Five People You Want On Your Youth Ministry Team

One of the most fun parts of my job as a youth pastor is getting to work with an amazing team of adult leaders. If you’re trying to do youth ministry on your own without a team around you, you’re making youth ministry way too hard on yourself. Here are five people you want to have on your youth ministry team. If you don’t have them, keep searching, looking, and asking until you do:

The constant encourager
Ministry can be tough, and you need someone who will support and encourage you as a leader through the difficult times. This person isn’t a blind follower who compliments you no matter what, but rather a solid friend who cheers you on and constantly reminds you that God is still in the business of transforming lives, even when things don’t seem to be going well.

The emergency go-to guy/gal
Hopefully it never happens, but eventually, an illness or family emergency is likely going to keep you from a sermon, youth group, or event at the last minute. It’s always nice to have someone that you know can confidently step in for you should the need arise.

The opposite gender mentor
As a male youth pastor, it’s not uncommon for a high school girl to let me know about a pretty intense issue going on in her life that she really needs to process through with a female mentor. When that happens, there are a few women on our team I know I can connect that high school girl with quickly. Make sure you have at least one leader of the opposite gender that you can send a student of the opposite gender to when needed.

The “I need you to occupy the group for 20 minutes” person
Things don’t always happen as planned in youth ministry, and it’s not uncommon during an event or a trip to have a change in schedule that leaves your group milling around a deserted parking lot with nothing to do. During these moments, you need someone you can tell, “Could you come up with something for them to do while I go figure this out?”

The prayer warrior
Leading can be difficult, and you need someone who’s constantly praying for your leadership and the ministry you lead. In addition, it’s great to have someone you can text before a tough meeting with a student and ask if they would pray for you during the meeting.

What other people do you really want on your youth ministry team?

Video of the Week: "Don’t Rob the Youth" from the Gospel Coalition

I love this conversation about the role of youth ministry in the local church, especially the question of how to integrate students into the broader church. Well worth five minutes of your time:

Don’t Rob the Youth from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Helping Teenagers Respond to What They’ve Heard

“Who can tell me what we talked about last week?”

I’m really hoping that I’m not the only one who has asked that question in front of a group of teenagers—most of whom heard my message just one week prior—and received nothing but silence in response.

Or perhaps you’ve experienced this: you deliver a passionate message at youth group about how Jesus told his followers they would be recognized as belonging to him by how they love one another (John 13:34-35), only to later overhear a group of girls gossiping about another girl in the youth group.

These kinds of experiences can deflate, discourage, and sometimes even anger us. Isn’t anyone listening? Don’t my hours of message preparation and writing small group questions matter to any of these teenagers? What am I doing wrong?

Since I’ve had more than my share of those (and similar) circumstances as a youth pastor, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I can do to deliver messages that actually stick and actually matter. And after all that thinking, here is what I’ve learned: the hardest part about preaching to or leading a small group of teenagers isn’t the preparation, and it isn’t the delivery or leading the discussion.

The hardest part is getting your message or Bible study to make even one bit of difference in a teenager’s life.

The theologically astute of you will no doubt remind me that we as youth workers are simply the planters, the ones who water the seeds. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to make anything grow. That being said (and affirmed), I still think we can be better planters and watering cans by doing one thing better: making it crystal clear what we expect teenagers to do with what they just heard, read, and discussed.

It doesn’t matter if you’re leading a small group Bible study or preaching to hundreds of junior and senior high students; unless you help them understand what they are supposed to do with what they’ve just heard, they’re likely to disregard—or forget altogether—just about everything they’ve taken in. And if you’re not doing that, then all the hard work and time you put into your preparation is just going to waste. Here are some ways to help teenagers internalize and respond to what they just heard:

Teach and preach with transformation in mind, not just information. It’s easy to make the mistake of approaching a lesson or message by asking only “What do these teenagers need to know?” It’s just as crucial to ask this question as well: “How can God use this information to transform their lives?”

