Youth ministry can be highly rewarding and highly discouraging...sometimes all within the span of an hour. Helicopter parents, apathetic teenagers and eye-rolling, finger-wagging church leaders can all combine to become a slow-moving vortex of depression that churns deep in the soul of the average youth leader.
So why stay in such a low-pay, high-pressure position? Why not escape to get a "real job" in ministry, a job where you are loved and respected...and where the pay is more than the typical Barista's?
Here are 7 compelling reasons to stay in youth ministry:
1. Teenagers come to Christ quicker than adults.
According to Barna 2 out of 3 people put their faith in Jesus by the age of 18. After that, the odds go way down. In the words of my grandpa, "Get the gettin' while the gettin's good." And the salvation gettin' is good before the age of 18
2. Teenagers spread the Gospel faster than adults.
Because the average teenager has well over 400 online and face-to-face friends they have a huge (and growing) opportunity to share the Gospel like no generation before them. Generation Z, the nickname for this generation of teens, is filled with "Digital natives." They're called this because they've never known a time without digital devices and social media. And because of this they have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the spread of the good news through their many social media channels.
If you're a pastor, church leader, youth leader or parent I am pleading for you to take youth ministry and teenagers seriously. I'm convinced that the right kind of youth ministry is necessary now more than ever before in our history as a nation.
If you are a parent to a teenager make sure they're involved in a solid youth group. If you're a pastor of a church make sure your youth leader is leading in a way that reflects truly New Testament values (not just fun, games and a short Bible lesson.) If you're a youth leader build a Gospel Advancing, disciple-multiplying youth ministry that is thriving for all the right reasons.
But for this to happen churches must begin to take youth ministry seriously and view it as strategic. We shouldn't underestimate it's importance. For instance, some churches subtly de-prioritize youth ministry by bundling it under family ministry and, slowly but surely, teenagers stop showing up because the focus has shifted. When this shift happens (usually showing itself in a huge focus on children's ministry and a dwindling focus on teen ministry) it's obvious to everyone...especially the teenagers.
But where most churches ultimately demonstrate their lack of passion for youth ministry is in their annual budget. D.L. Moody once said he could tell more about a person's priorities by his checkbook than his prayer book. In the same way I can tell more about a church's priorities by their annual budget allocations than their mission statement and stated values. Sadly, youth ministry is usually one of the most underfunded areas of the church. And these numbers show the church's view of youth ministry.
So, allow me to make a case as to why its more urgent than ever for the church to take youth ministry and teenagers seriously. Here are 4 reasons:
It's that time of year where Alice Cooper weeps (school is no longer out for the summer), parents rejoice and teenagers have to start getting up early again.
Back to school is back with a vengeance and everyone, especially youth leaders, have been scrambling! Programs are being perfected! Curriculum is being purchased! Adults are being recruited!
But, even in the midst of all the Fall kickoff mayhem, back-to-school can be a great time to get back to the basics of youth ministry. These basics are rooted in Scripture and absolutely necessary for true spiritual transformation.
With this as a backdrop, here are 5 surprisingly simple ways to make a gigantic spiritual impact on your teens this school year:
Basic #1: Cover them in prayer.
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassadorin chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." Ephesians 6:18-20
I believe that every youth leader worth his/her salt wants to make the biggest impact possible in the lives of their teenagers and in the communities in which those teenagers live. But how can that be done effectively?
Asking questions is a good thing. Questions have a way of amplifying weaknesses and clarifying priorities. Perhaps that's why Jesus asked so many questions in his earthly ministry. Did you know that there are around 300 recorded times that Jesus asked questions of some sort in the Gospels? He used questions as a spotlight into peoples' souls. Sometimes the result was them repenting (Woman at the well.) Other times the result was them rejecting (Pharisees.) One time the result was his crucifixion.
Every youth leader has a false dilemma. This "dilemma" is whether or not to focus on evangelism or discipleship with their youth ministry.
The typical youth leader's thought process may go something like this, "If I focus on evangelism the kingdom will grow and so will my youth group. But if I focus on discipleship my teens will grow spiritually. I guess I'll focus on discipleship first and then my teens will be ready to evangelize."
But how has that approach worked with the adults in our churches? As a result of this "disciple first/evangelize later" approach we have a bunch of Christians filling our pews that may know basic doctrine but have lost their passion, urgency and vision to reach the lost. As a matter of fact the average Christian adult has never shared the Gospel with one of their peers.
But the youth leader's dilemma is really no dilemma at all if we take a look at the ministry of Jesus to his young disciples. Jesus had a "disciple now/evangelize now" approach that took his disciples deep into the Word while taking them wide (on mission) into the world.