This article was written by Greg Stier and Randy Davis, a partner from the National Network of Youth Ministries (NNYM).
Legend has it that when the Greeks defeated the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, a warrior named Philippides ran the extremely long distance back to Athens, burst into the assembly and proclaimed “We have won!” just before collapsing and dying. This story has inspired countless runners to run and keep on running (and hopefully not die) in marathons around the world.
In many ways, youth ministry is like a marathon. If we sprint it, we’ll burn out. We must pace ourselves to get that final prize.
And just what is that prize we are working for? It’s every teen in our youth groups growing deep in their faith and sharing it widely with their peers! It’s every teen everywhere hearing the Gospel from a friend! It’s revival that starts in our youth groups and spreads across our communities!
I (Randy) have had the honor (okay maybe not an honor) to run a mini marathon. That is 13.1 miles. Why run a mini marathon? Because a full marathon is just too long!
As I trained for those 13 miles, I was told to keep putting one foot in front of the other because each step combines to make it 13 miles. It starts with the first step.
So does reaching the next generation.
It can be overwhelming to think about what it’s going to take to reach 26,000,000 teenagers on 67,000 high schools and junior highs across the United States. Not one person, one church, one ministry, or even one denomination could ever reach them all. But if we work together, we have a chance!
Training for a mini marathon is difficult. It is always good to have a partner or a running group to go through the training together. It helps when you can cross the finish line together while cheering each other on.
What’s true of running is true of ministry. We are better together and we have exponentially more of a chance to accomplish our vision together than separately.
So how can a youth leader network help you cross that finish line of seeing every teen in your community hear the Gospel from a friend? Here are three critical ways a network can help you reach that bold goal!
1. Shared Gifts and Coaching
Well, first of all, through shared effort.
Everyone has a gift, talent or skill, but no one has every gift, talent or skill. A network creates the opportunity for a community to see all of the needed gifts, talents, and skills working together for a common vision.
Some youth leaders are better at evangelism, others at discipleship, others at programming and others at relationships. What if we shared with each other our best practices to help each other “run the race to win” (1 Corinthians 9:24)? What if we considered how “to spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), especially when it came to making and multiplying disciples?
I (Greg) am not a runner. I hate running with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. Sadly, in high school, I quit the 100-yard dash during field day because I was so far behind.
But, I did try to run a long distance with a friend once, just to see if I could do it. Lane Palmer, my college roommate, was a long distance runner and I decided (in a spur of the moment decision) to join him on one of his training runs. Sadly, I was wearing jeans and high top basketball shoes. But I ran 8 miles with him.
How did I do it? Well, other than sheer determination (and being in somewhat good shape at the time), Lane coached me every step of the way. He helped to pace my running stride and gave me pointers as we went along. By God’s grace and through the coaching of my highly experienced running buddy, I was able to complete a training run with him.
In the same way, we need each other to coach, encourage and help us keep stride for stride with the Holy Spirit as we run this race for the next generation together.
2. Shared Focus
Secondly, good networks are focused…moving together toward a collective objective.
When a network of youth leaders work together toward a common, collective objective, it’s a beautiful and biblical thing.
In John 17:18-23, Jesus said, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus is sending his church as a collective network (that demonstrates Trinitarian unity to a watching world) so that “the world may believe” that Jesus himself was sent by God.
When the youth leaders of a city/community gather together to conspire for the cause of Christ and “run” toward a singular objective (every teen hearing the Gospel from a friend) they, not only demonstrate unity and synergy to a cynical world, they answer Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17…that we may work together toward the goal of teenagers reaching teenagers with the gospel.
This means we need Gospel Advancing networks that are more about advancing the Good News of Jesus than about advancing our own agenda. This is the finish line we fix our eyes on as we run toward the goal of reaching the next generation together.
3. Shared Strength and Synergy
Thirdly, healthy networks create a sustained movement…emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and missionally.
Back to the mini marathon, I (Randy) remember about mile 10 that I wanted to quit. My legs were sore, I was burning up, and more and more people were passing me. My body was saying quit, my mind was saying quit, but I was with a running partner and together we were not going to quit. Later, we found out that both of us wanted to quit, but together we kept going and finished.
A healthy network allows us to lean on each other when we are in a spiritual battle, when we are just worn out, or when we have moved one-degree off of our vision-mission. I have been in my network for over 23 years. While the people of the network have changed over the years, we still remain friends. I know, I wouldn’t still be in ministry in this community if it wasn’t for my network.
We have a shared vision of youth leaders working together so that every teen hears the Gospel from a friend. Alone, we can make some progress. But together, we have a chance, through the strength of the Almighty God and the synergy of a strong network, to win the race before us.
Let’s run together. Let’s reach this generation together. Let’s cross the finish line together and proclaim, like Philippides, “We have won!” Then let’s, together, collapse into the arms of the One who ran before us and hear him whisper in our ears, “Well done my good and faithful servants!”