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How to turn teenagers into teen leaders (just like Jesus did!)

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

Jesus was a youth leader. When Peter, Jesus and the rest of the disicples went into Capernaum only Peter and Jesus paid the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27). If you cross-reference this passage with Exodus 30:14 it becomes clear that the temple tax was only for those 20 years old and older. 

gift-habeshaw-453482-unsplashIf I’m reading these passages correctly, Jesus was a youth leader, with only one adult sponsor (and one really rotten kid named Judas.)

But within the span of 3 1/2 years (about the time a typical teenager is in high school minus summer vacations) he turned those teenagers into teen leaders. After the ascension here’s how the big dawg religious leaders of the day viewed them, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13.

These teen leaders went on .to take the Gospel to the ends of the world. Some even went on to write books that would be included in the canon of Scripture and be used of God to build the church on a firm theological foundation. 

No better leaders have ever been built out of such raw material. These young disciples ranged from fisherman to tax collector to zealot. They were mostly blue collar, red neck Jews who had most likely been overlooked by the religious community when they were younger to potentially become rabbis when they were of age.

That’s why many of them had adoped their father’s trades as their own. They probably viewed themselves as average or below average. 

But Jesus has a way of taking the sub-par and turning it into the spectacular. He loves to choose “the foolish things to confound the wise” and, I can guarantee you, that most of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time viewed his choice of disciples as utterly foolish and misguided.

So how did Jesus do it? How did Jesus take 12 ordinary young men and turn them into 11 extraordinary leaders (remember Judas flamed out)? Here’s how he did it..and how you can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, do it too:

1.  He gospelized them.

First things first. Jesus made sure they were believers. 

Long before Jesus called them to put down their nets and follow him as their leader (Matthew 4:19) he had them lay down their pride and trust in him as their Savior (John 1:35-50.)

In the same way, we must make sure our teenagers have put their faith in Christ before we dare to put them in a leadership position. We must make sure they are on “Team Jesus” before we challenge them to go all in and try to make the “starting team” as student leaders.

2.  He sensitzied them.

After Jesus gospelized them, he sensitized them. Jesus was constantly reaching out to the bad, the broken and the bullied in a spirit of utter compassion. He touched lepers. He reached out to the outcasts. He engaged the dregs of society (and he enraged the holier-than-thou religious leaders of his day in the process.)

You couldn’t follow Jesus without going across the tracks. That was his way. He was drawn to those who were hurting, to those who already knew they were sinners and felt a sense of hopelessness and spiritual need.

When you read Matthew 9:36-38 you can’t help but sense the conviction that the disciples must have felt when they witnessed the love of Jesus for the crowds that were following him, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.‘”

Jesus had a broken heart for the broken-hearted and he longed to send out broken-hearted harvesters into the harvest fields to reap a spiritual harvest. 

How can you break the hearts of your teenagers for the lost? Take them out. Take them out to the broken parts of your city to engage with the people there.  Take them out on a mission trip to a hurting part of the world to serve the people. Help them see the lost with the eyes of Jesus.

Sensitize your teenagers to the lost through action (getting them out there) and through prayer (interceding together for their salvation.)

3.  He mobilized them.

After months of following Jesus and witnessing him witness, Jesus unleashed his disciples to share the Gospel in a strategic, city-to-city evangelistic campaign. Luke 9:1,2 puts it this way, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

When’s the last time you mobilized your teenagers to share their faith? That’s one of the things I love about doing Dare 2 Share Live. During this highly inspirational, evangelism mobilization event, teenagers are unleashed to collect canned food for local rescue missions and to share the Gospel.

Teenagers come back from the outreach so excited! We’ve heard this from satellite site after satellite site. Teenagers from coast to coast are pumped up because they’ve been mobilized to pray for, care for and share (the Gospel) with their own communities. Often they come back from the outreach literally dancing! It’s our version of an evangelistic dance party! 

We must give this cause-hungry generation the satisfaction of a cause worth living for for the rest of their lives. And there’s no greater cause than The Cause of Jesus to make and multiply disciples (Matthew 28:18-20.)

4.  He authorized them.

In the same passage that Jesus mobilized his “youth group” to make disciples he also authorized them to finish the task.  In Matthew 28:18-19 Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….

Jesus deputized his disciples to ride straight into Satan’s kingdom and rescue the lost from his grasp. In a have-it-your-way culture of spiritual smorgashborg beliefs, Jesus was telling his young disciples to go and point to Jesus as “the way and the truth and the life” and to remind everyone that “no one comes to the Father except through” him.

We need to help our teenagers embrace the reality that they have been authorized by the God of this universe to share the Gospel with anyone and everyone. Barna calls this generation of teenagers (Generation Z) the first post Christian generation in the history of the United States. To reach this generatioin we must re-cast Christianity as a love story that just happens to be true. After all, the most famous verse of Scripture starts with these words, “For God so loved the world….”

As we equip our teenagers to share this love story with their lives and with their lips it is crucial to remind them that they have been deputized and authorized by the King of kings to make and multiply disciples.

5.  He energized them.

Moments before Jesus ascended into heaven he gave his disciples a power-filled promise. He told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8.

Ten days after Jesus ascended the Holy Spirit descended and lit their tongues on fire with and for the Gospel. From this moment on the disciples were energized to evangelize. 

In the same way we need to help unpack the life-transforming, boldness-infusing, Gospel proclaiming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to our teenagers.

If you are serious about turning teenagers into teen leaders take a look at how Jesus did it and emulate him! If you’re ready to take your teeangers to the next level and fast track them into high powered spiritual leaders take them to one of our five Lead THE Cause events this summer. These week long events are designed to turn ordinary teenagers (who love Jesus) into extraordinary leaders (who lead teenagers to love Jesus!) 

Let’s raise them up and turn them loose!

Unlikely Fighter

#1 new release in Evangelism on Amazon

The story of how a fatherless street kid overcame violence, chaos, and confusion to become a radical Christ follower.

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