I'm convinced that discipleship is a by-product of a youth group being focused on Jesus, driven by evangelism and engaged in intercessory prayer. When these three strands of spiritual DNA are powerfully present in your group your teens will be growing deeper in their relationship with Jesus at an accelerated pace. Here are three reasons why I believe this so deeply:
1. Youth ministries that are Jesus-centered prioritize worship and the Word.
True worship recognizes Jesus as the epicenter of, not only the universe, but the life of the worshipper. It recalibrates straying hearts back to his Kingship in their souls. Worship, like a giant magnet, draws our teens into his Throne room and compels them to bow their knees low and raise their hands high.
But focusing on Jesus also causes us to help our teens pour over God's Word in a quest to intimately know Him (Philippians 3:10.) The Bible becomes their map to discover and develop a deeper relationship with Christ.
That's why we need to refuse to allow this culture define our teenagers' view of Jesus as a mystic, do-gooder and/or all around nice guy. No, we must constantly take them back to the Word of God where they can discover the Son of God for who He really was (and is!)
Every passage of Scripture has a pathway to Jesus somewhere in it. Some of these paths are clearly marked and free of obstacles. Others are cluttered and covered over with fallen treens and rocks. But, if you search hard enough (Proverbs 2:1-8) you can find these paths, take them and be sure that they will always lead you to Jesus.
When Charles Spurgeon was asked, "What's your style of preaching?" his answer was clear and succinct. "I take my passage and make a beeline for the cross." We need to do the same with our teenagers in our times of worship and our times in the Word.
For help in building a Jesus-centered youth ministry check out Rick Lawrence's excellent book Jesus Centered Youth Ministry.
2. Youth ministries that are driven by evangelism reflect the heart of Christ.
Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 4:19, "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of people." Jesus first call to his disciples was a call to evangelize. His last words to his disciples were, "And you will by my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world."
The call to discipleship is not a call to more meetings, more programs, more camps, more games or more curriculum. No, the call of discipleship is a call to more evangelism! Yes, camps, meetings and games will happen along the way but the way of Christ is the way of seeking to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10.)
The 3 1/2 year earthly ministry of Christ was a 3 1/2 year long mission trip separated by meetings and miracles along the way. The twelve disciples of Jesus watched him interact with countless strangers and turn conversations about water to the "Living Water" and chats about bread into the "Bread of Life."
The disciples witnessed the final result of all of these conversations when they saw their mutilated leader hanging on a cross of wood outside Jerusalem. It was at this point they fully realized that the call to discipleship was a call to risk (aka "Pick up your cross and follow me.")
Evangelism poses the greatest risk that our teens can experience. As a result of sharing their faith they can be mocked (Matthew 5:11,12), they can lose friends (Matthew 10:34-36) and they can be ostracized (John 12:42,43.) The act of evangelism, when done in the power of the Spirit, is at the core of what it means to pick up one's cross and follow Jesus to the potential of being verbally "crucified" by one's friends, family, classmates or teammates.
But challenging our teens to take the risk of evangelism can lead to the reward of our teens growing deeper in their faith faster than we could have ever imagined. Evangelism, especially among one's friends, makes you desperately dependent on God's Spirit. And it is this dependency which produces spiritual growth (John 15:1-8.)
If you don't know how to get your teens to evangelize then use some of the free resources we have at Dare 2 Share, get them to one of our evangelism training conferences or check out this book I wrote for teenagers on how to share their faith. Teens need more than motivation when it comes to sharing their faith. They need training. Dare 2 Share can help you with that.
3. Youth Ministries that are saturated with prayer are filled with the Holy Spirit and power.
In Acts 4:31 Luke writes, "After they prayed the place where they had been meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and went out and spoke the Word of God boldly." Prayer came first. As a result of their prayers they were filled (aka "empowered by") the Holy Spirit. As we've seen time and time again in the New Testament, when the Holy Spirit fills you he comes with a match to set your tongue on fire with the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1-12.)
Get your teens praying. As they do they will learn what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Teach them to intercede on behalf of each other and their friends who don't know Jesus. Teach them to pray as Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1-13.) As a result your teens will get a deeper passion for Jesus and compassion for the lost.
When you build a Jesus-centered, evangelism-driven, prayer-saturated youth ministry it will be messy, but it will be a great kind of messy. Lives will be transformed and Satan will counterattack (sometimes in the form of an angry church leader or disgruntled parent.) But building this kind of youth ministry is worth every scowling criticism and fiery dart. Because building this kind of youth ministry can change the world.
How do I know? Because it happened once 2,000 years ago when Jesus built a youth ministry with twelve young disciples who eventually turned the world upside down with his radical message of grace!
May it happen again through your youth ministry!