While chatting with Christian Dunn recently, he mentioned the new Redpoint Magazine.  What an exciting new venue for youth leaders of the Vineyard to share experiences, tools, encouragement, and most of all, what God is doing in the youth of the Vineyard today.  I have had the opportunity to be a part of leading and ministering with youth for just over 5 years now and one of the biggest things I have found is the need for fellowship and connecting with other youth leaders.  The ideas, encouragement, prayer and wisdom that comes from so many conversations can be the edge that keeps you going when you feel like quitting.

As a volunteer youth pastor with limited budget, time and resources I have found many challenges and obstacles.  I could talk about what it is like being a volunteer leader working a job in Information Technologies as a consultant for 50-80 hours a week and the challenges of that.  I could talk about how difficult it is not having a set schedule and having to leave meetings because a customer had a server go down. I could talk about juggling being married with 5 children, ranging from 7-14 years old, all involved in sports, school events, boy scouts, girl scouts and friends galore.  I guess I could throw in the challenge of being the only bass player at church and doing practice weekly and two services every Sunday. Or how about working with my wife and another volunteer to run a Sunday school program for 10-12 year olds. And then,  on top of all that, running the youth group with no budget, limited leaders, and very little money except for gas and help on a conference when it is possible. Oh, and did I mention that only about one-third of the youth go to our church, and a majority of them are just from the community?  We have youth that are claimed Wiccan, Jehovah Witnesses, Atheists, Agnostics and so on.  I guess while there are many reasons I can give as to why our ministry is not where it should be, or our numbers are not what we would like, the real question is why are we doing this?

Does any of the above connect with you?  Are we called to be baby sitters? Called to just entertain?  Is our job to keep the youth out of the hair of the “grownups”?  Are we supposed to be training youth proper manners and how to sit in church and not draw attention so that they don’t disturb people during “big people’s” service?  Are we supposed to be just growing numbers or maintaining what appears to be, or was, an effective youth ministry? While the automatic response is, “Well of course not,” if I am going to be real, I have to say that I
have certainly struggled with those reasons and issues throughout my ministry.

Many times I have been approached by a parent who just wants their child to change.  They are struggling with school, friends, grades, relationship with their parents, drugs, or sex—and parents just want us to fix them.  We are the youth leaders, that’s our job right? Certainly I have felt a burden to want to affect change in the lives of youth.  I have had youth and families in desperate situations in my living room. I have had to confront youth trying to deal or use drugs on my property or even trying to sell them to my own children.  I have had youth break things at church, and go in the senior pastors office, and mess up the bathrooms and clog the toilets.  I have caught them smoking outside the church.  I have had to take phones because the new kid is sexting or showing everyone the video/photos on their phones.  I have had to call police on youth in my care for drug and alcohol possession.  I have had to confront potential youth leaders for soliciting minors from a cell phone and deal with the affected youth and their parents.

My goodness, yes I want the youth in my care to change, but I cannot be their parent.  I cannot break through a youth’s walls and bring around a personality change.  I am just that old guy leading youth group.  However, I have seen the same youth that was arrested for dealing drugs to my children turn around, meet God, and now be an active part of our youth group.  I had the privilege of seeing that youth go out on a week-long missions trip where she met God in a challenging personal way.  It was a risk taking her but she needed God badly enough to take the risk.  Since then she went through training on prayer and hearing from God, and now is praying for other people
and getting prophetic words for other youth and adults.  She is the same youth who when she started coming to youth group, claimed to be an atheist and wanted nothing to do with God.  Now she has met Dad and her life has never been the same.

I have seen that young potential leader get a major wakeup call and run into God.  He rededicated his life to God and is now in a Godly relationship, helping to lead a young adult meeting in our area, and seeing change in many people’s lives because of his testimony.

I have been a part of a youth’s life who came to us as a suicidal young person already sucked into drugs, alcohol and sex.  We got to love this person and see her life changed when she met Dad.  Through multiple prayer meetings where the prophetic and power of the Holy Spirit was moving she met Dad in a very real way.  She was never expected to finish high school or do anything with her life.  She now has graduated, gone on multiple mission trips, Project Timothy (a teen leader boot camp) training, and is now going to Cambodia with one of our other youth to help serve with Love 146.

And yet, even with these testimonies and more I still succumb to the questions asked earlier.  I want to take a moment and share something real and fairly unpleasant.  One of the things I have not handled well is the turn over that we see in youth ministry.  Our first few years were very difficult but we made some tremendous impact on a number of youth.  And out of hosting youth group at our house developed a very real second family with these youth.  We saw them grow and mature in Christ—and then they graduated. This happened again with our next bunch and again we were almost starting all over again.  We had seen most of the change in these youth through them
being in the presence of Dad.  Then the new year started and our numbers were down again. A whole new group started coming who had not experienced God and only knew of Jesus as a casual word used in joking around or conversation.  I decided that I did not want to lose any of the kids we had left so I dumbed down youth  group.  It was not cutting edge, we did very little worship.  We would have a watered-down teaching, and I leaned a lot more on games and entertainment to try to keep the numbers and add kids. When I did this, I did them the greatest disservice I could have.

We were ending the year and I was burnt out, frustrated, tired and had seen very little growth in the kids.  What had I done?  Babysitter, entertainer, clown, feeding milk instead of meat and not getting the youth into God’s presence.  To any youth that did not stick it out with us through this time, my sincerest apologies. And I pray that Dad would make himself real in your life and that you would know him and walk in the way.  For those that stuck around we actually finished the year on a wakeup call.

Our senior pastor decided to bring all home groups together for a 10 week “Acts 29” course and we brought the youth and joined the rest of the church. During this course they learned about quiet time, devotionals, hearing God’s voice, journaling, the importance of the Word of God, prophetic prayer and most important the Vineyard prayer model.  At the end of the session we spent an evening in worship and prayer and all the youth got to pray for each other and for adults.  The transformation in the kids has been amazing. The youth got to experience God, see that He is real, active and moving today.  They are now part of the prayer and prophetic ministry on Sunday morning at the end of each of the services.  Many of these kids are ones that were so shy you could barely have a conversation with them.  Now that they have experienced God moving through them they can’t get enough.  One of the most shy of our young girls actually went up and gave a word before the whole body.  (Don’t tell her that is supposed to be intimidating…  :0 ) They are leading and ministering to all the new kids coming in and are rising up to take this year’s youth group way beyond anything we ever imagined.  Youth don’t need a dumbed down message. They need the bar set high.  They need something bigger than themselves to sell out to.  They need something to die for.

So there are challenges of being a volunteer youth leader at a small growing community Vineyard church.  In the midst of these challenges we have seen that God renewed our youth group and myself.  And certainly the challenges of ministering to youth today continues to grow and change, the one thing that stays the same is the need of God’s presence.  And guess what?  I got lucky enough to be a part of this!! ARE YOU KIDDING???!!!!!!!

Jeremy Abbott
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