Joshua learned well how stand upon his convictions of God’s provisions as a spy in the minority, and later declared his obedience in leading the people of Israel to take possession of the Promised Land. Joshua modeled the “New Pathway” by declaring that he and his “household” (family) will serve the LORD (Josh. 24:15). Joshua’s strong leadership was developed through the many years of mentoring by Moses. The impact of this leadership was the people of Israel continued to live faithful to God even after his death. “Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel” (Josh. 24:31). However, the “pathway” broke down after that generation died. Somewhere along the line, parents failed to instruct their children and the larger spiritual community failed to honor God; “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). This highlights the third Biblical rationale for Youth Ministry: each generation must be taught who God is and what He has done for mankind. We cannot assume past faithfulness will continue or that future generations will be aware of the great historical legacy available to them. The pathway must continue to be refreshed with each generation. Spiritual mentoring within the community of faith is perhaps the greatest methodology to insure the formation of each generation. (Note: I have discussed mentoring in other blogs, check out past articles for more information on this topic.)
Biblical Rationale #3) Each generation must be taught who God is and what He has done for mankind.
The picture is not complete however, we must consider implications of the New Testament to fully understand the Biblical mandate for youth ministry. Part 3 is coming soon!