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Youth Ministry 101 (or what I wish someone would have taught me when I got into ministry)

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

I don’t have a super high IQ. That probably doesn’t come as a shock to you. But before you give me a sympathy cringe let me tell you about the advantage that an average IQ gives to me: I don’t try to invent new beliefs, philosophies or strategies. I’m not bright enough to do that.

So what’s the advantage to that? It forces me to go back to the Scriptures again and again and get everything from that deep and timeless well of wisdom. For more than two decades I have been racking my brain and pouring over the Scriptures to identify what truly defines and describes an effective youth ministry. Here is the summation of everything I’ve discovered:

  1. Love Jesus. Jesus is everything. He is the apex of earth’s history and the centerpiece of heaven’s glory. He is the King of kings and Man of men. As the ultimate man he could die for other men. As ultimate God his payment for sin was infinite. When he walked the earth he brought the “system” to a screeching halt and brought true hope into mostly blue collar lives. People who encountered him were shocked and, many times, terrified. Who was this rogue rabbi who took on the religious establishment with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns? Who was this Jewish carpenter turned teacher turned Savior who turned the world upside down in just over three years of ministry on planet earth? He is the great God, the great Lover of our souls and the great Disrupter. He will inspire worship, heal our broken souls and mess up everything. That’s right. Jesus didn’t come to make life easier for you and for me (sorry Joel…but it’s true.) He came to bring glory to Himself and to His Father by conforming you and me to his very own image. That is a painful, pitifully slow process for most of us (especially me.) What does all of this have to do with you and your youth ministry? Pretty much everything. Jesus is not primarily concerned with how much you get paid, how many kids go to your youth group or what games you are going to use as a crowd breaker this Wednesday night. But what he is absolutely passionate about is conforming you and your teens into his very image. When you are passionate about letting Jesus do that your kids will know it, the parents of your kids will know it and Satan will know it. And while the Holy One is working in you to transform you the Evil One will be working on you to destroy you. It’s messy. It’s painful. It’s life…the Christian life that is. So you might as well embrace the pain. It’s the pain (James 1:3-8) that Jesus uses as a chisel to break off the hard pieces of sin and selfishness as he skillfully hammers us into his image. The sooner you and I embrace this and embrace the pain, the sooner our kids will know it and be impacted by it.
  2. Build a Deep and Wide Youth Ministry model. “Deep and wide. Deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.” Now that I’ve planted that trite old Sunday school tune into your brain for the rest of the day (enjoy!) let me explain what I mean. Jesus (the ultimate Sunday/Sabbath School teacher) gave us this song to sing when he told his disciples, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus is basically giving us the ultimate ministry template: Deep and Wide. We are to go wide with the gospel (“go and make disciples”) and then we are to help these new disciples grow deep into the truth (“teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”). Too many times we are either “a mile wide and an inch deep” or “a mile deep and an inch wide” in our youth ministry approach. If we tend to be a discipler we go deeper. If we tend to be an evangelist we go wider. But God commands the primarily discipleship oriented Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” in 2 Timothy 4:5. We are all called to do both. In other words, God wants us to have a YM model that is a mile wide and a mile deep. If you are only focusing on one or the other every week then you are obeying half of the Great Commission and disobeying the other half. Remember it’s called “The Great Commission” not “The Good Suggestion.”
  3. Do it all in the power that God provides. My favorite Bible verses are Colossians 1:28-29 where Paul writes, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I love these verses because they give insight to Paul’s personal strategy for ministry “success”. His strategy was to go wide (“we proclaim him”) and help believers grow deep (“admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we may present everyone perfect (AKA “fully mature”) in Chirst.” What was the key to this deep and wide strategy working? To do it all in the power of God (“struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.”) Paul worked hard at ministry, but he worked even harder to make sure it was the divine energy of God himself that was empowering him and not his own flesh. It’s so easy to do our ministry in our strength. But when we do we are attacking the impossible in our own power. We are pulling the lion’s tale without being protected by the bars. We are trying to start an engine without a battery. This was a key that transformed my life and ministry (and still is as I learn it and re-learn it over and over!) We can do nothing apart from Jesus! We need to have a daily declaration of dependence on him as we yield to his Spirit and ask him to empower us as we work hard through his strength everyday!

Well, that’s all I got. I sure wish someone would have taught me this when I first got into ministry. Actually, they probably did. It’s just that, along with my average IQ, I tend to be stubborn.

Unlikely Fighter

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