What are we trying to achieve in youth ministry? What is our goal? What should youth ministry look like? Only by answering these questions can we set our compass and set off in the right direction.
Here I'll share four insights which have helped me chart my own course in youth work.
1. YOUTH MINISTRY SHOULD BE INCARNATIONAL
'You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.' Philippians 2: 5-7
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi reminds us of how we should live and lead. Jesus became a man. Without ceasing to be God, he became a human being. Born a human baby, he grew up through childhood and lived as we do. In his humanity, he shows us everything about God's character that can be demonstrated in human terms. The incarnation shows God identifying with mankind. Jesus became a servant.
Like Christ, we need to give of ourselves. It's not just about youth ministry programmes. Young people want to know someone who cares about them, someone who will give them time, and someone who listens and cares about their problems. The kind of people we ARE is the most important thing in Christian youth work. We need to reflect Jesus.
'The key to effective Christian youth work is people - people in whose lives Christ is alive, and who will open themselves to young people, not talk down to them, not dominate them with attractive personalities, but who show them how to love one another as Christ has commanded.' Mark Ashton, Christian Youth Work, Kingsway 1986
'The youth worker is not primarily a talker or organiser; he is a model, a person who by the power of his Christian example motivates a dedication to Jesus Christ.' Lawrence Richards, Youth Ministry, Zondervan 1972
2. YOUTH MINISTRY SHOULD BE COMMITTED TO 'MATURITY IN CHRIST.'
'So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That's why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ's mighty power that works within me.' Colossians 1: 28-29
This was the Apostle Paul's goal. To bring 'each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ.' (Good News Translation © BFBS 1994.) This too should be our goal in youth ministry.
It challenges us to think about Christian youth work. Youth ministry is not only happening where there is a youth programme. It's quite possible to have a youth programme where hundreds of young people attend smoothly organised activities and yet no-one is led to greater maturity in Christ. On the other hand, a church may lack an organised group, yet through personal relationships young people are led to maturity.
So how can we measure 'spiritual maturity?' What does a spiritual mature person look like? Well, maturity is more than just doing the right things. Attending church more regularly than someone else does not automatically make me a more mature Christian. Maturity is to do with our character and the way Jesus influences and rules in our lives. Maturity varies from person to person. Maturity has its ups and downs. We all have a good days and bad days. The 'weather' in our lives may change from day to day, but the 'climate' is one of becoming more mature in our faith.
Of course, there is a sense in which we can never become fully mature – this side of heaven. No one can say I have it all, I'm perfect! Paul sums up his journey towards maturity when he talks about running the race and striving to win the prize. We need to be in the race and so do our young people.
Ross Farley, an Australian youth worker, lists five qualities of a 'spiritually maturing' person, in his book Strategy for Youth Leaders, Scripture Union 1991. I've have found them a helpful guide in trying to understand and measure the process of spiritual maturity in young people I have worked with.
1. An understanding of the Gospel. This is the beginning of spiritual maturity. To know, understand and accept what Christ has done for me in his life, death and resurrection.
'For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.' John 3: 16-17
2. Commitment. An understanding and desire to see Jesus as Lord of my life. A commitment to holy living with Jesus in control.
'And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.' Colossians 2: 6-7
3. The fruit of the Spirit. Desiring and experiencing these 'Christ-like' characteristics in my life.
'But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!' Galatians 5: 22-23
4. A servant attitude. A desire to serve others in my youth group, church and wider community. A desire to do good works in the name of Jesus.
'Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.' Philippians 2: 3-4
'For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.' Ephesians 2:10
5. A devotional life. Communication is essential to the growth of any healthy relationship. If I stopped talking to my family then obvious consequences would flow from that action. So it is in our relationship with God through Jesus. Communication is vital.
'Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.' Colossians 4:2
3. YOUTH MINISTRY SHOULD BE A TEAM EFFORT
'All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.' 1 Corinthians 12:27
Here Paul reminds the Corinthian church that just as the human body has many different parts so it is with the body of Christ, the church. Every part is important and each has a part to play. Youth ministry and leadership should be a team effort, bringing different skills, abilities and personalities together to meet the challenges of reaching, teaching and caring for children and young people.
Every young person in your group is different and unique. On your own you'll probably only be able to build friendships and trust with a few. Team ministry means you can connect and build relationships with many more. A team can complement each other and support each other in prayer and fellowship.
As a young Christian teenager I had a picture in my mind of the intrepid Apostle Paul travelling solo, facing every challenge alone, completely dependent on God as he preached in town and city. Certainly Paul was bold. He faced many challenges. He trusted God with his life. However, he also knew he'd be more effective as part of a missionary team.
On his first missionary journey he took Barnabas and John Mark with him. Barnabas was a great encourager and motivator of people. With his encouragement John Mark went on to write his Gospel. On his second missionary journey we find Paul travelling with Silas, Timothy and Luke. As a doctor, I'm sure Luke’s medical skills were very useful. Luke is also a key historian of the early church with his Gospel and the Book of Acts. Silas was present during many of Paul's more exciting adventures! He was with Paul in the jail at Philippi, praising God through an earthquake. Timothy travelled first as a trainee missionary but with Paul’s encouragement eventually became the pastor of the Ephesian church. Paul understood the benefits and strengths of having a team around him. Food for thought from an African proverb;
'If you want to travel fast, walk alone.
If you want to travel far, walk together.'
4. YOUTH MINISTRY SHOULD BE A MINISTRY OF EQUIPPING
'Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.' Ephesians 4: 11-12
So what should youth ministry look like? What am I trying to achieve? For me, it's about being more than doing, it's about helping young people grow and mature in their faith, it's about equipping young people for a life of Christian service and it's about doing it together in a team committed to reaching, teaching and caring for the young people in our community.
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