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Biblical Counseling and Youth Ministry

Truth In Love 391

Why is biblical counseling important in youth ministry?

Nov 28, 2022

Dale Johnson: This week I’m joined with Pastor Adam Tyson, who’s from the wonderful state of Georgia. After attending medical school, he became a physician’s assistant and worked in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery in Savannah for four years. While serving in his local church, he felt an overwhelming desire to pursue the glory of God through theological training and the opportunity to serve the Lord in full-time ministry. Adam had the privilege of attending The Master’s Seminary for both an M.Div and D.Min degree. He served as an associate pastor of student ministries and outreach at a church in Texas for seven and a half years. And he has a passion for expository preaching and biblical counseling, worldwide missions, and reaching the community of Santa Clarita. At this current pastorate at Placerita Bible Church, Adam serves as an adjunct professor in the biblical counseling department at Master’s University. He and his lovely wife, Lisa, have been blessed with five children.

Adam, I’m so grateful that you’re here and talking about this issue. Sometimes we think about counseling as more, you know, adult issues that we’re dealing with or even child issues. Sometimes is this window in between of dealing with youth gets left out in some of the discussions. And I think it’s important; I love the way that you’re couching some of this as we talked about biblical counseling and youth ministry. We should think about this through the church and how we deal with young people. So I just want to start here. First of all, welcome. I’m so grateful that you’re with us. I want to start here. What should the relationship between expository preaching be and youth ministry? 

Adam Tyson: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s great to be with you, Dale. I just have a real passion for this because I served as a youth pastor for almost eight years, and my job as a youth pastor wasn’t just to be trying to relate to the kids and to spend time with them as a relational ministry. There was also a preaching aspect to being a youth pastor. And so I believe that expository preaching should be done in youth ministry. And in fact, I felt so passionate about that, that I wrote a dissertation on it about the connection between expository preaching and youth ministry. And basically, that whole work is saying there’s more to youth ministry than just being a cool youth pastor who wears skinny jeans, has a great haircut, has a case of mountain dew in the fridge, and can play volleyball really well, right? If he’s going to be called a youth pastor, he should be able to open up God’s Word and deliver the goods. And, of course, my conviction is to preach the Scripture expositionally, which just means going back, doing your homework, opening up the text, and reading it in the original language to the best of your ability. You know, studying it through commentaries and then bringing the truth across to youth ministry.

And basically, what you find today is in youth ministry, preaching is not even discussed. I mean, as I was doing research for that dissertation, I couldn’t find any resource on how to preach biblically to youth. In fact, all the resources were about how to run a youth program, how to give away iPods in youth groups, you know, how to how to relate to them, how to listen to them, how to connect with them, how to get into their world, and all of that has a place, right? to some degree, of course, you want to know your audience, and you know what they’re dealing with. But none of that had to do with addressing them from the Scripture. And so I just have a passion to encourage youth pastors, youth workers, local churches to make sure their youth are getting a full dose of the Word of God. 

Dale Johnson: It’s good stuff. And as even as I’m hearing you talk, I’m thinking about, you know, that posture of ours in the church toward youth ministry; it says a lot of what we think about the Scriptures, it says a lot of what we think about the youth in what we expect of them in, you know, in school we expect, although some would argue in education, we’ve definitely dumbed it down, no question about that. But we’re still trying to teach them algebra and calculus and things like that, and we’re trying to teach them about chemistry and all these different things. We’re expecting them to understand and learn difficult things, yet it seems like at the church we’re the ones dumbing things down, and it says something about our posture relative to the kids and to the Scriptures.

Now, as I think about this, I cannot wait to hear what you’re going to say about my next question. And those are those of you who have had me in class; you know this is one of my hobby horses to talk about youth ministry or the term adolescence, as we think about young people. I want you to tell me about this idea of adolescence and the myth of adolescence. 

