That Jesus Will Be Lifted Up In Youth Ministries

10 Things You Should Know about Youth Ministry

That Jesus Will Be Lifted Up In Youth Ministries

This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

1. If you aren’t engaging parents, you’re wasting your time

A mentor told me early in my youth ministry career, “There’s no such thing as effective youth ministry; there’s only effective youth and family ministry.

” Indeed, a congregation must educate parents on their role as the primary spiritual leader of their kids and then provide tools for them to effectively lead their kids.

Effective youth ministry means investing both in students and in parents.

2. Trying to beat the world at its own game is a losing battle

The church will never be nearly as entertaining as the world. There is nothing wrong with fun at youth group. If we are a family in Christ, then we should enjoy our fellowship.

At the same time, if youth ministries are trying to use fun and games as the primary attraction, Netflix, PlayStation, iPhones, sports, keg parties, etc. will beat the church every time.

We can dominate the world in the realm of meaning, purpose, hope, peace, joy, and love in Christ, and should make those principles the attraction of our ministries.

3. Kids are not stupid

Kids are being challenged intellectually at school. We shouldn’t dumb down what we teach them at church. Kids are capable of learning theology, biblical studies, and apologetics adults. Churches should not shy away from challenging kids to grow in their knowledge of God’s word and truth.

4. If you do nothing else, you must—at the very least—enable a child to accurately define the gospel

You can’t guarantee that they will accept the gospel and live in it, but at the very least you should ensure that a kid can understand that Christianity in its most simple terms revolves around God’s work to redeem and reconcile sinners to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Or, in other words, they need to know that Christianity is first about what God has done for them in Christ, and, secondly, about what we do for God in response.

Some scholars would suggest that clarity on the gospel is the single strongest predictor of whether a child will stick with Christianity or not down the road.

Some scholars would suggest that clarity on the gospel is the single strongest predictor of whether a child will stick with Christianity or not down the road.

5. Kids are more into a sincere person than a fun person

Many people think that an effective youth minister or volunteer needs to an energetic, “super fun” pied piper. In reality, kids trust, are attracted to, and listen to a person who is sincere. People who deeply internalize the gospel and understand just how much God loves them, often have an attractive level of comfort in their own skin.

They also tend to listen well. These qualities transcend age, and are more important to kids than someone with a thousand great jokes. Consequently, people who are not “super fun” are not disqualified from youth ministry.

Furthermore, older adults can serve as a valuable asset as volunteers in a church’s youth ministry, even if they don’t have the energy or “coolness” of a twenty-five year old.

6. Expository Word ministry “works” with young people

Paul’s famous charge to Timothy – “preach the Word” – from 2 Timothy 4 is just as applicable to youth pastors as to adult pastors. At any age, it is God’s Word is meant to do the “heavy lifting” in gospel ministry.

There are, of course, pedagogical techniques to develop, age-appropriate illustrations to be utilized, and contextualized language to employ.

At the root of youth ministry, though, one should find the same basic convictions about the importance of a steady diet of expository Bible teaching for conversion, spiritual growth, and equipping for ministry.

7. Young people can be equipped to serve the church now

It is true that there is a temporary nature to youth ministry work; students are with us for a short “season” of life, and often we will never get to see what they look as adult members and leaders in the local church.

Still, even in their years of youth, our job as youth ministers is to equip them to “do the work of ministry” right now in the context of the wider local church body (see Ephesians 4:13).

Young people have much to offer to the wider church body right now, and youth ministers should be diligent in releasing them for ministry and service.

8. You may not be the one to reap the harvest . . . and that’s OK!

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” says the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6. Youth ministers may, at times, experience the joys of seeing young people converted, or growing in faith and obedience by leaps and bounds.

Other times, they may be called to the faithful, difficult, and sometimes unrewarding work of “planting” the seeds of the Word and the gospel in the lives and hearts of young people.

God gives the growth, my friends; we are called to be faithful to bear witness to him no matter who plants, who waters, and who gets to reap the harvest!

