Questions regarding youth ministry

God’s been placing a new vision and direction on my heart for my youth ministry, although exactly what that is has been somewhat illusive and indefinable. I have some ideas, but none are nicely organized yet. Thankfully there are other people in youth ministry who have helped develop what I have so far, but it still lacks a sense of cohesion. Your input is greatly appreciated.

— What does it mean to “raise the bar” for our students? Are we asking too little of them?

— How do we develop a passion and commitment to live counter-culture?

— Life is not all about the pursuit of fun and pleasure, an unending pursuit that never satisfies. Rather, life is about spiritual hunger, an unending pursuit that should always grow stronger.

— Youth group needs to be more emotional.

— As leaders, how can we reframe our roles in students lives to do more spiritual discovery WITH students and less FOR students?

— We need to totally re-think Sunday school, Wednesday nights, and other programming. These are only tools to accomplish/promote an end result. Are they as effective as they can be? Probably not.

— How do we approach the “Jesus as an accessory” mindset?

— Are students taking ownership of their youth group? How so/why not?

Posted on March 30, 2006

  • Good thoughts Tim. I have been thinking similar things. I remember being in college and studying Jazz. My prof was this really humble guy who taught so much. He never criticized me or anyone that I heard, but his impact was amazing. I would play through something, he would listen and say, "that was good. now listen to this." His example told me more about what I needed to work on and do while he never said anything that was wrong or could be better. I wish I could disciple like that and teach others to also.

  • …here's my thing (that I learned when I was @ Bible College from youth ministry profs)…Alot of kids come to youth group because of one key thing…FUN. I have worked in some great youth ministries and some not-so-great ones…The not-so-great ones were usually the ones where the Youth Pastor was eliminating the fun because it wasn't spiritual. Remember, you're dealing with younger people here and not with adults. Youth are still figuring things out and are generally more concerned about friends, school and socializing. I got to a place in youth ministry where I found myself placing unreal expectations on 15, 16, and 17 year olds that weren't realistic forgetting that they are the age they are and not 40 years old.

    One of the best youth groups that I was a part of was with a youth pastor who really understood that and let the youth crank up the music, play around and for 20 minutes taught a really solid message. It seemed a little chaotic, but it worked really well and the kids were still able to have fun and yet had an interest to grow.

  • Ann

    These are great questions. I really think that great youth ministry flows out of the lives of leaders who have solid relationships with Christ and each other.
    -Raising the bar for students, first means raising the bar for myself. What is my devotional life like? Do I share Christ's love spontaneously and naturally?
    – Do I live counter-culturally, forsaking the greed and perversion that infects even our church culture?
    – Fun is fine, but what really is fun to us? Spending money? Behaving silly? Or is it staying up all night talking about what's in your heart?
    -Emotional, of course. We are to love God with all our H,S,M,S. But I don't think we tug at emotion for emotion's sake, we need to engage the whole person, not just body and mind.
    – Reframe? Definitely, especially with students that are ready to go deeper. You still need to minister to the Crowd -those who may not have a commitment yet.
    – Why do we do what we do? And when? And what? Instead of focusing on the process, focus first on the goal. What is the ministry trying to accomplish in the lives of these students?
    – Jesus as as an accessory? Confront it. Sometimes it's worthy of ridicule. Here's an idea: Get a small Jesus statue and dramatize students treating the real Jesus as though He were this trinket. Have the students comment and mock the absurdity of treating our God and Savior this way. Leave Jesus statue/figurine in the room as an object lesson, point to it whenever you need to remind them of treating Jesus this way.
    – The students will want to own something that seems worth owning. Do they see themselves being ministered to or as the ministers the leaders have been equipping for service? Many moons ago I remember youth groups being places where the students lead worship, gave the talks (under the YP's guidance), lead their friends to Christ and conducted follow-up Bible studies. They planned their own mission trips and service projects. The "adults" only served as "training wheels", there just in case. Hmm. Where/when it become you sit down, while the "professionals" entertain you and do all the work.?

