Spoon-Feeding or Self-Feeding Youth Ministries? Part 1

Think about this for just a few minutes:

How do our youth ministries help students to actually grow in their faith? More pertinent than that, what methods are we using to create faith ownership that lasts beyond high school and college?

Here’s the challenge I keep battling with:

Am I, (are we), spoon-feeding our students so much, that they are not owning or developing their own faith? Are our programs and efforts so focused on one youth group night per week that students “starve” the rest of the week? Do we help students fail by helping them focus so much on their youth group experience that we don’t help them experience God daily? Bottom line: Are we creating spoon-feeders who depend on us,  or self-feeders who become faith owners? 

Now, first let me say, there are some incredible ministries who are doing some fantastic stuff that is bringing about life-change from the methods they employ. Here’s what I am talking about:

  • Ministries who have weekly meetings with incredible teaching and connection times
  • Worship times where students connect deeply with God
  • Service projects and missions trips
  • Weekend retreats and summer camps
  • Student leadership teams
  • Amazing events that students wants to bring their friends to

For the most part, all of these events and programs, while they are great, center around us and our churches providing opportunities for students to grow. Now you might be thinking, “well, of course they do! That’s what we are supposed to do right? That’s what my job description tells me to do… That’s what my pastor, parents, and students expect me to do…” And of course I would wholeheartedly agree with you… Well, to a point…

But here’s a central problem I am seeing in my ministry and so many ministries I am connected with. Over the decades of youth ministry, there has been such a focus on churches teaching and feeding the students spiritually, that we have forgotten a very important aspect of teaching students to become self-feeders. Are we creating expectations, environments, and opportunities for students to self-feed in their faith or are students showing up to be fed by our exceptional programs and events?

Just look at the local church today… It is filled with many adults who grew up in vibrant youth ministries and were spoon fed on a weekly basis by people like you and I. Many of them are now dependent on their weekly “spiritual meal” on Sundays, while the rest of the week they starve spiritually. Many of them have turned into church consumers who rate their churches by what they get out of it… 

Think about your ministry for a moment… Are you really supporting students in faith ownership, or are you helping them depend on you and your programs? Take a few more moments… Are we helping them to be self-feeders or spoon-feeders? 

Here are some pertinent questions to think through: What are we doing to help students develop spiritual habits during the week when they are not with us? What are we constantly communicating to ensure that self-feeding is an expectation for our students? What materials are we making available to students to help get them started as self-feeders? What self-feeding principles are we constantly smattering into our messages to point students to a self-feeding lifestyle?

Tomorrow, I will list some things I am doing to create a self-feeding ministry… Be thinking about what you do. I would love YOUR imput on this! Please feel free to comment!!!!



4 Responses to Spoon-Feeding or Self-Feeding Youth Ministries? Part 1

  1. Bob Pittenger July 26, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Ouch…definitely makes you think. Sometimes in the name of love, we try to help our kids by spoon feeding. We believe they won’t get anything if we don’t. I think there’s a small amount of spoon feeding needed, hopefully it tastes good, and they want more. This time we let them feed themselves. Good topic!

  2. Darren Sutton July 26, 2011 at 9:59 am #


    Some parents choose to ward off the problem by never letting the kids hold a spoon. And sometimes youth pastors do the same….hopefully unwittingly.

    They give them Cheerios at every meal Because it’s virtually mess-free (Bible study light). They play the airplane game as they slide the spoon in for their kids (fun & games). Sometimes they even give the illusion that the kids are feeding themselves. They offer them a sippie-cup – protected, neat, and clean way for them to have ‘independence.’ (watering down the hard truth of the gospel – orchestrating every meaningful ‘church’ experience a kid ever has – etc. etc. etc.).

    I want to be a youth pastor that sits next to the high chair while they make a complete and utter mess of ‘learning’ how to feed themselves. And that’s really dirty business that usually sees a lot of stains and requires a lot of clean up along the way. But that’s OK – I like messy. I love the ‘AFV’ moments where the kids have spaghetti in their hair, on the wall, coming out of their nose. It’s then that I truly see their faith maturing, growing, and becoming their own.

  3. Tom Shriver July 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Great read, Phil.

    I needed to read this. I have been feeling like a spoon feeder to my youth for the past few months and have been coming out of it this past few weeks. It’s tough. It’s easier to give them food than to help them get it themselves.

    I think the trick here is to make sure that anything you’re teaching on is something that you are learning yourself. Feed your self and have God feed you. Then use the same things that you learned and present them to your youth. If we do this, then they will also have a desire to keep digging. To keep learning. To keep seeking God. Throughout the week, the month, – heck, throughout life.

    The more we learn as we teach the more the youth will want to learn. It’s contagious! I love when I give lessons that are God inspired. I feel like I can leave knowing that they’ll feed themselves the whole week – not starve until the next youth meeting.

    Once again, keep it up Phil!

    • youthworktalk July 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Tom, I am out of town right now. When I get back I will DM you some info. I am also looking into creating more take home Bible Studies for students… I will get back to you next week.

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