9. As a youth leader, you need to remember your identity in Christ

I can’t tell you how many times I had to “check myself” during my years in student ministry and say: “Jon, don’t let your self worth be determined by whether or not teenagers think you are cool!” It sounds ridiculous when we say that out loud, but far too often, we are almost unconsciously finding our identity in whether or not our students us. Youth minister, you are a child of God, bought with the blood of Christ, and set apart for gospel ministry to his glory. Come back to that fact–daily–and find your identity there. Then, go out and serve your students with joy and freedom . . . even if not all of them think you’re cool all the time.

10. Youth ministry is eternally significant work

I have known the metaphorical “pat on the head” often given to youth pastors by older, more accomplished Christian leaders. While usually not communicated overtly, the message from such men and women can sometimes be: “Good for you. Great to have you working with the kids. You’ll graduate some day to some real adult ministry.”

Friends, your daily work is eternally significant and valuable. You are speaking God’s Word into students’ lives at one of the most strategic and malleable points in their development.

You are bringing the gospel to bear on their hearts and souls during “trajectory-setting” years of schooling, growth, and maturity. God is using you. Stay faithful. Stay encouraged.

You may not know until eternity the impact you have for Jesus Christ and his Church.

Popular Articles in This Series

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Is ‘Youth Ministry’ in the Bible?

That Jesus Will Be Lifted Up In Youth Ministries

Photo by Zachary Staines

Often I hear it said that “youth ministry” is not mentioned in scripture.

Some have said we should do away with youth ministry because of this.

It’s true that we may not find particularly helpful guidelines about which games to play at camp or how to structure a youth ministry program in Scripture. But when it comes to how God’s people are to connect the young to the community of faith, you can bet the Bible addresses these very issues.

What is interesting about this reality is how far much of present-day youth ministry has veered off this track.

I’m writing not to indict as much as to confess. I, as much as anyone else, have been a purveyor of the typical youth ministry models. It has only been in the last handful of years that I have had the time, space, and privilege of reflecting upon the youth ministry movement. In this time I have become painfully aware of my many missteps.

What is the Goal of Youth Ministry?

In the classroom when I ask my students about the goal of youth ministry, often they are stumped – as if they hadn’t thought about it before. Eventually they mention things “getting kids saved,” maybe “preserving purity” and not unusually “providing an alternative social structure.” These goalsare not bad, but fall short of what youth ministry can be.

My own working definition of the purpose and goal of youth ministry is “to integrate young people into the body and mission of Jesus Christ.” The idea of “integration” denotes being a part that is in harmony with the whole.

In other words,the individual findshis or her place of meaning and purpose within the whole.

To do this within the Body of Christ is to know Jesus Christ, follow Jesus Christ, and then to live as Jesus Christ has modeled for us to live, becoming part of his mission to reconcile the world to himself. This, for me, is a compelling purpose.

Two Biblical Anchors

I have found the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and Paul’s treatise on the “body” (I Corinthians 12:12-26) to be two primary sources of the Bible’s instruction that affect our practice of youth ministry. I’m confident that these are not the only sources provided in scripture, but they have been very helpful to meas starting points.

1. Love the Lord Your God
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength . . .” So begins the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6:4.

The Shema is a central and primary declaration of the Hebrew worldview.In the Ancient Near East this was a radical declaration of monotheism and belonging to a personal God who knew and cared for and about Israel.

So important to the identity of Israel, the Shemawas ly taught to children as soon as they could speak! 1

Implicit in these verses are that the primary instructors of children (and youth) in faith are parentsand other close family members. Research confirms that this is still true today.

The National Study of Youth and Religion concluded that, generally speaking, young persons will end up following the same religious path as their parents.

2 As a parent, this is both encouraging and frightening.

So the first take-away about how we are to practice youth ministry is that it must meaningfully involve parents. In my experience, this has typically been one of the most significant holes in how I have structured and practiced ministry. Yet this is not a minor detail of our craft – it is a HUGE miss – if we are not in fact involved in ministry to and with parents.

According to biblical scholar Patrick Miller:

The picture [provided here] is that of a family continually in lively conversation about the meaning of their experience with God and God’s expectations of them. Parental teaching of the children by conversation about ‘the words,’ study of God’s instruction, and reflection on it (cf. Ps. 1:2 and Josh. 1:8) is to go on in the family and the community . . . parents should teach their children in such a way that their last thoughts before falling asleep and their first words upon getting up are about the Lord’s command. 3

Of course for this to be done well it ideally starts at birth. One small way we attempt to address this in our home is through our daily reading of a Psalm at breakfast and our work as a family to memorize key passages in scripture each evening before bed. Our kids are sponges when it comes to memorization! They absolutely shame my wife and me.