Choose one “big idea” and make it clear. Teenagers are more likely to know what to do with what they heard if they can actually remember what they heard. Too many messages are actually three or four mini-sermons stitched together. Make your main point clear and repeat it several times.

Connect the dots for them. Don’t assume that when students hear the parable of the unforgiving servant, they understand without a doubt what it means for their lives. Rely heavily on statements such as, “If this is true, then it means that I need to forgive someone who has hurt me, even if I think they don’t deserve it.”

Provide a doable “next step” for teenagers to take. None of us can perfectly live out any of Jesus’ teaching, so provide a simple but challenging “next step” that will help teenagers begin to live out what they’ve heard. “Go and make disciples of all the nations” can’t be done in one day, so help them start by challenging them to pray for one friend they can tell about Jesus.

Send reminders throughout the week. If you challenged your group to serve someone anonymously during the week, you might post on Facebook, “Praying for you all as you serve someone anonymously…keep putting others first!” You can also do this via text if you lead a small group.

What are some ways that you’ve helped teenagers respond to what they’ve heard?

Youth Ministry is Just a Fad

I’ve been a youth pastor for a little over ten years now. I believe deeply in what I do and in the kind of ministry I lead. Not only do I lead a ministry to high school students, but I also seek to equip youth leaders in their ministry by maintaining this blog and writing youth ministry curriculum. I believe that God has used youth ministry to help teenagers come to know his Son Jesus and grow in a relationship with him. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be doing what I do.

So why do I think that youth ministry is just a fad?

When I search the whole of church history, I see a host of things that were “big” (and even effective) at one point in history, but after a period of time, they became less central to the Church and its mission: Cathedrals in Europe, Christian monasticism, traveling revival preachers, and the song “Pharaoh Pharaoh” all come to mind. While we still see vestiges of those things today, one can’t deny that they are more a part of our history than they are our present. I don’t think youth ministry is immune to that fate.

So yes; I do think youth ministry is a fad. It’s a great tool, and I’ve seen it used by God to—by his grace—change many teenagers’ and families’ lives over the years. I also pray that God would keep using youth ministry, because the truth is, I love it. But at the end of the day, it’s just a tool, much like those cathedrals. We shouldn’t forget that youth ministry (as we would recognize it) is less than one hundred years old. I wouldn’t be surprised if I lived to see the day when youth ministry as we know it played a much, much smaller role in the Church than it does today. A lot can change in fifty years, and in our changing culture, the church may discover a more effective way for reaching teenagers—who, by the way, will likely “look” much different in fifty years than they do today.

Here’s my point: I love youth ministry, and I know most of the people who will read this post do, too. But it’s my hope that youth pastors would be committed to something much bigger than youth ministry; and that something is Jesus and his mission.

You shouldn’t be a youth pastor just because you love youth ministry.

You should be a youth pastor because you love Jesus and because you believe that Jesus can change lives–especially teenagers’ lives. The difference between those two things is subtle, but important. Remember, youth ministry is just a tool that God uses, and when ministry leaders start loving the tool more than the God who gave them that tool, things get out of order very quickly. We start wanting to maintain the ministry tools and models that we love more than we passionately pursue Jesus and the mission he gave us.

Remember all those cathedrals in Europe? For the most part, they are simply tourist attractions now. They are beautiful, but at the end of the day, they are a fad, reminders of a different kind of ministry in a different time. History tells us that unless Jesus comes back soon, “Youth Ministry” will also become a relic of the past. By all means, if God has called you to youth ministry, serve and lead to the best of your abilities. But keep in mind that youth ministry is just a tool. So, choose to be more committed to Jesus and his mission than the tool he gave you to use. If you are, God will have no shortage of work for you to do.

Video of the Week: Small Group Promo Video

I love this video (inspired by Shoot Christians Say). In the past year, we’ve realized at our church that we’ve been using a lot of lingo that might be familiar to “insiders” (people who’ve been around our church awhile) but is confusing to the very people we want to reach: people who haven’t been to our church and may not yet know Jesus. So, we poked a little fun at ourselves with this video as we transition to actually calling our small groups “Small Groups.” Enjoy:

Small Groups Promo from The Heights Community on Vimeo.

