As a former preaching pastor I deeply appreciate the though job that pastors, especially lead pastors, have before them. The relentless challenge of leadership combined with the stress of weekly sermon preparation is tough stuff. They set the pace for the entire church and, if they lead and love well, can be truly used by God to advance his kingdom in the communities in which they are planted.
One of the hardest things I ever had to do was to resign as a preaching pastor to work full time reaching teenagers with the Gospel. It was a hard but necessary choice. On July 4th, 1999, I resigned my pastorate at Grace Church (where my life-long friend Rick Long is now lead pastor) to lead Dare 2 Share full time and equip teenagers to advance the Gospel and mobilize youth leaders to build Gospel Advancing ministries.
Why did I give up leading a thriving church to travel the country to train youth leaders and teenagers? Why would I subject myself and my family to the endless stress that comes from the relentless travel, non-stop fundraising and the on-going challenges of leading a non-profit ministry?
To add to all this, well intentioned Christians sometimes ask me, “How long do you think you’ll be doing Dare 2 Share?” I know what they are getting at. It’s almost as though they think that, when I hit a certain age or level of maturity, I will say “enough is enough” and put on my big boy pants so that I can pastor again.
I imagine youth leaders are asked the same type of question. “How long are you going to be a youth pastor?” is easily interpreted as, “When are you going to get out of the fun-and-games junior leagues and become a serious lead pastor?“
So, for those of you who are involved in youth ministry or wonder why people like me are, let me give you some answers to the questions “why youth ministry?” and “why teenagers?”
1. God has a track record of choosing teens to accomplish great spiritual feats.
From Joseph, to Timothy, to Esther (who won a beauty contest then saved a nation), God has used young people in big ways to do even bigger things.
In 1 Samuel 16 when the prophet Samuel goes to the house of Jesse, it’s not the strapping, strutting older brothers of the house that God chooses to be king. It’s the underage runt of the litter that got annointed as the future leader of Israel. One chapter later, this kid named David, who was delivering cheese and crackers to his older brothers in the war, got ticked off that a nine foot giant was talking smack against the God of Israel. His anger left an impression on Goliath…a deep one.
But its not just in the Old Testament that God demonstrates his predisposition to choose and use teenagers. For the most part Jesus mostly picked teenagers to be his disciples. In Matthew 17, when Jesus, Peter and the disciples go into Capernaum, only Peter and Jesus pay the temple tax (although all of the disciples are there!) According to Exodus 30:14 the temple tax was only applicaple to those twenty years old and older. If I’m reading that right, that means that Jesus was a youth leader with only one adult sponsor…and one really rotten kid.
And God used this “youth group” to reach the world! He can use yours to do the same!
2. God receives glory when the “foolish things of the world” confound the wise.
1 Corinthains 1:26-29 makes this crystal clear, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
If this passage is not a case for working with teenagers I don’t know what is. Teenagers are foolish, goofy and hyper. I love it! God loves it! He wants to use them as twitchy revolutionaries to change the course of nations and to launch a global awakening of Biblical proportions just like his Son did 2,000 years ago!
3. It just makes sense.
Teenagers are wet cement. They form to the forms layed out for them. While working with adults is definitely important, sometimes a jackhammer and wheelbarrow is required before the wet cement can be poured in their souls.
Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the most intelligent scholar/preacher of the 1st Great Awakening, recorded that the “revival has been chiefly amongst the young….” Teenagers led the way for awakening in this powerful 18th Century revival. As a matter of fact, teenagers have been on the leading edge of every major spiritual awakening in the history of the United States.
Teenagers are idealists, visionaries and unrealistic. Their brains are literally not fully developed yet! That’s why they’re willing to try crazy stuff, both good and bad. This lack of realism and judgment allows them to see visions and have dreams that those of us who have been worn down by the realities of life may no longer see. Adults tend to use microscopes while teenagers have a penchant for telescopes. We tend to get worn down by life and they tend to get fired up by causes. We wonder how much money it will take and they just don’t care.
An old French proverb goes, “The most dangerous swordsman in France is the one who has never wielded a sword.” Why are they dangerous? They don’t know the rules so they just hack away and break the rules of engagement until they win.
Teenagers don’t know the rules of engagement which can help them win souls. They can break the foolish patters of their forefathers which, for the most part, has kept the Gospel locked within the four walls of the church sanctuary.
They don’t know that they can’t reach the world for Christ just by spreading the gospel so they are willing to do it. They don’t know that they can’t reach their schools for Christ without market research so they just reach it.
The average teenager has 425+ online and face-to-face friends. They can use their social media clout to spark Gospel conversations in ways we could never imagine as adults.
Hitler hijacked teen culture and used it to advance the Nazi agenda. Communists harnessed and unleashed the idealism of teenagers to spread the message of communism. For years radical Muslims have recruited young people to spread a message of hate and, in far too many cases, trigger acts of terrorism around the globe.
If evil people and evil philosophies can mobilize young people for their causes then why can’t the Bride of Christ unleash young people to spread the ultimate message of love for the best cause ever?
As we just saw recently in the news teenagers across the nation rallied for marches and protests after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Teenagers caught the attention of the nation. What if they caught the attention of the church?
Teenagers are the most underutiziled, underestimated and underchallenged group of people in the church. As a result, many of our churches are dying.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto was asked about how he felt. His answer was stark, “I am fearful that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with terrible resolve.”
It is time to awaken the sleeping giant in the church called teenagers and fill them with holy resolve. If this appeals to you as a youth leader and want to find out more how to mobile your teenagers for a Gospel advancing movement, click here.
Some ask the question, “Why teenagers?” My answer is this, why wouldn’t you focus on teenagers? They come to Christ quicker and can spread the Gospel faster and further than most adults!
It’s time to awaken the sleeping giant!