The week to week rhythm of youth ministry is a roller coaster of fun, deep conversation and less than Paleo-friendly snacks. We plan, we schedule, we reschedule and we change the plan. As leaders, we’re constantly thinking about what to do to send a message to the students that would guide them toward Christ. There is no greater message, no greater news, after all! Almost two years ago, a team of youth leaders were in a conversation about our church’s youth programming, and it hit us that there was a message that we were sending that was under the radar. I believe that it was subconscious, unintentional, and accidentally harmful to the mission of creating disciples. We were putting so much emphasis on what happened at service and so little emphasis of spiritual disciplines that we sent a covert signal to the brains of our students that said, “The MOST IMPORTANT thing that you can do as a Christian is come to our service.” We’ve since come up with a couple of ways to combat this way of thinking that have been extremely helpful for the spiritual growth of our students. Here are a few:
- Make Discussion a Part of the CULTURE
If I have a “soapbox” in youth ministry, this is probably it. We’ve seen so much fruit from programming time for discussion on the topics we teach through in our services. More people process information by talking through it than we may realize, and learning from others who think differently than you is a key contributor in empathy, well-roundedness, and growth. Allowing students to bring doubts, paradoxes in faith, and hard questions to the table allows us the opportunity to keep ourselves off the pedestal of the pulpit and get in the trenches with people. It makes it clear that there’s more to walking with Jesus than filling our regular seat as often as possible and that is such valuable information for the up-and-coming Church of today!
- Use the Platform of the Service to Teach Spiritual Disciplines
I want to make it clear that I don’t think we should ever do away with preaching the Gospel. I believe that it has been a timeless way to share the Good News, and will continue to be used as a vehicle to bring people to Christ. With that being said, I believe that our services are a great place to teach the Biblical principles of the spiritual disciplines (prayer, reading the Bible, silence and solitude, etc.) in a way that can be understood by the students. We have the opportunity to teach a student WHY they should read the Bible on their own and HOW to read it the way it was meant to be read. Putting energy into the resources that we provide students with in the way of devotions or reading plans speaks the message that it is important.
- Think Small
If you lead a youth group of less than 25 or so, it may be hard for you to imagine breaking that group down into smaller groups. Although I can understand that point of view, all I can do is share the benefits that our team has seen over the years from making a larger group feel smaller. You will always get a more honest discussion out of a group of five or six high school boys than you would if there were girls around. There’s something about sitting together with a few people that speaks of a safety for people to engage more that they wouldn’t feel if they were just a part of the crowd. Getting smaller in our approach allows us to see the students that get through their school day by being invisible. We can create a sense of belonging that shows that walking together in community is more deep and real than simply attending the same youth group.