It seems clear – from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as well asrecent sociological research – that parents are the primary influence of a young person’s faith. So does this mean that youth group kids without Christian parents are hopeless? How ought the Church respond to and value youth within the community of faith? I believe these issues are addressed in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

2. All the Parts of the Body
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 the apostle takes on the importance and value of each and every part of the body, describing the Church as the body of Christ.

In doing so, Paul is taking a common metaphor of his day and reappropriating it with new meaning.

Ordinarily this figure of the body was “used to urge members of the subordinate classes to stay in their places in the social order and not to upset the natural equilibrium of the body by rebelling against their superiors.

” 4 Paul instead uses this device to argue for the “need for diversity in the body (vv.14-20) and for the interdependence among the members (vv.21-26).” 5 Further, Paul uses this metaphor to “urge all members to utilize their gifts for the common good rather than to urge the subordination of some members to others for the good of the whole.” 5

Paul is telling the Corinthians – and by extension, you and me – how important all members are to the proper function of the Body and that we are actually all needed. Everyone has something important to contribute—their very selves—and this diversity is vital. We are all one through the same baptism, regardless ofwhen ours occurred.

We have solidarity with the young, old, infirm, differently-abled, and so on. And if we take Paul at his word, each and every one is not only allowed to be a part but is vital to the proper functioning of the body! Young people are a necessary part of the body and ought to be valued as much as any other part.

And this is true whether or not their parents are actively involved in the church or their spiritual nurture.

Paul’s strong statement leads us to draw some provocative conclusions in the case of the Church and the current state of youth ministry. It does not seem a stretch to see why the youth of the Church “feet” and “ears” 7  over against that of “hands” and “eyes” (vv.15-16).

Often it is the young whoare treated as if the other (older) parts “do not need them” (v. 21). 8  The young, other marginalized populations, are often denied access to positions of leadership and meaningful roles of ministry within the Church.

And this, it seems, is the “natural order of things” 9  in our world. However, the whole reason for this passage may be to point out that the body of Christ doesn’t function according to the natural order of things.

Instead, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we treat with greater honor” (vv 22-23).

So we are to value and to make space for all parts of the body regardless of age, income, status, family structure, or physical characteristics. Challenging? For sure! But this is what it means to be the Body of Christ.

Consider for a moment how your congregation might be different if the leadership truly valued young people as much as those with significant financial resources.

What could young persons do, on a weekly basis, in the worship service?

Which leadership roles could be made available to middle school and high school students? For example, could students assist on the tech team? Or take the offering? Or help prepare the communion elements? Or play in the worship band? Or perform special music or read scripture?

If young people are truly valued by a congregation then it will show in the visibility of young people in a congregation’s weekly and public ministry, as well as the ways teenagers are involved throughout the week serving the church. Some churches make sure at least one student serves on each church committee (yes, even finance). Others look to students to serve—and sometimes lead—in local ministries of compassion.

The idea here is to do something. It can be a very small and simple start (often those are best), but start we must if young persons are to be integrated into the body and mission of Jesus Christ.

Action Points

  • What biblical texts most resonate with your understanding of youth ministry or youth and family ministry? How do they guide your practice?
  • the passages illustrated in this article, inwhat ways do you see your own ministry aligning with biblical principles? What points of tension or conflict do you see?
  • What role does ministry to and with parents play in your current structure? How could your ministry take a step closer to parents by inviting them into what you are already doing?

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4 Must Haves of Effective Youth Ministry

That Jesus Will Be Lifted Up In Youth Ministries

It was my seventh year in youth ministry when a dad walked into my office and changed everything. He pulled out a chair and asked if we could talk. He looked me right in the eyes and said something that I have never forgotten.

He said, “As a father, I take the role of instilling Christ into the lives of my children very seriously. Because of that responsibility I want to make sure that my kids are involved in a youth program that is Jesus-focused.

So tell me, why I should trust you and the program you run?”

