If we were sitting at a coffee shop and you asked me, “If you could give one practical word of advice to a youth pastor regarding reaching students, seeing their lives changed, and watching them grow up faithful to God—what would it be?” Well, here it is.
This is probably one of the most important articles that I’ve ever posted on a website. I’ve had a lot of contact recently with youth pastors who ask some great questions. It seems like we’re all dealing with the same issues in student ministry—from cell phones to myspace to sloppy dress to carnal parents to apathy to discouragement. And while each of these challenges comes with its own uniquely biblical response, there is one over-riding value that answers all of them. There is one thing you can do that addresses all of these types of needs in a supernatural way.
Teach the Bible. Now before you say, “well DUH!” and stop reading, read on. This is really big!
How do you build a youth group? Promotion? Contests? Free prizes? Trips? How ’bout building a video arcade off of your youth classroom? Maybe bring in a rock band and start wearing jeans and T-shirts to church. Maybe get an earring and spike your hair. Oh how modern Christendom is trying anything and everything in the name of “attracting people.”
Through our public school ministries, some of our youth staff have recently met some student ministry leaders from area churches—churches with the pop-culture version of Christianity. I’m sad to report, these churches have tried everything from dances to rock-climbing walls to grunge dress to heavy-metal bands, and they are discouraged that NONE of it is working. They all have a few regular attenders, occasional visitors, and no significant life-change. Nobody is really on fire for God. Few, if any, are coming to Christ. Even fewer are considering ministry or Bible college.
We miss the obvious. God and His Word offer the greatest life-changing power, the most amazing promise, and the most unsearchable and unlimited treasures of wisdom and understanding known to mankind. When His Word comes alive in your heart, you are never the same. When you taste His truth, you long for more. When you see His goodness you fall in love with Him. When you experience His divine touch of grace, all of life takes on a different perspective. His Word NEVER returns void, it never fails, and it never fades away. What gimmick or contest or promotion could EVER possibly over-shadow the power of God through His Word?
The single greatest task of any youth pastor or teacher in a given week is to prepare a life-changing, truth-packed, practical lesson from God’s Word. If most of the energy that we put into lesser things would be put into preparing our hearts and our Bible lessons, we would see a radical difference in student ministry. When people come to your ministry and hear the truth of God passionately and creatively delivered—it is attractive beyond description! They WILL come back, and for the right reasons. God’s Word to a thirsty heart is like throwing a life-preserver to a drowning victim!
How do you grow a youth group? How do you get visitors to return? How do you see people saved? How do you get parents to be spiritual? How do you get kids to use their phones and their computers appropriately? How do you deal with apathy, dress, music, or dating? How do you respond to rebellion? How do you… (fill in the blank)? Oh, there are many solutions, but only ONE ultimate solution. Teach the Bible. Find out what God’s Word says about what you’re dealing with, and teach it. This is the best training, the best counsel, and the best way of seeing eternal life-change. Before you make a new rule, try a new trend, or get frustrated that people don’t think more biblically—teach the Bible. Make this your first response.
Just starting in youth ministry? Dig into God’s Word, let Him work powerfully in your heart and then teach a series that will bring God’s Word to life. Dealing with a youth ministry that’s lost its life and energy? Do the same! You don’t need snazzy activities, neon lights, XBox 360 consoles, and an earring. You need a powerful biblical principle and an opportunity to deliver it in such a way that “the light bulb comes on” in their minds. When your teens have an “ah-ha” experience with God’s Word, their lives will change, not because of you, but because you are doing ministry God’s way. God always blesses HIS WORD. He hasn’t promised to bless putt-putt golf—but He will bless HIS WORD.
You can attract lots of people once or twice with gimmicks. But gimmicks alone will ultimately trivialize God. Give yourself primarily to God’s strategy—teach His Word and let His Spirit do a work that you cannot. When God’s Word is your primary philosophy of ministry, in time, you will see fruit.
PS: If you’re looking for some starter curriculum that is solidly biblical in nature, visit www.strivingtogether.com