From the year 1999 to 2008, I had the high privilege of having youth ministry as my primary ministry. That’s an entire decade! Now, I know that some of you reading this will say that a decade’s nothing because you’ve been doing youth ministry for 30 years. You’re welcome to point that out, but remember: you risk telling how old you are! 😉 Nevertheless, during my decade, I learned so much. Here are 10 lessons that I learned. I pray they’ll be helpful to you.
1) Youth can be mightily used by God.
They are easily mission-minded and often have little fear. Sort of like the shepherd-boy David, they’re not as easily frightened by Goliath.
2) Youth ministers don’t always see immediate results.
Maybe this lesson is one of the hardest. We like to see the fruit our labor now, but sometimes you are simply the seed-planter and the foundation-builder. If you work with youth, take heart. Simply be the best minister you can be in the strength of the Lord, and leave the results up to God. He’ll bring results, and He’s right on time!
3) Youth will usually only go as deep and as far as their leaders take them.
They must be challenged, and they must be led! Don’t just give them fluff. Please don’t! They need serious faith-, soul-, and mind-building experience and teaching. Trust me: they can handle it. As for leadership, my youth pastor friend Steve Coleman always says that when ministering to youth, you must begin with the goal in mind. What do you want them to be like at 18-years-old? That goal determines the direction you take them. As for leaders, a child’s primary leader is their parents. Parents must be encouraged and equipped to train up their child in the Lord, and whatever the child gets at church is simply supplement.
4) Youth are not the church of tomorrow.
You often hear people say this, but if a young person has repented and trusted Christ, they are the church of today. Don’t overlook them just because they are young. Find ways to let them serve! Also, while they are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church leaders of tomorrow. You’ve got to prepare them for leadership. Refer back to #3.
5) Youth are really looking for affirmation and will find it somewhere.
Youth are looking for someone to say, “I’m proud of you. I love you. You’re important.” If the church doesn’t affirm our young people, they’ll find it somewhere, and it’s often in ways and places that are destructive. We must be proactive in this area. Let them know, “God loves you, and so do I.”
6) The gap between the younger generation and older generation must be bridged.
Too often there’s a divide in churches. The older folks never mingle with the younger folks, and vice versa. This reality shouldn’t be. We must work at bridging the generations. At Crofton Baptist, this task is one that I made a priority, and I pray that a difference was made. I think it was. But between the younger generation and the older generation, who has the primary responsibility of trying to bridge the gap? I believe the primary responsibility falls on the older crowd. You’re the adults. You’re the leaders. Get on their level and get to know them.
7) Youth must consistently be reminded that life is about God and not about them.
This goes for most adults too, but developmentally and culturally, the teenage years here in America seem to be filled with selfishness. We’ve got to work on helping our young people get their eyes off of themselves and onto Jesus. Challenge them to be like John the Baptist who said that he must decrease so that Jesus can increase. So true!
8) The key to a strong church youth ministry is a strong children’s ministry.
I’m trying to think of a good metaphor to illustrate this lesson. Okay…I’ve got one. You’ll have to decide if it’s good.
Let’s think about this in terms of driving. In order to be a great driver, you’ve got to go through some preparation. First, you study the driver’s manual until you’re able to pass the written driving test. Once you’ve passed that, you get your driver’s permit. You get to drive, but only with an adult in the car. You practice and practice and practice some more (usually in the process your parent stops a hole in the passenger floorboard because they use their imaginary brake often) until you are able to pass the road driving test. Once you’ve passed that, you get your full fledged driver’s license. Each level builds on the other one. You can’t be a good permit driver unless you did the work studying the manual.
For teens experiencing youth ministry, it’s sort of like having your driver’s permit. They’re beginning to take on ministry and leadership, but they’ve still got adults right there with them to help them and encourage them and stomp on that imaginary brake when things begin to go bad. Soon though, they’ll be fully responsible for ministry and leadership. But so much of the training begins in the children’s ministry. It’s here where they get to learn the basic precepts of the Bible that they’ll then apply more fully in the youth ministry. No doubt, a strong children’s ministry is key to a strong youth ministry.
9) Youth ministry is urgent.
Given that we are all born lost sinners, youth ministry is a vast mission field. They must be reached with the gospel so that they will have life to the fullest forevermore. Statistically speaking, see if this isn’t a wakeup call:
- 88% of children raised in Christian families leave church at the age of 18, never to return (SBC).
- A majority of adults no longer consider Christianity America’s default faith (Barna).
- 64% of decisions for Christ are made before the age of 18, and 77% are made before the age of 21 (Barna).
- An estimated 4% of the “bridger” generation, or Gen Y, will be Bible-believing Christians when they reach adulthood. Their grandparents’ generation: 65%. Their parents’ generation: 35%. (Bridger Generation by Thom S. Rainer).
We must strategically reach and disciple our young people!
10) There’s great reward in youth ministry.
You get the opportunity to be a major influence for Christ in the lives of these young people. Yes, it’s hard ministry sometimes, but the results are always worth it. You get to see young people come to trust Christ, grow in their faith, impact their friends and family, serve the Lord faithfully, and start new families. It’s a blessing to be used by God in this way!
May you serve the youth of your church well as you serve the Lord!
P.S. – I’m so thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had over the years to serve youth through church and parachurch ministries. Thank you to Camp Loucon (Leitchfield, KY), First Assembly of God (Madison, IN), Calvary Baptist Church (Madison, IN), Adventures in Missions, Smiths Grove Baptist Church (Smiths Grove, KY), First Baptist Church (Charlestown, IN), and Crofton Baptist Church (Crofton, KY). I’m also thankful for the opportunity to be involved in the youth ministry at West Main Baptist as much as I’m able. God has been good to me in allowing me to minister in this way!