I just got back a few days ago from a gathering of national ministry leaders called YMEC (Youth Ministry Executive Council) sponsored by the National Network of Youth Ministries. It's exciting to gather with such strategic leaders. These men and women have passion and vision for the next generation that is off the charts.
We spent two days together trying to discern the future of youth ministry. Mark Matlock led us through exercises in Open Space Technology which utilizes the collective brainpower of the people present in small group settings to create an open dialogue over key subjects surrounding an overriding theme.
Sounded weird to me at first, but I'm game for weird. Actually, that's where I'm at my best...and worst.
Twenty seven or so small groups were created to meet at various time slots throughout the day. Subjects from "The impact of media on our teenagers" to "Where are all the 30 something youth leaders?" to "The Gospel as Narrative" and many more subjects were options we could choose to attend. Of course, the two groups I hosted were on "Why evangelism still matters in youth ministry" and "Why theology still matters in youth ministry."
At the end of the full day of interactive, high energy meetings and discussions we all gathered back together in a big circle to discuss themes that arose. The goal was to try to discern patterns and discover if God was leading us all in a collective direction when it came to the future of youth ministry.
Here's where it got really interesting.
The one theme that came straight to the top was the importance of evangelism. And, surprise, surprise, I'm not the one that brought it up! Somebody cracked, "Of course evangelism is going to be a theme because Greg Stier is in the room" and everybody giggled. That's when Brian Aaby of Youthmark rebuked the laughter, "Hey, evangelism is no joke. We can't put the urgency of evangelism on Greg and Dare 2 Share. It is all of our responsibility!" That well-timed, well-said slap on the room's collective hand turned the conversation serious and focused.
All during this time I was silent. I wanted to see where the Lord was taking the conversation without trying to drive it personally (a difficult challenge for me.) And I'm glad I kept my mouth shut. I got to witness something powerful, key leaders from all across America talked and even argued at times about evangelism, altar calls and the importance of gospel message. But Bo Boshers dropped the bomb when he asked, "Are we just talking about having more altar calls here? Is that the need? Because I don't think that's what it's about. I think we need more mentoring when it comes to evangelism. I think we need to be personally sharing our faith on a more regular basis and the teenagers and ministries we are leading will be impacted by seeing us do it."
I had been silent for 30 minutes (a feat for me) but I couldn't hold back any longer. I finally jumped in and said, "I couldn't agree more with Bo!" I went on to make a case for the centrality of the gospel in our lives and our ministries. The room resonated with a silent, but obvious, "Amen!"
So what was our collective conclusion as to where the Lord was leading us as national youth leaders when it came to the future of youth ministry? It was this: that if we really believe that the gospel can transform the next generation (which we do) then we must be personally sharing our faith in our own spheres of influence. When it becomes a priority in our lives it will become a priority in our programs.
...breathtakingly simple, yet profound.
Before the day was out four of the group (that I know of) already took an opportunity to witness for Christ. Each of them was as giddy as a 1st Grader at Disney World as they told me their stories. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a national leader who is going to make this prayer a part of his daily routine:
"1. Lord Christ, in your sovereignty make appointments for me to speak of You with people today.
2. When I am walking up on an appointment You have set up, open my eyes to know it.
3. When I sense You have arranged everything for me to speak of You, grant me courage so I do not choke.
4. Use these steps in my life to alter the DNA of the student I am mentoring just now."
I was blown away by this man's daily evangelistic prayer routine and by the excitement of these key leaders demonstrated to make evangelism a personal priority. I was thrilled that it was their collective conclusion under the direction of the Holy Spirit, not something that "the Dare 2 Share guy" pushed on them.
What does all this mean for you as a youth leader? It means that before we launch more evangelism outreach meetings we must learn to be the outreach meeting. We must capture those daily opportunities God gives us to share the message of Christ with our neighbors, family, friends and strangers God brings across our paths. That excitement for evangelism will be caught by the students we minister to on a weekly basis. Like tasty marinara poured over noodles our personal passion for evangelism will seep down into the very souls of our youth ministry programs. Our altar calls, response times and programs will flow out of a heart that is seeking to demonstrate a life on mission for the gospel.
Please pray for us as members of the Youth Ministry Executive Council as we seek to live out evangelism in our spheres of influence. You can be sure we will be doing the same for you as you lead your teens to transform their world through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.