Skip to main content


By February 28, 2014 One Comment
Listen To Article

Got a little soul
The world is a cold, cold place to be
Want a little warmth
But who’s going to save a little warmth for me

We know the fire awaits unbelievers all of the sinners the same
Girl you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train

An important part of my job at Dordt College is to teach classes in the field of youth ministry. My goal is to help college students who feel passionate about about young people, short term mission trips, and “doing ministry,” to think biblically and theologically about what they are doing. In many instances the “what” of youth ministry isn’t going to look too much different, but hopefully the “why” will be a tad bit transformational. Lately, the focus of youth ministry has been the issue of young people leaving the church. Every flavor of the Christian community seems to be wrestling with the issues of faith formation, discipleship, catechesis, and cultural engagement—desparately trying to find ways to keep young people in the church. Which makes me wonder—What if keeping young people in the church isn’t the point? What if we let them go?

A while back I posted on the band Vampire Weekend. A few weeks ago I used one of their songs—Unbelievers—at a small gathering of youth pastors. The song poses difficult and honest questions for the Christian community. In some circles the emphasis is upon establishing a dividing wall between the insiders and outsiders—between the “church” and the “world.” In other circles the focus is blurring the lines, tear down the walls, and bringing the world into the church. Both, however, assume that the goal is the keep, or bring, young people into the church. Is it possible there’s a third way that honors the church as a sign and promise of God’s redemptive action in the world, while performing God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ?(See Theresa Latini’s excellent posts.) In this context youth ministry—or any form of ministry for that matter—is less about gimmicks and emotional manipulation to get people to join something, and much more about the community entering into the questions, doubts, and suffering of others. Do I want people to become part of the church? Yes—I’m just saying that maybe becoming, or staying, a part of the church isn’t the main thing.

Give the song a listen; check out the lyrics. I’m convinced that Vampire Weekend expresses many of the questions and doubts young people are wrestling with. My question for the youth pastors: How should the church respond? What do you think?

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

One Comment

  • Gretchen Schoon Tanis says:

    I've had Vampire Weekend on repeat lately! A good look at this tension is in the chapter on Inside/Out Outside/In in Pete Ward's book "God At the Mall." Very helpful to articulate the anxiety that we feel (for good or bad) at this desire to be the body of Christ, the church, no matter where we find ourselves in the world. Thanks for stirring great questions!

Leave a Reply