The Supposed Superpowers of a Youth Pastor

Youth pastors are pretty great people. I might be biased (being a youth pastor and all), but I make that claim having known a lot of youth pastors. Youth workers not only tend to have big hearts, but they have some talents that sometimes border on superhuman feats of strength and skill. They can pull off an amazing summer camp on a tight budget. Part-time and bi-vocational youth pastors somehow find a way to prepare a Bible study each week and care for students between their two other jobs. And most youth pastors can still genuinely love teenagers even after a night of zero sleep at a lock-in.

Despite all that, youth pastors aren’t the superheroes some make us out to be.

Now, I don’t think that I’m too bad of a youth pastor. I’ve learned a ton from experience and mentors, and I even have a fancy degree on my wall. But I’m no superhero. And even if I were, I probably would use my powers for my own benefit, and not for others. Still, I’ve found that some people believe that all youth pastors have a certain set of superpowers. Today, I’d like to set the record straight and let the world know that there are some superpowers that youth pastors don’t in fact possess:

I can’t make your teenager come to church. Listen, I really want your teenager to come to church to experience a loving environment and hear about Jesus. But if I could will him to come to church, I would have already done that by now. I’m happy to give him a call and extend a friendly invite or meet him for coffee if he’d be up for that. I’m flattered that you think your teenager would go to church if I told him to. I just don’t have that kind of influence over every teenager’s actions.

I can’t organize a youth service project to [insert major construction project that would likely require a professional here]. Serving others is a non-negotiable part of following Jesus, and so we do encourage our students to serve at a large group service project or in their small groups. But I’ve found that ideas for service projects that begin with, “You know, the youth really should…” often involve more power tools than I’m comfortable giving a seventh-grade girl.

I can’t organize a gathering of all of our teenagers on twenty-four hours notice, no matter how great the event or cause might be. At least a couple of times a year, a well-meaning person will call me to tell me about a great event coming up in the next one or two days, and that I should get “all the youth” on the bus and take them. If I had that kind of ability, it would save me a ton of time promoting our upcoming fall retreat.

I can’t make teenagers stop whispering and giggling in church. Or turn off their cell phone, take off their hat, or bring their Bible with them. Or any other behavior you desire. Well, I might be able to do it occasionally, and if I’m sitting with a teenager who’s playing Candy Crush during service, I’ll politely ask them to stop. But in general, you can’t control every aspect of a teenager’s behavior, because when you try to, they’ll realize you don’t love them without any strings attached and leave. So take a cue from Jesus and love teenagers despite their imperfections. Besides, that’s how Jesus loves you, too.

I can’t love your teenager as much as I love my own kids. I love your family. I sleep with my phone by my bed just in case you have an emergency that can’t wait until the morning. I’ve turned around my car on the way to a dinner date with my wife to rush to the hospital to be with your teenager in the Emergency Room. And I’ve spent Christmas Eve with your kids (and away from my own family) because their dad died suddenly the day before. I do love your teenager, and that’s part of what it means to be a youth pastor. But I need to set boundaries, because the kids that get majority of my time and love are my own.

Lies We Tell Teenagers About Their Suffering

Every teenager you work with suffers. Suffering is a common experience we all share, yet it is one that we talk very little about in the church world. It’s no wonder why we avoid talking about suffering. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts, and there are no answers that bring about a resolution to suffering this side of heaven. I can fix a lot of things, but I can’t fix suffering. So, we prefer to ignore it, pretend it is gone with the passage of time, or numb ourselves to it with our favorite distraction.

Suffering is a central theme of the Bible, yet it’s one that occupies far too little of our time in youth ministry. Many proclaim a desire to bring the Gospel to the lost as Paul did; precious few care to join him in his prison cell. And because we ignore Jesus’ call to suffer with him as he did, we also lead others astray in the area of suffering. If every teenager we encounter suffers, then suffering is a topic we have to get right when we teach, counsel, mentor, and lead. Unfortunately, I believe we get it wrong more often than not. Here are four lies we tell teenagers about their suffering:

Lie #1: Jesus will alleviate your suffering. Jesus does not always alleviate our suffering–he didn’t even do it for Paul! (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.) Some people walk with a limp their entire lives, and it never goes away this side of heaven.

