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:
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.
Yesterday Josh Griffin and I met for lunch at Wahoo's Fish Taco in Orange County. After a heaping helping of their Protein Plate (delicious by the way) our President, Debbie Bresina, talked us into filming a short conversation on "The Giant Wheel" at the Irvine Spectrum Center, well, just because.
When it comes to youth mininstry there are tons of myths floating around out there. Here are 5 of the biggest :
1. The "Youth Ministry is a 20th Century invention" Myth
When Jesus, the ultimate rabbi, took his disicples into Capernaum only Peter and Jesus paid the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27.) This is significant because the temple tax was only applicable to those 20 years old and older (Exodus 30:14.) If I'm reading these passages correctly then Jesus was a youth leader...with only one adult sponsor (Peter) and one really rotten teen (Judas.)
In Titus 2:1-8 Paul challenges Timothy to have the older men teach the younger men and the older women to teach the younger women. These "younger" were most likely teenagers who were being ministered to and mentored by older adults.
Don't buy the myth that youth ministry is a 20th Century invention. It began 2000 years ago. Let's get our adults to do what Jesus did by getting them to invest in a group of teenagers.
2. The "Burn the box" Myth
We have all received a youth ministry box of sorts with lots of cool stuff in it. It has dodge balls, pizza, self-image talks, worship songs and marshmallow guns.
Some people say that the youth ministry box should be burned and we should start over. Because youth ministry in many circles has not been as effective as it could be, the thought is that we need to shake the Etch-A-Sketch and start over.
But that's not the answer.
I'm grateful for the youth ministry box we have received from our youth ministry forefathers. The average youth leaders has digital lessons to teach truth and game apps to break down barriers in the group. We have more camps, conferences, events and retreats to choose from than ever before in youth ministry history.
And we should all be grateful for these!
All of the items "in the box" can become nudges to gently push teenagers one millimeter (or, if we're lucky one meter) closer to Jesus.
We just need to create room in the box for the things that matter most. For instance, there's not much room in the typical youth ministry box for intercessory prayer, relational evangelism and discipleship multiplication. Room must be made but we don't have to burn the box to do that.
For a list of non-negotiables that should be in the box, check out Gospeladvancing.com.
3. The "Either/Or Discipleship/Evangelistic" Myth
Most youth groups fall into one of two categories: They are a mile wide and an inch deep (aka "evangelism-focused.") Or they a mile deep and an inch wide (aka "discipleship-focused".)
But the truth is they should be both deep and wide! It shouldn't be either/or but both/and!
Jesus took his disciples deep into the truths about God. But he took them wide with the Gospel at the same time. He had a "grow as you go" philosophy of discipleship. As his mostly teenaged followers took the Gospel across Judea he taught them the deeper truths about God. When they got excited about being able to cast out demons, he challenged their theology by encouraging them to be more excited about the "steak" of their salvation (Luke 10:20) than the "sizzle" of their miraculous powers.
Teenagers grow quicker when they have something on the line and evangelism puts their social equity on the line in a big way. If a teen claims the name of Christ they could be called names by their friends. If they align themselves with Jesus they could be at the back of the line when it comes to being "in" with the popular kids. But this risk accelerates the discipleshp process at warp speed.
Spirtitually speaking the teens that go the most grow the most. By the way, if you haven't signed your teens up for Dare 2 Share Live yet (coming October 13th) it will be a great opportunity for them to grow as they go. Teens will be trained, equipped and unleashed in a single day across the nation to reach their communities for Christ!
4. The "Moms and dads should be the only youth leaders" Myth
There is a strand of stringent thinking in the ministry world that says moms and dads should be the only youth leaders in the lives of their own children. The problem is that far too many teenagers attending youth group today don't have believing parents. And, even if their parents are Christians, many aren't spiritually strong enough to lead them with enough impact to make a difference.
For example my mom was not even a believer when I was a teenager. I actually got to lead her to Jesus at the age of 15 and I discipled her!
There are more and more teenagers, like I was, who may not have Christian parents and desperately need Christian adults in their lives to coach and mentor them spiriutally.
But even with Christian parents it is important to have other Christian adults as strong influences on their teenagers. I am the dad of two teenagers and am immensely grateful for the other Christian adults who speak into their lives. Some of these are official "youth leaders" and others are just adults that my teenagers know and respect.
It's a myth to think that moms and dads are the only youth leaders in the lives of their teenagers.
5. The "Lead pastors who leave youth ministry are sell outs" Myth
Who hasn't heard this said about a youth leader "he's just using youth ministry as a stepping stone to a real job...becoming a pastor." Well, being a pastor is a high calling. And just because you become a lead pastor doesn't mean you have lost your passion for youth!
You can get into youth ministry and get out but once youth ministry "gets into you" you can never leave. Some of the best youth leaders I know were former youth pastors. I often call these kinds of pastors youth pastors with authority...and a budget!
When I was a preaching pastor I cleared the path for the youth ministry at our church to be effective. I supported the youth pastor, deflected criticism about the youth ministry and challenged the people of our church to get behind the youth ministry in a big way. If he needed budget It'd try to get it. If he needed support I'd seek to provide it.
Lead pastors who leave youth ministry aren't necessarily "sell outs" who gave away their passion for youth for a bigger paycheck and more glory. Instead many of them become the biggest advocates for youth ministry in the entire church.
These are five of the biggest myths about youth ministry. What are some others?