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How to cook up an effective youth ministry (and avoid being “chopped”)

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am not a foodie or the son of a foodie. But I do like food and I don’t mind cooking. As a regular viewer of the cooking show “Chopped” I couldn’t help but start correlating cooking and youth ministry on some level. In the show Chopped chefs that range from amateur to professional open up a box of random ingredients they have to blend together into appetizers, main courses or desserts. The best of the best win. The others get, well, chopped from the show by a panel of expert judges.

In ways youth ministry is the same. You get a box of various ingredients (could be apathetic teenagers, a small youth room and a budget of $50/month) and have to cook up a youth ministry worth tasting and sharing. If you fail a panel of judges (church leadership) may chop you.

With this as a backdrop here’s how you can become a better youth ministry chef, fill your teenagers spiritually and, hopefully, not get chopped in the process.

1. Learn under the Master Chef.

If you want to get good at cooking learn from the best cooks. And, when it comes to youth ministry, the best cook of all time is Jesus.

Yes, I believe that the disciples were most likely teenagers when they began following Jesus. I’ve blogged before about why even wrote a little book called Firing Jesus about what would happen if Jesus was the youth leader at a typical evangelical church in the 21st Century setting.

But regardless as to whether he was or not I think all of us would agree that following the pattern of Jesus for youth ministry (as best we can) is the best pattern to follow. And what did Jesus do? He invested in his leadership team. He modeled a lifestyle of mission and compassion. He asked engaging questions and he relentlessly focused on prayer. As Luke 5:16 reminds us, “He often withdrew to lonely places to prayer.”

It was the prayer closet that prepared him for the kitchen. Here he get his daily recipes from on high that he would serve to his followers. Those recipes changed the world.

So if we want to cook like Jesus we must learn to spend time in prayer like Jesus. We must model the Master Chef on every level. And it all starts with prayer.

2. Less sizzle, more steak.

Effective youth leaders know that ultimately it’s not about the flash in the pan but the stuff cooking in it. Sure the right amount of youth group pizzaz can be fun but if you don’t deliver on the steak then the sizzle doesn’t really matter as much.

As I travel the nation I find teenagers craving to engage with meaty subjects of life and theology. They want a safe place to ask hard questions and engage with hard truth. I witnessed this firsthand during a reality series we shot in Hawaii called Gospel Journey Maui. For more than a week a collection of young people from various belief systems engaged with me and my fellow preacher Zane Black about subjects that ranged from the problem of evil to the message of Jesus.

What was interesting to me is that these young people didn’t stop talking about these subjects when the cameras stopped rolling. They wanted a safe place for spiritual conversations.

Your teenagers want it too. They want to engage with the Bible and theology and other worldviews. God has placed you in their lives to facilitate this process from a Biblical perspective.

3. Use lots of simple ingredients (but don’t forget the secret sauce!)

Prayer, community, service, teaching and evangelism were the four basic ingredients that the early church cooked with. If you check out Acts 2:42 you’ll see them clearly, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” And verse 47 communicates the “secret sauce” that brought it all together, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Because of their gospel advancing focus there was a constant influx of new believers to feed (both physically and spiritually.) These new believers kept the kitchen cooking and invited others to the feast.

When you keep the gospel as the secret sauce of your youth ministry you will never fail to have teenagers coming to faith, growing in faith and spreading the faith.

Cooking up an effective youth ministry is no easy task. It takes patience and experimentation. But it’s all based on a recipe that is 2,000 years old tested, true and, well, delicious!

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