Lie #2: God is allowing you to suffer so you can learn something or be able to help someone else. I have no doubt that God uses suffering for his purpose and for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) and that through our suffering, we can help others. But God does not allow a woman to be raped just so that she can help another woman one day who has gone through something similar. Stop saying stupid things.

Lie #3: God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I’m pretty sure the “Bible verse” that brought us this gem is in the same passage as “God helps those who help themselves.” If I could handle it, I wouldn’t need God.

Lie #4: Following Jesus means less suffering. I’m not even sure were to start, expect to suggest to anyone who believes this to read the Gospels. Then the rest of the New Testament. And then the entire Bible.

What other lies do we tell teenagers about suffering?

Video of the Week: John Piper, Matt Chandler, and David Platt on Social Justice and Young Evangelicals

Really, really interesting conversation among John Piper, Matt Chandler, and David Platt on social justice and younger evangelical Christians. Definitely worth ten minutes of your time, especially since teenagers (to me, at least) seem geared towards projects and movements that involve social justice.

Some questions to think about as you watch the video:

  • Do you agree that social justice needs to be tied to personal evangelism?
  • How can we help teenagers “be where they are” and serve, love, and share about Jesus where God has planted them?
  • What role do you think social justice issues ought to play in youth ministry teaching and programming?

Social Justice and Young Evangelicals: Encouragements and Concerns from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

What’s in Your Youth Ministry? Part 3: Love

Today is the last in a three-part series on what needs to be in your youth ministry (and mine as well). So far, we’ve covered the first (Jesus) and the second (Grace). The third? Love.

Yeah, love. I know, it seems kind of cheesy. Not very strategic, maybe. But very, very important.

One Sunday night at a youth group in a previous youth ministry position, a few of the teenagers got into a shouting match with each other. Though the fight was over silly, surface level things, it revealed a strong dislike–possibly even hate–that existed between two “cliques” in our youth group.

I was so discouraged over the fight, I don’t think I even finished the lesson. After youth group, the adult leaders stayed at church for a while and talked over what we should do and how to move forward. One leader, upset about what had happened because of how much he cared for our students, said, “This place is supposed to be different.” His point was that at school, on their athletic teams, and even at home, students don’t experience a lot of love. But among followers of Jesus, it should be different.

Your church and youth ministry should be different.

Rather than a culture of jealously and competition, teenagers should experience in church a culture of unconditional love. Teenagers know what life is like in our world, and they are looking for something entirely different. Will they find it in your church and youth ministry? Here are a few places to start.

Lead a loving team of youth leaders. If you expect to create a culture in your youth ministry where loving one another is the norm, it has to start with the youth leaders. How does your team treat one another? How do you handle conflict among the team? Do your youth leaders enjoy being around each other and hanging out outside of the student ministry? The teenagers you lead will pick up on what happens in your team.

Be a place where outsiders are loved. A loving church and youth ministry will be a place where outsiders–teenagers who aren’t friends with anyone in the group–are loved and accepted as they are. Too often the teenagers we work with are told at school, at home, or on their soccer teams, “You are only accepted as long as you can contribute something. Be the kind of place where teenagers are loved from the first time they walk through your doors–that may be something they have never experienced before.

Give students an opportunity to show love in difficult ways. Help students to practice showing love when it’s hard to do. Love is not love if it’s convenient. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that says that you only have to love someone as long as it remains convenient to do so. Encourage students to love in a way that requires at least a small amount of sacrifice. This can happen in a variety of ways: an inner-city mission trip, a service project, or a lesson on how to love our families when it’s hard. No, you won’t change the world in an afternoon of stocking shelves at a food pantry, but you will help students take a step away from selfishness to loving others.

What are other ways to foster love in our youth ministries?