The fifth mark of youth ministry that I think is critical to really making a difference is helping students develop a hunger for depth in their relationship with God.
I cannot save my students. I cannot transform my students. I cannot sustain life for my students.
Since only God can be the breath of life for them, it is critical that students learn to seek deeper relationship with Him. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. It’s only a right relationship with God that can fill this life with meaning that never falls short. It’s easy in youth ministry to settle for shortcuts that give the appearance of relationship with God without really emphasizing that. But if we are going to make a difference in student ministry, we have to get behind the appearance and help students sink into the heart of God. We can’t settle.
We can’t settle for games and giveaways that get a lot of students to show up, but send them home with merely a fun experience.
We can’t settle for energetic music that raises hands and pulses, but does little to lift and nourish the spirit.
We can’t settle for awesome branding that clearly identifies who we are and what we’re about, but doesn’t lead people to who He is and what He is doing.
We can’t settle for a young team of Bible knowledge experts able to argue intelligently about God with their classmates, but who’ve never wrestled with God about their own faith.
We can’t settle for a tight knit community of students who love and support each other, but have missed the love and support God wants them to give to those outside that community.
We can’t settle for an emotional conversion moment that leads a kid to tears at the altar or to the baptistry, but does little to lead them to choose to follow Jesus in the practical steps of living life.
None of these things are detrimental to a healthy youth ministry, it’s just that none of these things alone are enough to really make a lasting impact in young lives. The challenge for youth leaders is that by doing those things, we can appear to have successful ministries – those things make our ministries look good to the people who ‘pay the bills’ so to speak. And when we push our students to go beyond the facade, sometimes they push back. Sometimes, they just walk away. So how do we challenge our students to seek a deep relationship with God, without pushing away students who aren’t quite ready to go all in yet?
- Seek depth. If your own hunger for a deep relationship with God is waning, stop whatever you can stop and reconnect with the only source of the grace you need to do ministry. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…
- Communicate expectations. Your church’s leadership, your students and their parents, and your other adult youth leaders need to know that you have this value – that you aren’t satisfied with attenders. The hope that you work toward is that your students will not just show up to whatever you planned, but that they will show up in the story He wants to write with their lives. Let your students know what you think they are capable of.
- Communicate God’s Word. I used to “teach lessons” or “give youth talks” but lately, I’m noticing a shift in my mentality toward teaching in youth ministry – now, I’m more likely to open the Bible and preach. It’s not that what I was doing before was wrong, but my approach is different now. I don’t try to come up with neatly packaged lessons about whatever the currently hot topic is, I want to dig through God’s Word and show my students what I find. It’s amazing how often God hits right where He needs to.
- Have fun. Having fun is not a sign of shallow ministry, it’s a sign of vitality. Play dodgeball sometimes, or go paint-balling. Get out of your office and sit in some kid’s game chair while he blows you away in Halo or chases you down in his favorite racing game.
- Seek depth. I cannot overemphasize how critical this is. A stale or shallow relationship with God is no place from which to lead. Go deep with God and let Him go deep into you… it’s the only way to sustain your ministry.
This is the 5th element of the Foundations of Youth Ministry series. Check out the other posts here and be sure to use the subscribe field at the top to get new posts via e-mail: