I was 14 years old when it happened. Insecure. Wanting to please people. So desperately wanting to be liked. That’s when the adult leader of the Bible Study I had been attending asked the question, “Would any of you like to try to lead?” He instructed us to pray about it and come back next week.
I was the only person to volunteer.
This “leadership position” lasted only a few weeks, but it was my first taste of someone older than me saying, “join me” rather than “watch me.” It was a powerful message. I am one of the lucky ones—the generation before me in my church was inclusive to a fault. Myself and the other teens at that time were invited into just about every possible aspect of larger church life that you can imagine.
Don’t Just Watch Me—Join Me!
There is something powerful and life-giving that happens when an older person, who is more capable than you, asks you to step up and join them in ministry. Remember what Jesus said to the disciples when they were faced with thousands of hungry faces staring at them?
Mark 6:35-37 (NIV)
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
Could Jesus have done it on his own? Of course! But he didn’t want to be the only one with the cool Kingdom of God stories! The point was, he wanted them talking about how God had used THEM to do this miracle, pray for that person, serve this person, meet that need, etc.
As we look to the future of the Vineyard, one thing that we are excited about is integrating the Vineyard family more completely. Instead of seeing our young people existing on a parallel reality that exists near us, but never intersects with us, we want to integrate. But how? How can we foster teens finding meaningful places of ministry in the larger body? Over the years I have tried to employ much of what my leaders did for me when I was younger—I don’t have all the answers, but here are some ideas to at least get the discussion started. We need to be talking about this, and then implementing it, so that we make sure we don’t lose the next generation. If we don’t create space for them now, it is unlikely they will want to stick around later!
We can’t expect our young people to be integrated into our larger church if we don’t equip them to do so. How will they ever pray on our prayer ministry teams, if we don’t first train them? This is the model of discipleship that we see with Jesus of course. He often taught then showed, or vice versa. Then sent them out and gave them a chance to do it. This model works—it works for teens today. So train them! Let’s create training schools, classes, equipping nights at youth group. Let’s have senior pastors, senior leaders, and youth pastors teach on hearing God’s voice, prophecy, deliverance, praying for healing, the 5 step prayer model, how to read the Bible, and so on! At a recent winter retreat a young lady asked me to pray for her for healing. Could I have done this on my own? For sure! But instead I grabbed two 13 year olds instead to come pray. God healed her through their prayers, and now they have a testimony! The only reason I knew I could ask those two girls, though, was that we had trained them in healing prayer at youth group already!
Create A Training Ground
I’m a big believer in creating “sacred space” for teens to experiment with and practice their faith without the watching eyes of bunches of adults. It is a great place for them to practice speaking up, laying hands on others, being in small groups, doing missions, etc. It is safer and far less intimidating than Sunday morning, or other full church expressions. Of course we need to make sure our youth leaders are pushing this pedal—creating opportunities to use their gifts, and try out their training! I remember one time when I was 16 leading a Bible study in my house and a young teenager began to manifest demonically. What was I supposed to do!? I called my pastor and mentor. He walked me through it, over the phone! I learned a lot that night!
Make Meaningful Space for Them
I think a lot of churches do a good job with those first two points, but sometimes it is easy to drop the ball before really opening up the larger church forums to our teens. There is inherent risk with this of course! But we need to ask two questions. First, “what parts of our church do we want our youth integrated into?” And second, “what are we willing to do to make that happen?”
- Can we invite them into ministry? Here are some areas I think teens can do a great job in: prayer teams, evangelism, helping the poor, worship, prophetic teams, healing prayer, deliverance ministry, missions, kids ministry. They can even be helpful in the teaching ministry!
- Can we invite them into service? Can they help with sound, or A/V, or as welcomers and greeters?
- Can we invite them into our communities? It’s probably not enough to just ask them to do ministry with us. We need to live life together! Let’s invite them to men’s retreats, women’s retreats, church dinners, even leadership dinners!
Along the Way
As we venture into these waters, let’s always be on their side. Let’s be their defenders, as I’m sure they will run into obstacles and sometimes even make messes! Let’s invite them over and over again. Adults tend to get intimidated by teens, so if we muster the courage to invite them once and they don’t show, we feel rejected and give up! We need to be the ones who keep pursuing, keep checking, keep inviting! We may need to get creative. What worked in the past may not be what works in the future. They may force us to be flexible! And let’s be great coaches. I’m not a fan of just patting young people on the back, no matter how well they did. I love coaching. I love taking time after whatever event has happened in their lives, speaking into what they did well, and what could use improvement.
I think this issue of the generations learning to work together and be on the same team is huge. I think it is crucial for the health of longevity of any individual church, and for our movement as a whole. So let’s commit to looking for opportunities to step to the side and say to our teens, “You feed them!”