  • Here's my thing…

    I fully understand what it is like to be in a certain place as a leader (spiritually speaking – delving deeper into the faith, seeking God more than ever, etc.), but that's where WE THE LEADER(S) are at and often times the students we lead are not (there).

    I had a tremendous youth pastor who (as my youth pastor) used the Sonlife model. He understood that a few students were growing leaps and bounds over other students and in time made many of us student leaders. He did however continue to cater to the many students who were there to hang out, have fun, or were there because their parents made them go. Sadly, I revisited this same youth pastor years later who when he was my youth pastor really "got it" with where different kids were at, but because he had come to a (deeper) place in his spiritual walk, was now trying to push that on his current youth group…no fun, serious (long-drawn out) sermons, and as a result a youth group left with only those kids who "had to be there". Sure, I think Francis Schaeffer is awesome, but to a 15 year old kid, "How Shall We Now Live" maybe a little dry and a little much.

    I understand the need for growth and I think that certain kids in a youth group do need more, but leaders also need to decipher between their own journey and the students' journey. Remember what it was like to be 15…what did we need? Where were we at? Then, I think the answers to the questions may become more clear.

  • Tim

    A lot of helpful comments here.

    It's been my observation that students (and people in general) come to church because of relationships, not necessarily because it's entertaining. Church will never be able to compete with the entertainment that's available out there. However, we can offer one thing that MTV can never offer and that's unconditional love and acceptance. Students crave love more than they crave entertainment. Granted, the fun element is important, but when we play games at youth group every Wednesday and most Sunday mornings, it's for the purpose of developing relationships among students and leaders.

    I should also state that many of my thoughts come from the supposition that students are capible of a lot more than we give them credit for. I'm assuming that God wants to accomplish big things through them in their families, in their schools, and in their culture and that teenagers are completely capible of doing it. They just need encouragment, people who believe in them, and the resources to do so.

    Teaching spiritual depth doesn't necessarily have to be boring and confusing for those not at that "level." If I'm personally at a place that is spiritually deep, then hopefully I naturally communicate that with excitement and passion that is contagious, not boring lectures and quiet, "Sit down a listen to me" talks. Spiritual depth is something that is caught more than it is taught.

    You guys are really pushing my buttons and making me think about what's important and what's not. Thanks!

  • Ann

    One of my biggest beefs about YM (and it includes my own faint memory of being a youth) is the "bait and switch" that goes on – we pretend to all about the fun to the non-Christian then sock 'em hard with the Bible. Or we promise the Christian student that "this is the place where you can grow deep with God" yet we cater to the lowest element -those that are only there for fun. Both approaches are crazy and dishonest.

    Tim, I think you're getting close to seeing the point but in addition to saying it's about relationships and our offering unconditional love and acceptance, we offer, as Christ's ambassadors, reconcilation and transformation. I have a relative who belongs to a cult that emphasizes great relationships, offers unconditional love and acceptance -it's why she joined. What makes us as Christians different is that we , in Christ alone, "have the words of eternal life."
    If we aren't somehow, in some way communicating that life-saving, life-changing power of the Cross, how are we different from the cult or even the afterschool club? We could just have Christian "Raves" because afterall they're fun and you get to hang out with great people.
    I have nothing against fun, just when it's used as a ruse or as an end in itself. I'm also opposed to a person who teaches God's Word as though it is a subject in school to be mastered rather than as the soul-penetrating Sword of the Spirit that it is. A leader that truly has gone deeper in his/her walk knows it's not about grinding the Bible into their charges, but about modelling that walk out before the students on a consistent, daily basis.

  • I think balance is really important. A solid message is crucial…but i do think that time to hang-out, socialize and play some games builds community and can be just as important. It's easy as adults to forget what it was like to be 15, 16, 17 years old. I think that when we lose sight of this, it maybe time to move on (I did).

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