It is my heartfelt prayer that as you read this, you are encouraged and inspired. Today’s youth are incredible. They demonstrate passion, power and faith that is unprecedented. They are yearning to be a part of a cause much bigger than they are. A cause that urges us to minister the Kingdom of Heaven in our community. It’s our task as leaders, to harness their potential, disciple it and release it on to the next generation. What a privilege and what a responsibility!
Jesus gave us such a wonderful example of how to disciple and mentor in Matthew 4:19. There are three distinct parts to this scripture, and these provide a framework for us.
- Come follow ME. Journey with me, do life with me, and learn from me by watching what I do and who I am.
- I will make you. Allow me the honour of linking you with the knowledge, skills and experience you need to become the person God destined you to be.
- Fishers of men. Go and offer yourself to love and serve your community as Jesus did.
Jesus chose His disciples when they were not particularly gifted in the areas of prayer, evangelism, deliverance or teaching. As He journeyed with them, He chose not to ‘clone them,’ rather to release them in to the path God had laid out for them. Shawn Boltz says that we ‘don’t have authority over that which we don’t love.’ Before you start, it’s important to ask the Father to show you His love for the youth in your community and to see them through His eyes – with the future He has for them. Youth ministry rarely (if ever) produces immediate fruit, so it’s important to keep God’s big picture in your mind and in your heart.
1. Come Follow Me
Note there is no expectation here on the disciples to do anything initially but ‘follow’ Jesus. Jesus did the ministry initially and they ‘followed.’
It’s common for church communities to load youth up with responsibilities and jobs to keep them connected in to church. But Jesus didn’t do it this way. In fact, the ministry/jobs came at the very end of his process.
How do we interpret, ‘COME FOLLOW ME?’
Our expectation is for you to ‘HAVE FUN!’ Let’s face it, most teens are able to turn up and have a good time. While this is a great beginning, they can’t stay here.
SET THE LEAD
Live a life fully in love with God, with your heart, mind and soul fixed on Him and not the circumstances around you. Youth can only follow you to where you are, so be in a place of constantly living in awe of God’s love for you.
Graham’s first and major bit of advice for youth pastors is, “Turn up. Turn up. Turn up.” In an unstable world, they need consistency – if we are to be imitators of God, He is faithful and consistent and we need to demonstrate this to a generation who have had inconsistency scream at them continually.
‘Turn up’ means to turn up at their soccer games, school awards nights, and other events outside of church activities. We love our youth and want them to succeed, so it is a privilege not a duty to cheer them on in the areas of their life they excel at.
‘Turn up’ is not just Friday nights, Wednesday nights and Sundays.
Of all the characteristics of God to demonstrate, apart from His love and faithfulness, youth today need us to encourage them. The world outside of God is crazy and confusing. We develop a culture of encouragement and discourage sarcasm (even it is ‘seems’ cool to put others down). We actively look for opportunities to encourage and cheer our youth on.
Have you ever noticed how many times Jesus took His disciples to a quiet place? Have you ever stopped and considered how often you take your team/youth away to a quiet place? No, not to have a meeting – just to go somewhere to have some plain old fun. Discipline comes out of relationship, and if the youth are to move forward in the discipleship process, you can guarantee you will need to have some sticky conversations down the track. These are most fruitful when they come out of a healthy relationship.
Graham sends out a personal message via social media every Monday to literally hundreds of youth and youth leaders right across our nation. This reminds them they have an older person cheering them on and believing in them. It keeps us connected with youth and keeps the relationship open so they know they can turn to Graham when the storms hit.
2. I Will Make You
Everywhere Jesus went, He taught spiritual truths. His disciples could not complain about being spiritually hungry. It’s important for us to help youth understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ before they do the ‘what.’ In today’s society, more than ever, we need to help our youth understand the importance of ‘being’ sons of God rather than just ‘doing’ ministry to fulfil a vision of a church.
Invest in taking your youth to training events, guest ministries and concerts bigger than you. Allow them to learn from others so their capacity can be increased. It’s especially important to take them to events and speakers that are strong in areas and giftings that you aren’t. This gives them a balanced approach.