I was speechless, then a big smile came over my face and I told him, “Thank you.” After about an hour of conversation he left feeling comforted and assured that our ministry was a great fit for his daughters.

I had only been at this church for a few weeks and never met his girls until the following week at our youth gathering. This man understood and valued the incredible influence a youth leader and their program can have on children.

I was a veteran of youth ministry and have been a leader of hundreds of students. That was the first time a parent had ever taken a serious interest in my ability to lead.

The problem is, most parents make the assumption that when their child attends their church’s youth program they are going to be surrounded by godly people, be equipped as a disciple of Christ, and be in a Christ centered environment.

Most youth leaders have a calling for ministry and their programs are successful, but there are situations that are not so healthy.

Parents need to take a serious interest in the youth ministry their child is involved with and take time to evaluate and examine four crucial components before making a family commitment to the program. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s spiritual development.

This responsibility is so great, just assuming your child is in a great program isn’t enough, you need to be sure. Here are 4 aspects of youth ministry that I consider to be must-haves:

1) Leadership

For many churches, when they are looking to hire a youth leader, the main focus is on education.  While education is a great quality to look for in a youth leader, it is not the most essential.

  There are many youth directors with a wealth of education who ultimately fail at being a positive impact in the lives of students because they lack an essential ingredient—passion! Your youth leaders need to have a passion for Christ and for students.  Being passionate about something means it is pursued with great enthusiasm.

  If your youth leader is chasing after God’s own heart, they will be a tremendous asset, mentor, and example to the child that you are entrusting them with.

As a result of their passion for Christ and students they have a desire to make sure your child is being fed spiritual truth. They accomplish this by being in constant prayer about the direction the Spirit is guiding them.  They will surrender their plans for the ministry for God’s much greater plans.

They will fight for your child not only on a spiritual level, but a personal one as well.  Most importantly, they will make sure that everything in the ministry God has handed over to them will be authentic.  When a program has Godly leadership, is authentic, and seeks Gods wisdom it will become spiritually healthy.

When that happens, it will naturally grow and you will see spiritual fruit growing in your child. This is what constitutes a truly effective youth ministry.

2) Equipping rather than entertaining

While having fun is important, it should never be nor appear to be the primary goal of the youth ministry. Introducing your child to Christ, developing your child as a disciple, and providing your child with tools that will allow them to grow into a godly man or woman should be the top priority.

Your leader needs to have an overwhelming understanding and dedication to growing as part of the Church. I’ve found the purpose-driven youth ministry model to be a helpful way of defining this for youth.

These 5 “purposes of the church” are found in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, which are passionately explained by Paul in Ephesians 4, and are part of Christ’s prayer in John 17.

The five purposes are worship, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, and ministry. These should be the driving force behind everything your youth ministry does because that is what scripture commands.

  In Acts 2:42-47 the five purposes of the church are mentioned: they fellowshipped, discipled one another, worshipped, ministered, and evangelized.

As a result, verse 47 says, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

3) Culture of care

There is nothing more discouraging when your child feels they cannot relate with a youth leader or the other students.  This happens more often than one would think and the reason is the culture that is in place.

  The culture of your youth program should be one built on love, acceptance, accountability, encouragement, and transparency.

When your child is enveloped in a safe and secure environment, the walls they have built up begin to fall and they become more comfortable with who God created them to be, and as a result, your child will be more willing to share their life struggles and spiritual journey with others.

Creating and living out this culture in your youth ministry is also vital when new students attend.

They feel they are in a place that fully accepts them for who they are regardless of where they are in their relationship with Jesus or the story they come from, and that is an incredible feeling for a young person to have.

  Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 “so we cared for you, because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” This can only happen when a safe, secure, and healthy culture is in place.

4) Partnering with parents

As a parent, you are the most important influence your child will ever have in their relationship with Jesus. However, many parents struggle with setting an example at home, not because they can’t or are unwilling, they just don’t know how.

  That’s why it is essential that your youth program has a partnership mentality. What is a partnership mentality? Your youth staff stresses the importance of working together with parents to set Godly examples in the church, but more importantly, in the home.

This is accomplished by encouraging and equipping parents with tools that they can practice at home. Provide them with unlimited resources that best fit their family.

Your child’s spiritual life will be much greater if they are influenced not only during youth gatherings but at home as well.

Your child faces incredible influences every day, many from earthly standards. It is time we rise up and take our children’s spiritual health and guidance seriously. As a youth ministry veteran and a parent, I cannot emphasize the importance of these qualities enough.

  Please take the time to sit down with the leader of your current youth program and investigate these components.  If you feel your child is in a great place after your meeting, that’s fantastic.

But if you walk away with any doubt, seriously consider finding a new place for your child to spiritually thrive. Don’t assume, be sure.

Listen and subscribe to the new Youth Ministry Collective podcast

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3 Things to Look for in a Youth Minister

That Jesus Will Be Lifted Up In Youth Ministries

I have been in or around youth ministry for 25 years, including more weekend youth conferences than I can possibly count. I have now served in full-time ordained capacities for nine years, and in the churches I’ve served during that time I’ve always supervised or worked closely with the youth staff.

Needless to say, in all this time spent around the church, I’ve seen a heaping ton of youth ministers. Some have had wonderful, fruitful ministries, while others have crumbled faster than an overcooked oatmeal cookie. If I were hiring a youth leader today, I’d want to avoid the oatmeal cookie.

Three Irreducible Traits

I would be looking for three things:

One who loves God and his Word. This seems so basic one might wonder why it’s not just a given. Trust me, it’s not.

 I have seen many youth ministers whose relationship with the Lord was exposed as flimsy (at best) under the pressures of ministry.

 Typically these individuals have found their youth group to be a place of affirmation and acceptance, but not of theological substance. They’ve found a fun job as a youth minister in hopes of continuing to gain affirmation and acceptance.

If I’m hiring a youth worker, I want someone who has made the saving jump from experiencing acceptance in the church community to resting personally and substantively in the gracious acceptance given by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 Qualified candidates must be prepared to be blown off and unappreciated by careless kids and under-discipled parents.

 The youth minister will need to possess the spiritual maturity to believe fully that:

  • All the acceptance and affirmation they will ever need they already have in Jesus Christ.
  • The Bible is a fountain of life, full of God’s true and living riches, attesting to his infinite grace, and authoritative for faith and life.
  • God and his Word are what students need more than anything else.
  • The youth minister’s personal time spent with God and his Word is the fuel for his ministry.

One who loves God’s people. Again basic, right? Not so fast. Ministry requires humility, and if you don’t already have it, youth ministry will either develop it in you or drive you away. Both can be painful.

 Because the fruitful youth minister is personally rooted in God’s love and saturated with his Word, he is already humbled before the Lord.

Therefore, his main concern isn’t being d, but that students hear the gospel of God’s grace over and over again.

“Young adult” is not a requirement, nor is “wildly entertaining.” I’m not looking for someone who has a huge bag of tricks, unless they are particularly skilled in using those tricks to teach students about God’s grace.

 While the effective youth minister will have people skills broad enough to speak intelligibly to both youth and adults, I want someone who desires to make themselves available to students and their families, who can listen, who can teach the Bible in a compelling way, and who can teach others to do the same.

 I don’t want someone who just s going to high school football games, but one who goes to high school football games intent on building relationships with students to the end that these relationships might lead students to know King Jesus.

In short, I don’t want a youth minister who expects a fun job and a prolonged adolescence; I want someone who comes to the position with a robust theology of Christian ministry.

One who is professionally aware. I once worked with a youth minister who, despite having a lot of talent, was perpetually frustrated at the lack of respect he got from parents and fellow church staff. “How much of your own money would you be willing to pay towards gaining the respect you desire?” I asked him.

“I don’t know, $1,000?” he answered. “Then take that $1,000 and buy yourself some professional clothing.” He never did. He continued to wear flip-flops and torn-up shorts to staff meetings and parent gatherings, and, despite having a wife and child, he was never viewed as an adult.

It may be entirely appropriate to act, dress, and talk the lead student around students, but the qualified youth ministry candidate understands that adults need to see and feel the children are being led by a responsible adult. Part of being a responsible adult means dressing professionally in a professional setting.