Adam Tyson: Well, that’s a great phrase, “the myth of adolescence,” because it starts to really get at the heart of the issue. And really, the way that the world is set up today is that you have children, and then you have teenagers, which are considered adolescents, and then you have adults. And that term myth of adolescence, I probably first heard it with David Alan Black’s book I’m sure you’re familiar with, it’s called The Myth of Adolescence: Raising Responsible Children in an Irresponsible Society. And then, as I served at Grace Community Church for a while, I got to serve as an intern with your pastor, Rick Holland, who also addresses this in a journal article that he wrote, “The Myth Called Adolescence.” And again, it’s just coming back to the fact that adolescence is a psychologized term. Really it was given first by the American psychologist G. Stanley Hall, who invented this term in his well-known book called Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. And that book was published way back in 1904. So, what we’re really saying is throughout the 20th century, and now, well, into the 21st century, the culture has just accepted this place of adolescence that means somewhere between your childhood ages, 0 to 12. And then your adulthood, which, let’s say, starts at 18 or 19. Some psychologists would say doesn’t start till 25 because your brain is not fully developed till then, they tell us. And so, during this middle stage of adolescence, you can kind of experiment, you can kind of do whatever you want, you can experiment with sin, yourself, your gender, and there’s no penalty because you’re not an adult yet.

And this is just ludicrous because if you come back to the Word of God, then you see the bible really categorizes people as children and as adults, and you can see that all throughout Scripture. I mean, you could see David when he slayed Goliath, probably a young teenager, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, when they were in exile in Babylon, young teenagers. Even Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, was thought to have possibly been as young as 14 or 15 years old when she gave birth. And so, what we’re seeing is that there’s really not that middle category in the Scripture, it’s children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right (Ephesians 6:1), and then it’s young men, young men are to grow, and young women are to grow and to be godly examples of the light of Christ. And that middle place just doesn’t really exist the way the world thinks it does. And so, what we want to do in the ministry, whether you’re a pastor or a biblical counselor, or however you’re involved with families, is to say these young people need a full dose of the Word of God. They’ve got all kinds of questions, and they’ve got all kinds of struggles, and they’ve got all kinds of problems, and they need real answers. And real answers are found in God’s Word. And so, that’s what we want to be given them. God’s truth, God’s Word, in a way that they can understand it, apply it, and hopefully live it out. 

Dale Johnson: Well, if I were pressing Facebook likes, I would give several to everything that you just said. This has been a joy of study of mine. You talked about G. Stanley Hall’s two-volume work that he wrote in 1904. He actually predicts what we’re living in today because he argues this time of what he calls storm. Storm and stress at which we just need more time in storm and stress which he predicted was about two years in which we see are necessary developmental stages of wrestling with the issues of life as you move from childhood to adulthood, and this is what he termed adolescence, and he predicted that this needed to expand further and further in order for our race to progress in evolutionary development. And it’s really interesting that now we have a term that it’s no longer tied to two years or four years. We have a term that describes adultolescence, where this is going into late 20s and 30s. And what it’s doing is its lacking responsibility for young people, and what you’re describing is God holds them as young men and young women who are responsible, and we in the church need to do the same and prepare them to be young men and young women for the sake of the glory of the Lord. They’ve been created in His image to fulfill something, and I love the way you’re describing this.

So, as we bring this back, what’s the connection if we were to think about biblical counseling and youth ministry? What’s the connection that you’re seeing along with the things that you just warned us about relative to our cultural influence in the spirit of the age relative to adolescence where it’s this, you know, kids want all kinds of freedom without any responsibility, and we just sort of live as if that’s that’s normal, even parents in the church. We got a transition this. So, what’s the connection, as you think about it, between biblical counseling and youth ministry?