Release your youth to be who God intended them to be. While it’s important to have a Kingdom culture in your group, it’s never healthy to expect them to be clones or to be someone they were never meant to be. Helping them to find their identity in Christ overcomes this.
We accidentally stumbled across a concept we now call LAC (Live At the Chapel). This has been a lifesaver for our youth. About ten years ago, we noticed that youth were coming to their leaders for prayer and advice. While there is nothing wrong with this, it wasn’t training the youth to connect with God, it was promoting connection with the youth leader.
We started LAC once a month in response to this problem ten years ago, and it hasn’t stopped. In the school holidays, on our mission trips, we have LAC every night.
What is LAC? We turn up after youth, put on worship music, have our Bibles and journals, and wait for God to turn up. It’s a way of training the youth to connect with God for themselves. Each LAC is different. We wait on God following His lead, but the end result is training youth to connect with God. Some weeks we read a passage from the Bible and journal our thoughts, other weeks we worship with greater zeal than ever before, other times it’s about praying for each other or leaving burdens at the cross or encouraging each other. Each time we come, we are training the youth (following God’s direction) to connect with God.
LAC is a safe place to learn to pray for others. It’s a place where hurts are healed, burdens are shared, and youth feel encouraged and strengthened to face the month ahead.
3. Fishers of Men
Our job is not only to train our youth, but to release them into their God given ministry path. Once they are secure in knowing their identity as sons of a loving Father, the time comes for them to exercise their faith and serve their God.
IDENTIFY THEIR STRENGTHS AND RELEASE THEM IN THESE AREAS
If a teen is not an extrovert, don’t expect them to be one. Release them to be who God designed them to be. We take our youth on mission trips every school holidays and every trip we remind them to be themselves. That way, when they minister, they will each reach a different part of the community. We are a body and need to function in unity as one.
MISTAKES ARE JUST LEARNING OPPORTIUNITIES
Teens by nature of being teens will let you down and mess things up. Forgive them and encourage them to keep trying. We develop a culture where mistakes are seen as learning experiences and not full stops.
When we release our teens, the goals are clear, the expectations are clear and the feedback is always personal and constructive. We never give negative feedback publicly but we do discuss ways of improvement. Every day at the end of a mission or outreach we sit in a circle and debrief. This is a great chance to celebrate the successes and alter the plan if need be based on the learning experiences.
KEEP PUSHING THE ‘CHICKEN LINE’
We talk about our ‘chicken line’ as that point we come to and decide to chicken out and not go any further. Everyone has their own ‘chicken line’ because we are all on our own journey. We develop a strong self-awareness of the concept of the ‘chicken line’ and encourage our guys to identify a ‘chicken line’ each mission/season and ask God to help them push through.
This sometimes means fighting for the youth. When we travel, our youth are trained and ready to share a testimony, offering talk or communion message. We don’t set them up to fail, they are well prepared and even though for most of them, the idea of giving a communion message in a church is well and truly ‘crossing their chicken line,’ it sets them up for greatness from an early age.
I want to end with a quote from Joel Holm in his book, ‘Church Centred Mission.’ It’s my prayer that as you read through this, it will help you understand that the cost involved in taking messy teens into your world, and pouring your heart and wallet in to them (day after day after day after decade) is worth it. Sure, some may fall away – the parable of the sower suggests the plan isn’t 100% fool proof, and even Jesus lost one disciple along the way- but for those who stick the journey through, it’s worth it!!!!
“The pastors were asked to list the top five characteristics of the leaders they would recruit to work with them in leading their church. Regardless of the region, the answers given by the pastors were the same. Foundational character traits, such as faithfulness, prayer, humility, sacrifice and obedience were listed. The Bible itself lists some of these characteristics. However, in contrast to the lists created by the pastors is the list Jesus must have had in His hand when selecting the 12 disciples. Rather than being men of prayer, He chose men who couldn’t stay awake for one hour. Rather than looking for humility, He chose those who would spend long hours arguing over who would be the greatest. Rather than identifying a teachable spirit, He chose those like Peter, who would argue at statements or actions made by Jesus. Rather than selecting those committed to the cause, He chose those who would shamelessly abandon Him at His greatest hour of need.”
May this encourage you as you disciple young champions of the faith!!!