First of all thank you. Thank you for your investment in current and soon-to-be youth leaders. Your investment in these young and spiritually potent lives could result in the radical transformation of the next generation.
I can't help but think back to my days at Colorado Christian University under my youth ministry professor, RJ Koerper. He had one foot firmly in God's Word and one foot firmly rooted in youth culture. As a result he was able to help us build a youth ministry philosophy that was both rooted and relevant. To this day he still speaks into our material at Dare 2 Share and continues to pour into me.
Professors like RJ are a gift from God to the youth ministry community. They help to create the very DNA that will drive youth ministry for years to come.
That's why it is so important that you get it right. And, although I've met many of your compadres in the youth ministry world that are nailing it, I've also met far too many who, from my perspective, need to rethink and retool their youth ministry philosophies.
Here are three ideas that may help drive that process and trigger some creative thinking when it comes to how we train youth leaders to reach and disciple teenagers:
1. Intercessory prayer needs to be the engine not the caboose of our youth ministry efforts and programming.
If you read through the Gospels, you can't help but realize that prayer saturated Jesus' ministry efforts. According to Dr. Dann Spader, Jesus escaped to pray some 45 times during his 3 1/2 years of earthly ministry! He prayed so frequently, effectively and naturally that, according to Luke 11:1, his young disciples asked him to teach them how to pray!
Teenagers need to learn how to pray, praise, intercede and supplicate. When teenagers learn how to pray they grow in their dependence on him to guide and provide. When teenagers learn how to pray for their unreached peers, God creates space in their hearts and time in their days for evangelism.
A few years ago Dare 2 Share commissioned a study of hundreds of youth ministries across the nation. Through this process, we discovered that the most effective evangelistic youth ministries were actively saturating intercessory prayer into their priorities and programming.
Are you training young leaders to prioritize prayer in their own personal lives, their leadership meetings and even their youth group meetings? Sadly, the average youth ministry meeting has more time designated for annoucements than intercessory prayer. No wonder youth ministry is losing traction as a force in many churches! No wonder we're not experiencing revival and movement on a sweeping level! No wonder we have so much youth ministry turnover among young leaders!
But all of this can begin to change if we root our youth ministry efforts in prayer. As EM Bounds so aptly put it a century or so ago, "What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use— men of prayer, men mighty in prayer."
We need men and women, young and old, anyone and everyone in the church to thrive at prayer once again. If a true and lasting transformation of the next generation is ever going to truly take place it will happen because the church leads the way on her knees.
2. Relational evangelism can accelerate the disicpleship process faster than any curriculum or program.
In James 2:21,22 we read, "Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did." Because Abraham was willing to put what meant most to him on the altar his spiritual maturity was acclerated. His "faith was made complete (aka 'matured') by what he did."
What means most to the average teenager is how they are perceived by their peers. So when teenagers are willing to "lose their cool" and put their social equity on the line to share the Gospel with their peers their spiritual maturity is accelerated. They, along with Abraham, are putting what means most to them on the altar and their faith is being matured ("made complete") by their sacrificial act.
Too often the youth ministry professors I've heard wax eloquent about evangelism and discipleship either see evangelism as obsolete, an event or something for the more mature spiritual teenagers to engage in. The problem is that Jesus inextricably links evangelism and discipleship together in the Gospels. According to Matthew 4:19, being a disciple of Jesus cannot be separted from being a "fisher of people".
The book of Acts has an emphasis on both evangelism and discipleship. Like a train needs two tracks to run on, the early church ran on the dual tracks of evangelism and discipleship. These early believers had a "grow as you go" philsophy of ministry. They grew closer to Christ as they engaged family, friends, neighbors and strangers with the hope of Jesus Christ. That's exactly how the Ephesian believers saturated an entire region (the size of Modern Turkey) in just two short years while being discipled by the Apostle Paul in Acts 19:9,10.
3. Youth leaders need a bold vision that triggers prayer, alignment and networking.
Before Jesus ascended he gave his young disciples a bold vision to shake the world with his good news. In Acts 1:8 he told them, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
With these last words he ascends into heaven on a cloud. The gawking disciples are rebuked by two beings who in essence tell them, "Hey don't just stand there...get geared up to accomplish this bold vision!"
Jesus gave them a BHAG (a Big Holy Audacious Goal) that started with their own city and spread outward to the ends of the earth. At Dare 2 Share we call it "across the street (Jerusalem and Judea), across the tracks (Samaria) and across the world."
Are you giving youth leaders the challenge to have a big, bold vision for the glory of God in their own cities? It seems to me that youth ministry has lost some of it's holy swagger in this area. We've lost our bold vision to change the world and are more and more concerned about just making sure our teenagers don't abandon their faith. But here's the crazy thing, when youth leaders just focus on keeping their teens and not engaging them on mission the chances of them leaving may actually increase!
But giving teenagers a bold vision to shake their schools for Jesus aligns them and the adult volunteers in that youth ministry for clear action and measureable outcomes. It also can unite youth leaders in a city around a big, bold vision that can create a network where youth leaders are working together in the same spirit for the same cause. This brand of band of brothers and sisters laboring together to accomplish the same cause can give these youth leaders the emotional and spiritual encouragement they need to stay involved in youth ministry long-term.
There's so much more that I'd love to chat with you about on this but this is a blog, not a book. Actually I recently wrote a book called Gospelize your Youth Ministry that could be helpful for further study. It unpacks the values of a ministry that is effectively advancing the Gospel both to and through teenagers.
I am so grateful for your choice to invest your life in young lives who will invest in even younger ones for the sake of the call. The difference you're making will echo through eternity. May the three ideas in this blog help you develop even stronger curriculum in your program to equip these youth-leaders-in-waiting for effective ministry.
May God bless you and lead you as you do.