Successful youth ministry is about the life-altering reality of the gospel, not gimmicks
Youth ministry. The words alone are enough to strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned, accomplished ministry professional. They bring to mind laborious, draining efforts that don’t always have the results we want. How did it get this way? Why do church’s youth pastors tend to have such a high turnover rate?
Out of a genuine desire to impact the next generation, many respond by trying to make church so entertaining or cool that young people will be too impressed or comfortable to walk away. So, expensive stage lights are installed and a café is set up. Nothing wrong with those things, but the problem is: When we give young people what we think they want—or even what they tell us they want—and deny them the life-altering reality of the gospel, we fail to give them the one thing they truly do want: something real.
The few short years I’ve been blessed to serve as the director of Eagles’ Wings 9-month Internship and three-week Summer Discipleship have been a real crash course. Nothing like learning as you go! But as I have prayed, improvised and stumbled my way through, I’ve encountered some good news—actually, the Good News.
Why young adults need to hear a ‘better song’— biblical truths about love and marriage
I sing a lot in my sermons. I sing because students know and resonate with the songs that they have heard since they were children. In fact, young adults’ ideas about love and marriage are usually formed more by Disney movies and other media than biblical narratives. So I grab their attention by singing a familiar Disney song and then explain a better story—God’s story. Here are three lies that Disney movies tell young people.
Teens are worthy of worship by someone of the opposite sex. You know the story—it’s the all-too-familiar young romance movie. A young man becomes infatuated with the striking beauty of a young woman, going to great lengths to woo her. He will kill any dragon, trek any foreign land and embrace any hardship to be with the young lady. Once he rescues her, he sings, praises and whisks her away to a life of bliss. It’s a great story. It’s fun, exciting and pulls at our heartstrings. However, there is a problem. God is left out of the story.
Here is a better story: a God-honoring man goes to great lengths to woo the heart of a woman who fears God. Together, they honor God by serving and loving each other for the rest of their lives. These two stories have similar plots, but the difference lies in who is worthy of being worshipped.
How to deposit the right kind of motivation into these vital ministers
Growing up, I’d often see my mom the scout leader wearing a crazy hat. It had two bills pointing in different directions, and the caption above them read: “I’m their leader. Which way did they go?” While this was a funny message as a kid, for an adult leader this poses an important question. The key to leading scouts—and volunteer youth workers—is the same: Give them motivating reasons to want to follow.
Begin with the end in mind. Developing adolescent disciples is a worthy endeavor and a wild ride. Helping youth workers remember that the goal is always to build into teens and their families the tools to be lifelong followers of Jesus is critical. Tip: Keep the goal of what the youth ministry is about short and memorable. Talk about it often. Put it in easy view
everywhere—on shirts, banners, even pop quizzes on the ceiling. Whatever it takes.
Appreciate their contribution and investment. Caring for teens and their families has a way of sneaking into every area of a youth worker’s life. This is not just a-couple-of-hours-a-week gig for them. Honor this investment. Tip: Handwritten notes of encouragement and thanks are not only timely but also special. Anybody can write an e-mail or Facebook post, but hardly anyone gets snail mail these days; so go “old school” and use the post office.