I’ve been involved with in Youth Ministry for just about 20 years now. Though there have been many tweaks and occasional shifts away from the norm, the typical youth ministry program has included some form of hang time, game time, worship time and teaching (“talk”) time. These four elements are about a predictable as my desire for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert!
Our youth ministry forefathers formed something that we’ve had a hard time re-inventing (and to be honest, may not be the primary area in need of an overhaul). I believe the real change in youth ministry doesn’t have anything to do with re-envisioning our mid-week programming, but an examination of some key things I believe youth pastors/leaders have gotten away from in the greater landscape of student ministry.
- We’ve Gotten Away From The Campus. Most youth pastors haven’t even attempted to get on the public (or private) school campus. I hear them say “the campus is closed” yet they haven’t once made an effort with the administration of the said “closed” campus. I am telling you, I have NEVER been turned down by the admin to be a volunteer on campus. Be smart, don’t look at your time on campus as a time to proselytize, rather as a time to serve the school, the teachers, the administration and to build relationship with anyone God brings you in contact with. Just being present (even just an hour a week) will pay large dividends and build major trust! It will bring a whole new ownership when attending games, musicals, concerts and award banquets.
- We’ve Gotten Away From Evangelism. A “discipleship-first” model is honestly the safe choice. Parents are quite happy that you’re providing a “safe” place for their child(ren) to participate in ministry. Service-based trips where we work with our hands building, cleaning, painting and serving meals are now called “mission trips.” I am a big proponent of service, it often creates an entry point into spiritual conversation, but I believe we’ve gotten away from sharing the gospel with our WORDS! I think youth missions can/should include evangelism opportunities because it is an extension of what we’re doing at home as well (what we call “Mission51” at Youthmark). I believe youth leaders (and parents) have allowed youth ministry to turn away from evangelism because we’re typically not involved with it in our own peer-community. It’s hard to teach what we’re not doing. What if evangelism and discipleship were not mutually exclusive? What if youth leaders, pastors and parents began to model discipleship that included evangelism first?
- We’ve Gotten Away From The Gospel! This may sound a lot like the last, but I believe student ministry as a whole has gotten away from sharing the gospel and settled for a “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”-message. The gospel is good news, in order to have good news, there must be bad news as well. This “bad news” is HORRIBLE news. Without Jesus there is no hope. No hope is hell (bad news)! Many of our programs talk about the bible, Jesus, prayer and accountability without talking about the “why” we need these things. A failure to share about the wonderful grace of God actually leads our followers down the path of works-righteousness. Students begin to “work” on the practices of faith without actually having grace-based faith.
- Start with prayer: pray for your own heart response and examine whether or or not these things are true of you and your ministry. Ask God for a peer-level harvest field for you to work in (so many youth leaders don’t even have non-Christian friends). Pray and ask for prayer. I believe your prayer will lead you to care and then your care will lead you to share!
- Make contact today: Get up, drive to the local middle school or high school or make an appointment with the administration and simply ask the question “how can I serve this school… how can I help?” Don’t abuse the privilege to be there, keep the campus options available to other Christians by being a smart missionary if given the opportunity to serve the school. Your present on campus (or campuses) will lead you to opportunities to experience the harvest field.
- Share the gospel in youth group! Don’t assume that even your core-students know and understand that gospel. Be clear in your presentation of the gospel. Always include the need for salvation (because of sin), Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection. As you share this more and more not only will it permeate your other conversations, but as more for your group place their trust in Christ, it’ll permeate their conversations outside of your group!