 The expectation will of course vary by congregation, but in ministry situations the youth minister shouldn’t dress much differently than the pastor or the parents. Here are a few other things that will go a long way toward winning the trust and loyalty of parents and staff:

  • Be on time. Punctuality is important. Call ahead if it looks you’ll be late. Though everyone will get caught in traffic occasionally, make sure you don’t create a reputation for tardiness. As one coach used to tell his players, “If you can’t be on time, be early.”
  • Return phone calls and e-mails promptly. If you receive a contentious e-mail, for example, then pray, make sure you’re calm, and return it with a phone call.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do, and don’t make promises you ly won’t keep. Your calendar and to-do list aren’t just important for you; as one of whom much action and communication is required, how you keep track of where you’re supposed to be and what needs to be done is vital for the credibility of your ministry. If you’re not particularly organized or gifted at planning details, make sure you have someone around you who is.

Oatmeal cookies may be sweet, but they tend to get eaten up pretty quickly. The next time I’m looking for a youth minister, then, I’d be asking detailed questions about how strongly they love the Lord, how deeply they trust his Word, how compassionately they love his people, and how appropriately they will navigate their context.

Joe Gibbes serves as rector at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Jacksonville, Florida. Joe writes for the Bible in a Year blog. He and his wife, Amy, have three children.

Ministry • Youth Ministry

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10 Ways to Be a Better Youth Leader

That Jesus Will Be Lifted Up In Youth Ministries

A lot of Christians think they aren’t cut out for youth ministry. But if you love Jesus and you care about kids, everything else falls into place.

In my five years working with middle school students I’ve met multiple 80 year olds who are incredible youth leaders—and it’s not for their spunky personalities and crazy dance skills. They love Jesus and they love kids. When you boil it down, that’s what really matters.

If you start with Jesus, all of the intricacies of youth leading should align conceptually, biblically, and practically. You should be able to trace everything back to Jesus.

Here are ten things every youth leader should know:

1. Have a purpose for everything

Let’s be honest. From the outside looking in, there’s a lot of weird stuff that happens at youth groups. Beach ball ballet, cricket-spitting contests, fruit baseball, and an endless list of games, skits, and programs that don’t seem in any way connected to sharing the gospel.

But if you know the purpose behind each component, then even the goofy and weird parts make sense.

Some games give lonely, left out, or neglected kids the chance to be noticed, cheered, and celebrated. Other games force kids to work together—regardless of who they’re friends with at school.

Wacky leader skits can create laughter, break down walls, and show kids that there is a child joy in everyone. For leaders, those same activities can offer an opportunity to step their own comfort zone and put kids before themselves.

I’ve worked with leaders who refused to put themselves in front of kids and be goofy alongside them because “it wasn’t their gifting.

” It’s definitely important to recognize what you’re good at and what you’re not good at (so you know how you’re best suited to serve your team), but if we understand the why behind each aspect of youth group, it becomes a lot less about us and a lot more about the kids, Jesus, and the ways we let God use us.

2. Humble yourself

The more cool, holy, or amazing you present yourself as, the more distant kids will feel from you.

You’re also the person who happens to be proclaiming the gospel and sharing about Jesus—do the math.

Leaders should show kids that Jesus meets them right where they are, loves them as they are, and desires to be a part of their lives right now—not once they become as cool, holy, and amazing as their leaders.

When Kids Hurt is a great resource to help you navigate the adolescent world.

You were a kid once. If you’re made of flesh and blood, you probably sinned once, too. It’s not always best to share all the details of your sin without a relational foundation, but the more vulnerable you are with kids, the more ly they are to share the sin in their lives too. If we hide, so do they.

Humility isn’t just important for our relationships with kids. If you serve in a youth ministry, chances are good that you work with a team of volunteers.

Serving in ministry together is a surprisingly dangerous opportunity for selfishness to creep into our lives. It’s easy to feel by being on the team we are fulfilling our duties, checking the box, or doing our time.

But if you’ve committed to being a part of the team, share the load. Don’t dump everything onto one person—especially not the person giving the message.

If someone else on your team is directly communicating the gospel, help that leader give kids their best by allowing them to focus on preparing their message.

3. Seek the kids in the corners

No matter how awesome your youth group is, there will always be kids in the corners. The ones who show up because their parents made them come, or a cute boy or girl is there too.