Adam Tyson: Well, yeah, the kids become youth, and their thought of as adolescents. So therefore, I can’t really instruct them from the Bible. Maybe they don’t have that long attention span; well, they just got hormones racing through their minds; it’s all these things. So, people tend to soft-pedal the real issue, and just like, I would say, expository preaching is what a youth pastor should be doing. I mean, certainly, he built all kinds of connections with the people in the youth group, but the preaching is essential and the same way biblical counseling is essential. I mean, biblical counseling is essentially evangelism and discipleship. So, for those youth that are struggling with gender issues, cutting issues, peer pressure issues, identity issues. You know, all these issues that we know happen in youth ministry, then the first thing that should be done is like, well, let’s talk about your soul, let’s talk about if you truly are in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the gospel, and how does that affect your life? And then let’s just assume that they are Christian and they’re struggling. Now, it’s flipping into the idea of discipleship. As a youth worker and as a parent, I’m called by God to disciple those in my sphere of influence, and so at that point, that’s full-blown biblical counseling. You know, it’s Colossians 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” That’s what we’re to be doing with the youth that are struggling. It’s not just looking for research, well, study show, well, statistics say, you know, all of that is kind of a backdrop just to illustrate the issue, but we know the issue’s the heart.

And so, our goal is to take God’s Word and to take that young person and say, “Hey, let me hear from you what you’re struggling with, and now let me show you from the Word of God how it is truly sufficient to deal with that longing in your heart because what you’re really longing for is to be satisfied in God. And what you’re really longing for is His glory over all things and what you’re longing for is true joy and happiness, which can only be found in obeying God’s Word.” And I don’t think that young people know that; they’re tempted to say, “I know, but…,” and they want to shift the issue. I know, but you know, my mom and dad, I know, but my friend said this, or I know, but I’m feeling this, and we just want to bring it back and say, “Yeah, but God’s Word says, and God’s Word is true, and God’s Word has your best interest in mind.” And so, we want to help them grow and lean into biblical counseling. 

Dale Johnson: I just want to sort of continue that thought that. Can we be honest and say that we as churches need to repent before the Lord and the ways in which we’ve allowed our young people to have all of these cultural excuses as to why they don’t pursue the things of God or why we shouldn’t expect these things from them, and even parents we’ve allowed parents to sort of think in this way as well. And that’s a part of our job, as elders, and leaders in the church, to equip our parents to do this work of the ministry, and that sort of gets me to the next question when we think about youth ministry. I mean, think about the connection between biblical parenting and youth ministry, and I think we should root this in some degree, in a lot of passages, but I think of Ephesians 4:15, where elders need to be equipping parents to do the work of the ministry, and their role and responsibilities in teaching, and training their children, and they are the front line in accomplishing this work. I want you to talk a little bit about that connection. 

Adam Tyson: Yeah, well, that connection between biblical parenting and youth ministry certainly also together with youth ministry; it’s just a reminder that the youth pastor is not ultimately in charge. You know, the parent is, for those kids who are still in the home, they’re living with their mom and dad. So, what that means is we want parents to be involved; we want parents to be biblically instructing, discipling their own kids. The youth pastor, youth workers, youth staff, they’re to come alongside there to help enhance their to be a help to that, but parents need to take seriously Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord.”

And so, that’s just a great reminder that moms and dads need to step up, and what I found is, as being a youth pastor for almost eight years, is that most parents aren’t doing that, and the kids who have all kinds of issues is because their parents have a lot of issues. And so, you start counseling with the kid, and you’re giving them all kinds of truth from God’s Word, and of course, you’re listening, and you’re seeking to be patient and kind and gracious towards the challenging situation. But then you realize mom and dad are part of the problem. So, we need to get mom and dad in here with you so that we can provide counsel to the parents on how to be biblical in how they teach, admonish, listen, instruct, discipline, give grace, extend mercy, you know. All these concepts, a parent needs to be actively involved in, and there’s just too many parents who drive up to church, and you know, Rick Holland calls this “curbology.” I’m sure you’ve heard him say that. They drive up at the curb, they dropped the kids off to youth group, and they go home and feel like, well, that’ll fix my kid. And I would just say, well, sure, that can be a great help, but you as a parent have to be involved, so we want to equip parents like you mentioned from Ephesians 4. We want to equip parents to do the work of the ministry by discipling their kids at home, we want to equip them to know how to do that, and I don’t know of a better curriculum, really, if you want to call it that then I’m going through a biblical counseling course. Everything that we study in biblical counseling could be applied to almost directly to parenting. Hey, parents, raise your kids this way, thinking these kinds of thoughts about marriage, gender, about abortion, end-of-life issues, about suicide, contentment, and happiness. Teach your kids this because they’re growing into young adults, and they want to have that conviction deep in God’s Word, and as a parent, you’re with them all day, every day. They only see the youth pastor once or twice a week; they’re only at church for 1-2 hours a week for the main service. You need to be doing this at home. 

