I'll never forget when long time youth pastor and discipleship guru, Matt Reagan, uttered a bold statement that made my heart leap. Last April he told a room full of North American youth ministry leaders, "Youth Ministry needs it's swagger back!"
Of course he didn't mean "swagger" in a prideful "look at me" type of way but in a holy confidence "God has called us to this" type of way.
Matt went on to explain that he was tired of youth ministry being underestimated, downplayed and, in some circles, even scorned. He shared with this room of key leaders how important an effective, Gospel advancing, disciple multiplying youth ministry is to the lifeblood of a thriving church.
By the way his church is Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
Over the last several months as I've thought about Matt's bold statement I've become increasingly convinced he is right. Youth leaders need to walk with a holy, humble confidence that God can use them in powerful ways to reach and mobilize a generation for Jesus and that they are key contributors to the church at large.
Here are 5 reasons youth ministry needs it's holy swagger back...
1. Youth ministry is a farm club for future leaders.
Matt shared with us that, over his 16 years of youth ministry experience, he estimated that God used him to produce at least 100 pastors, youth pastors, church leaders and overseas missionaries. This doesn't count all of the business leaders, construction workers, doctors, factory workers, etc who are now shining the light of Christ in their work places as a result of Matt and his team's investment in them when they were teenagers!
Just like every professional baseball team has a farmclub where young players are recruited, coached and trained to be game-winning professionals, every youth leader is a farm club for the church at large. You are working with the young players and training them to hit home runs and base hits for God as they prepare for the big leagues.
2. Youth ministry is a rallying point for world changers.
Teenagers are not just the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today! God can use them right now to impact entire communities with the hope of Jesus Christ!
That's why I love Jeremiah 1:6-8 where the prophet wrote, "Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord."
God loves to use the young to change the world. He did it with Jeremiah. He did it with Esther. He did it with the disciples. He can do it with our teenagers. They don't have to wait until they grow up. As a matter of fact, the average teenager has over 400 online and face-to-face friends which makes them poised to make a huge impact for Jesus now! If they are trained to share the Gospel and live their faith they can be world changers now and not just after they graduate.
3. Youth ministry is a "skunksworks project" for the entire church.
According to the ever-reliable source Wikipedia, "A skunkworks project is a project developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation."
This term was first used in World War 2 as Lockhead Martin sought to develop some high priority weaponry to help win the war. A skunksworks project is R & D at its finest and can lead to lightning speed innovation and transformation under the right circumstances.
In many ways I believe that youth ministry when done right can be a church-wide skunksworks project. It can be where radical gospel advancing ideas are piloted and perfected for leaders to use churchwide. I'm starting to see this more and more at Dare 2 Share as pastors are beginning to use what their youth leaders are piloting in their youth ministries when it comes to multiplying disciples and applying the basic concepts churchwide!
Wouldn't it be just like God to use the "un" ones to set the pace for the entire church? Just like he used a teenaged David to defeat Goliath and turn the tide of a battle, he could use our teenagers to do the same for the entire church!
4. Youth ministry is an adoption agency for the fatherless and broken.
Recently I was part of a book-writing project with four other youth ministry experts. The recently-released book is entitled Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: 5 Views. Chap Clark's view was that of the church as a type of "adoption agency" (my words, not his) for broken and hurting teenagers. He argues that teenagers need to be a part of a bigger family and that the church can provide that.
I may not agree with all of the nuances of his view on every level but I'll tell you this, it was this type of adopting church that took me in when I was a fatherless kid and provided the adult investment I needed to thrive spiritually. I never knew my biological father but I had ten or more spiritual ones.
Far too many teenagers today are fatherless. Some who even have fathers are, in a sense, fatherless. It's my opinion that it may be worse to have a dead beat dad who doesn't care for their kids, listen to them, discipline them and encourage them, than having no dad at all.
But thank God that the church can provide a strong spiritual family to those teenagers who have a broken earthly family! The adoption language that the New Testament uses makes it clear that we have been adopted into the family of God as a result of our faith in Jesus and his finished work on the cross (Galatians 4:4-8.) As a result we have a Heavenly Father who will never leave us or forsake us and spiritual brothers and sisters who can encourage us!
Of course those who have spiritually mature and fully engaged moms and dads have a double blessing of both the family and the church. But, sadly, this reality is getting more and more rare in today's culture. For the broken a spiritual family can help bridge the gap of where their earthly families may have fallen short.
5. Youth ministry is a spiritual discussion group for the questioning.
Years ago Dare 2 Share produced a reality series called Gospel Journey Maui. In it we took a Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Girl who thought God was a black woman who baked cookies (she got her view from The Matrix movies), Seventh Day Adventist and a surfing evangelical named Zane to Maui for eight days of adventures and spiritual discussions. The shocking amount of footage that we filmed was eventually edited down to nine 30 minute episodes.
Thousands of youth groups have used this to spark spiritual discussions in their meetings. The results have been amazing. And one of the biggest results was the opening of the floodgates for spiritual discussions in these youth groups.
One of the key things we discovered from this project is that teenagers are longing to have significant spiritual discussions and answer deep theological questions. Effective youth ministries can become a centerpiece for these much-needed conversations. Youth leaders can become the discussion moderators with the help of an open-Bible, a humble attitude and a dependence on the Holy Spirit. This type of discussion based learning opens the door for Christian teenagers to know what and why they believe based on the timeless truths of God's Word.
I guess youth ministry doesn't need it's swagger back. The right kind of youth ministry needs it back. Youth leaders who are willing to trigger deep spiritual discussions with their teenagers, recruit adults who can invest in the lives of broken teenagers, engage their teenagers on a Gospel advancing, disciple multiplying mission, pilot radical outreach dreams and produce leaders who will #gospelize the world should walk with a holy, humble confidence that the need for effective youth ministry is greater than ever.