Last week, we had the privilege of hosting several hundred teens for the annual Higher Call Youth Conference. I’m always mindful during this conference of the incredible potential of teenagers to make a difference in their generation.
I’m also especially mindful during the conference of the sacrifices of ministry youth workers. Their patience and faithfulness can make an eternal difference in the lives of those in their youth groups.
As a pastor, I’ve been thankful for the men and women—staff and volunteer—who have served in our church’s student ministries, encouraging young people and helping them develop in their spiritual growth.
Some people have the perception that what makes an effective youth worker is someone who is trendy, immersed in youth culture, plans cool games, and is best friends with teenagers.
The reality is very different. An effective youth worker is someone who is godly and able to nurture teens in developing their own walk with God and in setting a spiritual direction for their lives.
So what are the attributes of someone like that?
To make a difference in people’s lives, you have to love them. This is especially true when it comes to teens because they are often insecure and looking for acceptance. Look past their exterior and their failures, looking for opportunities to express love and affirmation.
But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.—1 Thessalonians 2:7–8
When working with young people, it’s important to understand the reality of the times we’re living in. Broken homes leave incredible insecurities in the hearts of teens. An overwhelming percentage of teens have been exposed to pornographic content on the internet. Drugs are a real issue in the lives of public school teens. Social media brings its own set of challenges that range from lack of sleep to high levels of insecurity and comparison that previous generations didn’t have constantly at their finger tips.
Discernment is also vital when it comes to youth worker relationships with teens. Men should never counsel teen girls, and ladies should not try to mother teen boys. It’s important that we avoid opportunity for inappropriate relationships to develop as well as opportunity for untrue allegations.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.—1 Thessalonians 5:22
Never underestimate the value of a teenager. Ask God to help you see their potential. And then cast vision for them by involving them in ongoing projects. Let teens be part of ministry. Ask them to join you in serving on a bus route, visiting widows, and sharing the gospel with their friends.
As someone once said, “Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I’ll remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:—Philippians 1:6
It’s easy for youth ministry to get out of balance, either by becoming stern and heavy handed or permissive and out of control. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in balancing discipline with love, example with instruction, teaching with activity.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.—Philippians 4:9
Teens pick up on subtle communication. You communicate they are important by keeping classroom facilities in good repair. You communicate that the truth you teach is important by giving thorough preparation to your lessons. You communicate their importance to you by remembering their special moments and being present for them in times of both victory and struggle.
Be careful also to provide clear communication with parents of teens. We do this by having regular teen parent meetings to communicate upcoming activities and emphasize our desire to come alongside and augment the scriptural and life training parents are already providing. Additionally, we use social media, texts, etc. to communicate changes to an activity or if something is running behind schedule.
Finally, communicate with your pastor what is going on in the hearts of teens in the church. If a family is going through a crisis or a teenager is going through a time of struggle or making strong spiritual decisions, keep your pastor informed so he is able to pray for and reach out to the families in the church.
Proactively work to be in sync with the parents of the teens. Support their decisions and instruction to their children, and back them up as authority figures.
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:—Proverbs 1:8
Also work to be in sync with your pastor. Remember that as a youth worker, you are an extension of his ministry to the families in the church. Listen to his instruction, and follow his preferences. Lead your teens to listen to and develop a relationship with their pastor as well.
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.—1 Corinthians 4:15
Some of the most impactful decisions of a person’s life may be made when they are a teenager. But even though these decisions are made in a moment, they are the result of repeated investments of their parents, pastor, and other influencers over time.
Youth work doesn’t yield its greatest results in six months, but in six years…and twenty years. So stay faithful.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.—Galatians 6:9