As of today, I have been doing Youth Ministry for two years and eight months. I am by no means even close to being an expert on the best ways to do Youth Ministry. I have failed many times up until this point: events that were a bust, students I have disappointed, Bible studies I have botched, etc. I am continuing to grow in my understanding of how to best (a) love students like Christ loves them and (b) tell them of His love for them and the implications that love has on their lives. As I continue on this journey, it is only by God’s Grace that I continue to move forward. I know full well that I will continue to mess up, I will disappoint students sometimes, I will step on toes, and I will not do everything as God would have me do it. But, thankfully, the youth ministry I am blessed to lead is not my youth ministry...it is God’s. He is the one who will draw the students to Himself, He is the one who will save them, and He is the one who will change their hearts. It is with this truth in mind, that I write this post. Please, do not take my word on these things, but search out the Scriptures and become convicted by them on how God is calling us to love teenagers and teach them about Him.
As I said, I am by no means an expert on Youth Ministry. Also, I believe every youth ministry will look different depending on where it’s located in the world, what type of students are involved, and the resources available to it. So, I am not going to try to give step-by-step instructions on how to do Youth Ministry well. Rather, I would like to share with you certain principles that are found in Scripture that we can never forget while ministering to students.
1.) The Word has to be central. In everything we do, teaching the Word of God has to be the driving force. If we are simply putting on fun events, entertaining teenagers and never sharing with them the message of Christ, we are failing. Over and over again in the New Testament, the Church is commanded to hold fast to the Scriptures. (2 Tim. 3:14-17)
The teenagers we minister to are not in need of simply a good time (they can find that in any number of places). They are in need, first, of the saving truth of the Gospel and, second, the continued teaching of God’s life-transforming Word in their lives. If we fail in making this central, we have failed these teenagers.
2.) We aren’t the parents of the teenagers we are ministering to (unless, of course, you actually are). So many times, Youth Ministers get into the mindset that they can teach teenagers better than the parents can.
However, when we look to Scripture, we find that it is the responsibility of the PARENTS to train up their children in the ways of the LORD. Parents are the God ordained authority in the teenagers’ lives. (Deut. 6:7; 11:19) We should never attempt to usurp this role. However, in the case of teenagers whose parents are not Christians, this will look different, as they will not be receiving the teaching and training in the Word at home.
We must make every effort to discern with each student how big (or small) of a role we should have in their lives. This will look different with each student we minister to. In all of it, we can never put ourselves in the place of “parent” (unless, of course, our own child is a part of the youth ministry).
3.) The teenagers we minister to are people. We must fight against the “mob mentality” when it comes to youth ministry. It is easy to lump all teenagers into a group, making assumptions about them as a whole. It is easy to look at the teenagers in the youth ministry only as a group, and not as individuals. We must never lose focus on the fact that they are each, individually, made in God’s image and each, individually, in need of Christ.
Of course, as one person, we cannot make these individual relationships on our own, which brings me to my next point:
4.) The Youth Ministry is not about the Youth Pastor/Minister/Leader. Ultimately, as I said in the beginning, any and every youth ministry belongs to God. Ask yourself this: If you simply didn’t show up for a few weeks, would the Youth Ministry at your church continue on?
We are not God. We cannot minister to each and every student in the youth ministry (even down to the basic separation of genders!). We are in need of other individuals to come alongside us in reaching out and discipleing the teenagers. This bleeds over into my fifth and final point:
5.) The Youth Ministry is a part of the local church. While I believe most people would agree with this at face value, when it comes to how many youth ministries are run, this mindset is not carried through. In so many churches, the youth ministry is kept completely separate from the rest of the church (sometimes to the point of them having their own separate worship service on Sundays).
For a Youth Ministry to thrive (not just in terms of numbers, but in terms of true, spiritual growth among the students), the local church as a whole must buy in. When adults (of all ages) begin investing in the youth ministry and in the lives of the teenagers of the church, something amazing happens: age separation begins to be less and less of a deciding factor. We see fewer and fewer teenagers leaving the church after graduation because their faith and relationships go beyond the youth group into the church as a whole.
I pray that we will use these principles in effectively reaching the teenagers of our world with the Gospel and discipleing them into disciple-making disciples. Again, I am no expert and I by no means have figured everything out. Nor can I say that I implement these principles in the best way. I am still learning, I am still changing things up, and I believe I will always be doing this. However, as we strive to love God and love teenagers, He will guide us. It is HIS youth ministry; they are HIS teenagers; it is HIS work.