One of the most heartbreaking parts of being a youth minister is watching students decide to walk away from the Lord to “live it up while I am young”. Sure, sometimes students are going to make sinful decisions simply because they are human beings with a sin problem, and frankly that is something we all do. But what I am talking about is the willful decisions to set aside their Christianity so that it ceases to be an impediment to fun. It is a decision that in every case leads to consequences, baggage, and, in to many cases, a complete rejection of Christ.
Having spent the past 18 years engaged in student ministry I have come to appreciate the thousands of men and women who are pouring selflessly into our youth! I appreciate their heart, passion, and clear commitment to impact a generation for Christ. It is wonderful to see their heartfelt desire to influence those that I refer to as the younger but current generation of His church.
As we take off for Germany I can’t help but be filled with excitement and expectation about what our Lord is about to do in and thru this amazing group of student ministers. As a youth leader I have never been more proud than I am right now of these men and women of God. They have chosen to embark on a journey to a distant land where they will be stretched, challenged, and changed. A journey where they don’t know the language beyond a rudimentary level, a journey filled with more questions than answers, and a journey to a country that is ripe for a heavenly harvest.
This past week I have been blessed to watch our students prove yet again why we need to shift our thinking in Youth Ministry. Our church runs a VBS program where students comprise more than half of the staff.
What is wrong with the Youth ministry Machine of today? Perhaps we don’t have enough programs for students? Maybe we don’t have enough resources available? Or there is of course the chance that the problem with youth ministry is that the youth fail to see our genius? These are the kinds of questions we have spent the past two days praying over and discussing at the NNYM Youth Ministry Executive Council in Costa Mesa, CA. So what have we learned so far? Let’s look at the three options posed above:
What if Prayer became a part of our Ministry DNA! I believe with all my heart that it would be a game changer and would revolutionize youth ministry and us as well. As my friend Greg Stier said to me at a recent prayer gathering of national and international youth leaders “prayer needs to be the engine that drives the train of Evangelism (ministry)”. Or put another way it can’t simply be an add on to our ministry; it is a vital component of any ministry that hopes to have kingdom value!
As I watched our students engage in the simple act of raking a lawn I realized how wonderfully complete their transition from a youth group into an active Endeavor society was! As the event unfolded it was clear that they have a great deal to learn about planning and coordinating details of such events. However, it was equally clear that this team of intrepid young servants is up to the task! As they went about serving several elderly and in-firmed people in our community I saw them blessing and being blessed.
Over the years I have been blessed to see many students rise up and become the active ministers of the Gospel that they are called to be. It has been my experience that when we create an environment in our ministry where students are able to grow deeper in their relationship with the Lord you always see increased kingdom impact. Expectations are not something to be feared in fact they are freeing. To be clear I am not talking about expecting our students to become perfect rule following drones that “toe the line” and seek to make their youth leader happy in order to receive some special
In a world where students are rewarded for mediocrity I firmly believe that it is time for the church to set itself apart by expecting more from our students! If Jesus could change the world using mostly teenagers (see Matthew 17 for a clue as to why I believe He did hint only Jesus and Peter owed taxes and to owe taxes you had to be over 20) than why do so many youth leaders, parents, pastors, and students themselves expect so little from students? I confess I was once a leader who expected to little from students.
According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, Vermont is ranked as the 50th least religious state, or stated another way, we are the least churched state in the entire country. This is likely because Vermonters see themselves as ruggedly independent, capable of making it on their own, and skeptical of any need for salvation other than one of their own making. As the National Network of Youth Ministries (NNYM) state coordinator for my home state this fact creates some interesting obstacles and unique challenges.