Research indicates more input needed into family and youth support ministries

By Dr Willem Semmelink – Head of the Undergraduate School at SATS
SATS is currently reviewing its course material on Youth Ministry with the aim of strengthening it from a theological perspective. In so doing we aim to bring the family and the Sunday School/Church curriculum into greater alignment to ensure that it is Bible-based, Christ-centred and Spirit-led, as well as relevant to the context in which our young people and students find themselves today.

Our review process has taken the results of recent research by Malan Nel and Zander van der Westhuizen Ed. (2015) 1 into consideration. This research was undertaken between 2011 and 2015 and surveyed the belief systems of over 300 young South Africans between the ages of 16 and 35, from 82 Reformed Churches in South Africa. These young people are active in the church and reflect the role that it plays in their life. Other denominations, for reasons unexplained, neglected to participate.

Family key to child’s spiritual formation
While the research findings may be skewed for obvious reasons (race, cultural and income demographics etc.) they provide valuable insights as to the role of parents and close family members in a child’s spiritual formation (faith is built) and the influence of the Christian faith in mitigating much of the world’s influence in a young person’s life. The research also confirmed the biblical truth that parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual formation of their children. It is in the home that the child learns values, to attend church, to speak about faith, hear parents’ testimonies and witness the example set by his or her parents.

The role that the church plays in a young person’s spiritual formation was also highlighted in the research-helping them to make good choices and provide life purpose. Church activities in which young people participate include local community outreach, visiting the sick, and attending small groups, where they participate in Bible study and prayer.

Understand social and cultural context
Malan and Zander’s research, as well as that undertaken for a presentation at the International Association for Studies in Youth Ministry (IASYM) in Africa (Nairobi, August 2016), also emphasised various environmental factors that impact young people. Aspects such as unemployment, global warming, political instability, health, poverty, AIDS-orphans, etc., are examples of some of the challenges faced by young people today.

If the church is absent in addressing these issues, then it is likely that a wrong impression will be created of God, a Christ-like identity and its overall purpose (Wright, A.M. & Moore, M.E. 2008:14).

Looking to Christ’s example
SATS’ premise in the review of its youth ministry-related course material takes cognizance of the life of Jesus Christ and his involvement in the social and cultural context when He lived on earth. We believe that it is necessary to re-evaluate whether the methodology we adopt towards youth ministry is effective from both a normative (Biblical) and a Christocentric viewpoint.

The influence of the Holy Spirit in the establishment of the early church included children and young people who were fully integrated in all church activities. Young people were given responsibilities, including that of leadership. This is evidenced in the role that Timothy played in the Early Church (1 & 2 Timothy; 1 Corinthians 4:14-17; Philippians 2:19-24).

Youth are not the “church in progress”
However, in today’s church, children and youth tend to be regarded as “church in progress” or the church of the future (Mercer. J. 2005: 30-31). We tend to segregate young people from the adult church.

Although the idea may be noble one with good intentions, this segregation results in these young people being estranged from the church, its traditions, religious activities and manner of communication.

The questions churches need to answer are: Is what we are teaching in youth ministry Bible-based, Christ-centred and Spirit-led? Do our programmes and activities lead to the purposes or outcomes that God would want our young people to reach?

Developing a theology of youth ministry based on the three pillars of SATS, will require thorough research in Biblical, Systematic and Practical theology (including other disciplines), to ensure that our theological research and course development assists the church in its quest to serve young people in their context, church and community.

The research thus far has indicated that the role of parents and the church in the development of young people in a modern context is still vitally important. In reviewing child and youth ministry courses the possible outcomes require further rigorous research on each of the three pillars.

For the sake of this article we would be able to draw some conclusions:

  • We need to give parents the training they need to give them a mandate to teach, educate, lead and develop their child or children towards a relationship with God, have an understanding of the requirements, regulations, principles, values, and norms that derive from a relationship with God.
  • We need to realise that young people already play a vitally important part in God’s Kingdom, and then to consider incorporating them into leadership and other responsibilities in church.
  • If the young person concerned demonstrates spiritual maturity it should be recognised, ahead of their physical, mental and social maturity.


  1. Mercer, Joyce. Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood. Challice Press: St Louis, Mo.2005.
  2. Van der Westhuizen, Zander & Nel, Malan (Ed.). Skokkend Positief – Insigte vanuit nuwe navorsing oor aktiewe Afrikaanse kerkjeug. Bybelkor, 2015.
  3. Wright, Almelda.M. & Moore, Mary Elizabeth. Children,Youth and Spirituality in a Troubling World. Chalise Press – Christian Board: St Louis, Mo.2008.

1 Skokkend Positief
Insigte vanuit nuwe navorsing oor aktiewe Afrikaanse kerkjeug (Bybelkor 2015).