They think the games are dumb and the leaders are weird. Or maybe they just want everyone else to think they’re too cool to be there.

Either way, God has brought them to your youth group, and he’s entrusted them to you for an hour or two each week.

Sometimes kids genuinely aren’t interested in what’s going on, and you can’t and shouldn’t force them to join in. But sometimes kids stand in the corners to see if anyone will notice.

If a kid without friends comes to youth group, where he/she doesn’t have friends, how do you make the body of Christ look different than school? Involve them. Love them. Imitate God’s relentless pursuit of their hearts.

4. Share the joy of the gospel

The gospel isn’t boring. A lot of kids think it is, because their only exposure to it is from reading a translation of a 2,000-year-old book, or listening to messages crafted for adults. Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life (a youth ministry designed for kids who don’t go to church), once said “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.

” Whether or not you agree with Rayburn, Christians can’t overlook the potential damage of presenting the most exciting truth in the history of the world as stale, old, and irrelevant. The Bible is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and there are countless ways to show kids that the life and truth it contains is applicable to their lives today.

5. Know your kids

Knowing your kids means more than just knowing who they are. It means knowing how they will respond to different situations, and preparing your events with them in mind.

Some kids love being the center of attention, and some kids fall apart when you put them in front of a group. It’s important to give kids equal opportunity to shine, but the risk of humiliating a kid or making them feel alone and outcast is not worth the potential reward of making them feel adored.

If a kid is checking out your youth group for the first time and you’ve never had any interaction with them, you might want to be careful about throwing them into a game that requires them to be outgoing and comfortable in front of everyone.

It’s also important to know where your kids are at spiritually. This doesn’t mean you should ask every kid who comes through the door, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Those conversations should happen, but not before you develop a relationship with them and earn the right to ask those deeply intimate questions.

There are countless reasons why a kid might walk in through the doors of your youth ministry, and a lot of them aren’t Jesus (at least, not from the kid’s perspective).

Over-spiritualizing a kid’s experience can actually prevent them from having a spiritual experience. St. Francis of Assisi is often attributed with saying, “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.

” Youth ministry is an excellent context to practice reflecting Christ through the way you love and live.

6. Don’t embarrass kids*

Kids live in constant fear of humiliation. The last place they should have to live out their worst nightmares is at youth group—where they are also learning that they are loved and valued by God.

*See #5 and #1. If you know a kid well enough and you’re confident that their class-clown spirit will allow them to embrace and appreciate the experience, and the embarrassment serves a purpose, mild embarrassment may be acceptable.

7. Meet parents

You could be the nicest, most caring and trustworthy person on the planet, but if parents don’t know you, how can you expect them to trust you with their kids?

Building a relationship with parents is especially important for middle school and elementary school ministries, where kids are fully dependent on their parents to even be able to show up at your events. Sometimes meeting parents is effortless because they actively seek out the leaders who work with their kids. Other times, meeting parents takes work.

Even if they don’t care who you are or who their kids hang out with, it will always be worth it to you in your ministry to get to know the people who have raised the kids God has placed at your feet.

When kids leave, walk them out to whoever picks them up. Better yet, offer to give them a ride, and use it as an opportunity to introduce yourself to their parents.

Don’t let the inside of the church be the only place your life overlaps with your kids’.

8. Put your relationship with Jesus first

This may seem selfish in a way, but the reality is, the more we put Jesus first, the more we love those around us. When you put your relationship with Jesus first, the purpose and significance of everything you do and say to others is amplified, not reduced.

Phrases , “You can only lead someone as far as you’ve gone” may be cliché, but they still carry weight.

If you aren’t pursuing your own relationship with Jesus, how can you honestly encourage kids that it’s important to their faith? If you aren’t reading your Bible, praying, and surrounding yourself with Christians who are wiser than yourself, you aren’t offering your best to your ministry, your kids, or God. These are your tools of the trade, and if you aren’t using your tools, how can you do your job?

9. Honor your commitment

Hopefully getting involved with a youth group wasn’t just a passing fancy you had in church one day. Stepping into ministry of any kind is something that should be prayerfully considered, discussed with God and with wise people in your life, and surrounded with spiritual preparation.

If you’ve committed to leading kids at your church or through another ministry, honor God, your kids, and the leaders on your team by being trustworthy, accountable, and invested in the work you are doing together.

