It is interesting because as I have worked within youth ministry I feel like this has become our mindset for our programs. No, we aren't just giving girls what they want (think bigger), we are giving our students what they want in order to make them happy.
Have you ever noticed how we cave to popular culture in our youth programming? How we have to match the trends that are up and coming? Just take a look around your youth room, area, wing, whatever. Do you have a ton of technology? Does your worship team play all the new and upbeat Christian music? Do you have to have tons of sugary snacks to bring students in? Are you always looking for a new game, gimmick, or outreach program to bring in more kids?
Please hear me out. I am not trying to guilt trip any of us. We all use these tools and I believe most of us use them effectively, but is this what youth ministry was meant to be? Were we meant to be the popular place, the place students automatically want to go, the "it" place in town? Or were we meant to be Gospel-centered places of refuge, revitalization, and freedom?
Many of you, like I first did, will cry afoul. We teach the Gospel, we help make disciples, we minister to broken youth. Yes we do. But my argument, my mindset, is that we need to have the proper foundation upon which to do these programs. It shouldn't be bringing in kids with lights, loud music, sweets, froyo, inflatables, and activities no one else is doing. It should be with the Gospel. The Gospel is what should be bringing students into our youth groups, our churches. We can argue all day that we need to make the Gospel relevant to our culture, but the reality we fail to realize all the time is that the Gospel will transcend all time, all cultures, all demographics, all age groups. Jesus knew this and to be frank He understood youth ministry.
Jesus led the greatest band of youth in the New Testament when he took eleven young men and one adult, who didn't know how to keep his mouth shut, and turned them into the greatest revival in history. Jesus worked with troubled kids, bullies, liars and thieves, rebels, and many others and He didn't bring them in with sugary treats, technology, and bold outreaches. Instead, He brought them in with honest teaching, interpersonal relationships, a multiplication model, constant prayer, and ultimately let them go. Are we ready for that? Are we modelling that? I know I haven't been willing to let go, but I believe we need to model the programming Christ set forth. Will you step out with me and let the revival come?
So what should we do? I am not saying rid your youth group of candy, games, outreach events, and craziness because these are all good things, but instead I believe we should rethink our purpose and how we do things. I would suggest four things to do:
Preach the Gospel unabashedly
This should be a no-brainer but the reality is the Gospel isn't always as prevalent as it should be. Think about it: how much time do you devote to games, snacks, hangout time, movies, etc. Now think about how much time you take preaching the Word of God and proclaiming salvation. Does the obvious one outweigh the other? Our priorities can be noted by the time we spend there. Please do not hear this as being critical of youth pastors and their programs. I am in that place as well. It is something that even as I write this I am strongly convicted and questioning how we do ministry. This is meant to be more of a rallying cry for us to stand upon our convictions and push them home. Let us put the Gospel back in the central point it deserves!
Become a safe place
Again, we probably all assume that our youth programs are safe areas for students, but I think we miss things. Bullying is a hot topic and I think most of us could say we keep bullying out of our programs, but what about gossip, sarcasm, judging others, disrespect? These things can drastically alter the DNA of a youth group and cause it to become a place where students do not want to be. We need to be a place that builds its foundation on the Gospel, and then seeks to promote love, peace, forgiveness, and grace. We need to start educating our students on the dangers and problems associated with these attitudes and heart issues.
Another way to be a safe place is to constantly push home that students can be themselves here, that there is no judgement, that there are people they can talk to, and they can trust us. I have written before on trust, and I cannot over emphasize this point. We need to keep our word and our confidences with students (of course there are always extenuating circumstances, but the short version is keep your word). We as pastors, as leaders, as volunteers, must be a source of trust, advice, and direction in a student's life and we need to be a place that students know they can come for help. Bring in volunteers who are gifted in counseling, make connections with licensed counselors inside and outside your church, have crisis care information at the ready, and talk about these issues! The one thing I cannot express enough is we need to be leaders who do not brush the issues under the carpet or do not talk about them because they are messy and difficult. We must talk about them and we must educate our students on how to walk through these times, all the while advocating our support, love, and care for them.
Start from the ground up
We need to be a praying generation. Maybe it is just something that God has been stirring within my heart, convicting me in areas I fall short, but I believe we need to be praying more for our volunteers, our students, our ministries, our churches, and our world. If we are not falling on our knees to ask God to change our world, our towns, our students, we are missing the mark. If you study the early church in Acts you see that everything they did was covered in prayer. It was prayer and seeking God in Acts 2 that caused thousands to be added to their numbers. When the believers prayed for boldness in Acts 4, God gave fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and the uneducated the ability to proclaim God's Word, and they grew again! Going further into Acts we see countless times that prayer brought about salvation, sending out of disciples, and discipleship!
Prayer can and will transform our programs! Are we praying enough? I am sure many, if not all of us are praying during our personal study times, we pray during staff meetings, at home for meals, with our spouses and children, but when was the last time you prayed over the church, your youth room, where you do counseling? When was the last time you brought your volunteers, student leaders, and/or parents in to pray for that week's meeting? I believe that prayer must be part of our foundation or we will never experience the growth that the early church did. So often I have wondered why a program not growing more? Why has it remained stagnate? Why are we just existing? And then the Holy Spirit grabs my heart and says, "Get on your knees you foolish man. You cannot do this. Only I, the God who placed you here, can!" My question is, are we praying enough? I know I am not. Perhaps if we all prayed, if we rallied our volunteers, students, parents, church staff and prayed fervently and constantly sought the face of God, we would see an explosion happen once again in the Bride of Christ.
Be prepared for a revival
Coming off of the last point, I think we need to ask ourselves, are we truly ready for revival to come like we sing about in our songs? Truly, if we cry out in prayer God is inclined to move through His people and are we ready for that? Can you see youth groups and churches bursting from the seams as God fills the church? Can you see schools and towns changing? Can you see the world changing? This is the vision John has in Revelation when he sees people from every tongue and nation singing and worshiping God! Guys this is an amazing picture of what is coming, and we need to ask ourselves, are we ready for this? Are we doing our part to share the Gospel with those we minister to?Are we content to be where we are and just exist? May it never be! Let us be ever willing to cry out for this!
So what should we do to prepare for this?
- Have leadership ready - Get a team of volunteers, student leaders, and parents in place to help disciple, pray for, and walk with people who come to the church.
- Put the priority on God - Always preach the Gospel, always give God glory, and always direct others to Him.
- Be prepared to make changes on faith - Look to grow the church and not be tied down to a location, facility, program, or way of doing things. God sent the disciples out with no place to lay their heads or any understanding of the world outside of their country and look what happened. The church, the Bride of Christ, came into existence!
- Be in prayer - Be in constant prayer for what God is going to be doing. Always look to Him for guidance, direction, and understanding.
- Get other youth groups and churches in on this - Don't be an island; look to be ecumenical and inclusive with other Gospel-believing churches. God is going to do great things not through one program or church but through all of His people. Bring others in!
I know this was a lot tied into one post, but we need to be willing to let go of our programming and let God run the show without trying to do it our way. Let us love unabashedly, serve without hesitation, give God the glory and control always, and reach our students, families, and the world with the amazing truth that is the Gospel.