Dale Johnson: That’s such a vital point. One of the things that we miss consistently in the Scriptures in teaching on parenting is the fact, yes, we get the idea that parents should be teaching them, and you know, everywhere that they go, rise up, lie down, everything that they do. One of the things that we sort of missed, it ought to be an obvious point, is that parents are with their children. That’s the way discipleship intends to happen and to your very vital point. The church can’t replace on a daily basis what God intended to parents to accomplish. Yes, supplemental. Yes, encouraging through the Word consistently. Yes, equipping parents to do this job of the ministry, but what a vital point that parents have to be engaged in this process, and churches have to help encourage parents to no longer think that they’re doing their biblical duty by just dropping them off at the programs of the church. And I think that’s super well said.

So let’s bring this back; maybe this will be the last question. We’ll see if we come up with something else, but what are some of the principles that we have to keep in mind when we’re counseling with young people? I think this helps to bring us full circle when we think about youth ministry and biblical counseling. So, help us to latch onto some of those key principles. 

Adam Tyson: Yeah, well, I would just remind us that these are young adults, you know, if there are 13 and up, you know, even in the Hebrew culture, they go through the bar mitzvah around age 12, which is a rite of passage and a rite into adulthood. So, we’re just being reminded these are young adults. I’m talking with tomorrow’s leaders. I’m talking to today’s younger adults in the church, and so I’m going to treat them as such. If you’re treating somebody as a young adult, I’m going to respect them. I’m going to honor them; I’m going to call them to repentance. I’m going to call them to turn from their sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. If they are saved, and you’ve walked through the gospel several times, and they are convinced that Jesus did indeed die on the cross, was raised from the dead for their sin, then I’m going to use that as a fulcrum. I’m going to use that to my advantage. I’m going to say, you know what, well then, as a Christian, God calls you to obey your mom and dad, even if you don’t agree with them, even if you want to go out to the movies, or to go out and do this, or do that, other parents let their kids do that. God’s called you to obey your mom and dad. That’s what God’s Word says.

And so, I’m going to just use the Scriptures because teenagers tend to say, “I know the Bible says this, but…” again, then off they go to the races of all these other influences and desires, and thoughts and our job is to say, yeah, but the Bible says, and just open up and walk through it. And they tell me all the time, “well, I know what the Bible says. I know all about that. I’ve read the Bible.” And I’m like, well did you know it says this…? and are you obeying this? Because if you claim to be a Christian, God’s calling you to do this…, and you can’t do it on your own. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit; it requires leaning into the divine grace of God to walk in obedience in areas where you can’t do it on your own. And I just think if we’re able to have those real conversations with youth, then we can discern, first of all, if they are truly saved or not. And second of all, if they are truly saved, start to get traction of what a Christian walk looks like because God expects them to be holy even as He is holy, and I don’t know if parents and youth workers we expect that because we dismissed their behavior and it’s like, God expects you to walk in obedience to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, God expects you to love your neighbor like yourself. So, in this conflict you have with your sibling or this other person in your school, God’s expecting you to walk with Him, and of course, He gives you the grace to do it. You know, we can’t do it without grace.

Dale Johnson: So important, and I could say a thousand times, yes, and amen. Adam, I think this is something that the church needs to wrestle with. The elders need to wrestle with is the ways in which we think about our church, how we minister to young people, and how we minister to parents. And we need to think and rethink that biblically and raise what we expect from our young people, raise their level of responsibility as unto the Lord. And what a great word, brother. I appreciate you spending some time with us today.

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