Today’s kids have been dubbed “the fatherless generation.” Youth leaders can’t abandon them too. Leaving ministry should be considered just as carefully and prayerfully as entering it.

10. Get a mentor

One of the biggest dangers facing people in ministry is burnout. It’s easy to be excited about something when you first get going, but after a couple years, or a decade, how do you stay excited? And more importantly, how do you draw from your experience while still treating each experience and each kid as something entirely new and wonderful?

The key is having a mentor.

If you are constantly pouring into the lives of kids and nobody is pouring into you, sooner or later you’re going to feel empty. Whether that mentor is a pastor, a more experienced leader, or a wise friend from church, you need somebody who can offer you fresh perspective, hold you accountable, pray for you, love you, and inspire you to keep going (Hebrews 10:24).

What else do you think youth leaders should know? Tell us in the comments!

* * *

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Closer to Jesus Through Prayer

That Jesus Will Be Lifted Up In Youth Ministries

Supplies for this Youth Bible Study 

You’ll need copies of Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) on sheets of paper and a pen for each student. You’ll also need a video display and Internet connection. Preview the following clips:
• Pre-Blessed Food: //
• The Holy Hand Grenade”: //
• The Campaign Movie: //
• Bruce Almighty: //

Say something : Let’s take a look at one of the most obvious (but perhaps one of the hardest and most misunderstood) practices that helps us grow closer to Jesus. You’ve probably heard of it—it’s called prayer.

Conversation with Jesus, just conversation with your best friends, is critical to making our relationship with him the center of our lives. But conversation, just in real life, doesn’t always have to feel amazing.

And it doesn’t always have to be perfect.

Play the Pre-Blessed Food clip, then say something :

Say something : Sometimes the only time people think about praying is before a meal.

• When and why do you pray?
• Why do people sometimes feel inadequate to pray? Or why do some people feel they need someone else to do it for them?

Play the Monty Python and the Holy Grail clip, then ask:

• What are all the things that were odd about that prayer?
• Why do some people think prayer involves extravagant language?
• How would it impact your relationships if you had conversations this? What expectations would your flowery language communicate to your friends?

Ask someone to read aloud Matthew 6:9-13, then play The Campaign Movie clip. Ask:
• Why do we feel we need to say the right words when we pray?
• When Jesus said “Pray this,” what did he want us to learn about prayer?

Play the Bruce Almighty clip, then ask:

• What is it about this prayer that makes it so real and personal?
• How does this prayer communicate closeness between Bruce and God?

Give each student a pen and a copy of Philippians 4:6-7. Invite a volunteer to read the verses aloud, then have students jot down notes and mark up these verses as the group goes through the key words.


Key Word: Petition 

• Why would you petition something? Who is a petition ultimately given to?
• Give some examples of things that need to be petitioned in our society.
• What things in our lives could we petition Jesus to change? 
Have kids take a few minutes quietly to write down their petitions, then bring them before Jesus in prayer.

Key Word: Thanksgiving

• What’s the purpose of offering thanks?
• What creative way have you said “thank you” to someone?
• Why is an attitude of thanksgiving so important?
Again, have your students take a few minutes quietly to write down things they’re thankful for, then give thanks to God in prayer.

Key Word: Requests

Ask a volunteer to read aloud John 14:13-14, then ask:
• If you could meet Jesus face to face, and he told you to ask him for anything, what would you ask for? Explain.

• What does it mean to ask for something “in his name”?
Have your kids take a few minutes quietly write down some things they’d to ask Jesus for, then to lift those requests to God in prayer.

Key Word: Peace

• What does it mean to have peace that ‘transcends all understanding’?
• What sorts of things cause your heart and mind to worry? 
• How has prayer brought you peace?
Have your students take a few minutes quietly to write down their worries, then hand them over to Jesus in prayer.

Encourage your teenagers to practice this type of praying every day for the next month. Wrap up by praying a blessing over your teenagers, using Numbers 6:24-26 as the basis for your blessing.

Co-authored by Zach Castor. This is the second in a series of Youth Bible Studies that explains what it looks to get closer to Jesus. Click on the titles below for individual studies in the series.

One: Jesus Invites us to be close

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