What if we pour into these young teenage leaders, disciple them, and do ministry alongside of them instead of for them? What if we ease back on our ministry to teenagers, supplementing it with more ministry by teenagers?
Ministry to BY Teenagers
Developing Leaders from Within
By Jonathan McKee
The following article is an excerpt from Jonathan's brand new book, Ministry by Teenagers: Developing Leaders from Within. Get the book here (in stock).
A few years ago I met a young girl at my church named Heather. During Heather's eighth-grade year, she introduced five of her school friends to Jesus.
How many of your friends
have you introduced to Jesus this year?
Yeah, Heather has me beat, too.
Those five friends, all girls, brought even more friends to youth group. My wife and I helped in the youth group at the time. So my wife began discipling Heather and several others in this growing group of girls. About eight of them became regulars at our church.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens when eight cute girls start going to church.
Yup. Guys started coming to church-guys who'd never even thought about church before.
By the end of Heather's eighth-grade year, about 10 to 15 of her friends were regular attendees-and seven gave their lives to Jesus. Several of them went off to Christian colleges after high school. One was Heather's college roommate at Point Loma Nazarene University.
For many youth workers, 15 kids is an entire youth group. For Heather 15 kids was the result of her heart to see her non-Christian friends find hope in their lives. Wouldn't it be cool to have a Heather in every church?
Aaron was the first person to greet me when I walked into the youth ministry office at a small church in the Bible Belt. A youth pastor from the church, named Brian, had contacted me a few months prior and booked me to come speak and train for the weekend.
Aaron asked about my flight, and we made small talk for a few minutes. I quickly discovered Brian wasn't even there-he was out running errands. No worries. Aaron was warm and engaging.
"We've been praying about this weekend for a long time," Aaron offered. "We're really excited for what God has planned."
Aaron and I talked about the plans for the weekend as he stapled some packets together. Brian and I had gone over the schedule multiple times, but it was interesting to hear Aaron's perspective and expectations for the weekend. (I'm always intrigued to hear what's been communicated to other leaders in the ministry.)
"Do you see the focus of this weekend as outreach or spiritual growth?" I asked Aaron.
Aaron arranged a small stack of papers on the counter and then rested his hands for a moment, pondering the question. "I think we're starting with more of an outreach focus, but then we'll slowly move toward spiritual growth."
I nodded in agreement, setting down my laptop bag and leaning on the desk to my right.
"Tonight all the kids are bringing their friends," he continued, "and you'll present the gospel. That's outreach. But it's also a step of growth for many of the kids because they've been praying for this night for a long time, and they've each invited friends they've been praying for."
Aaron picked up one of the stapled packets for me to see. "Tomorrow morning you'll train the leadership team with your workshop. That's also an opportunity for spiritual growth as we'll learn how to do better ministry." He placed the packet neatly in the pile with the others. "And finally, on Sunday morning I think your preaching in the services
will focus on helping the congregation grow as well." He raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders. "Right?"
I smiled. "I think that's the plan."
Brian, the youth pastor who was still AWOL, had verbalized the weekend's focus to me several times over the phone. But his assistant, Aaron, had articulated it better than I'd heard yet.
I was helping Aaron staple the remaining packets when Brian finally arrived, apologetic about getting stuck in a department store line.
An hour later Brian and I were sitting in a restaurant dialoguing about the weekend while Aaron ran a few errands. I mentioned that Aaron had gone over the schedule with me a little bit. "He's a sharp guy," I added.
"Aaron?" Brian clarified, stirring his milkshake with a spoon. "Oh man! Absolutely. We're blessed to have Aaron."
I realized I'd never learned Aaron's role in the youth ministry. So I asked, "Is Aaron your middle school director? Your intern?" Youth ministries have so many staff positions these days; it's hard to know who's filling which roles.
Brian stopped stirring his shake and looked at me with a blank expression on his face. "Aaron?"
For a second I wondered if my question had confused him.
Brian cracked a smile. "Aaron's in eleventh grade. He's one of my student leaders."
I was shocked. "St...st ... student? Aaron's a student?"
Brian chuckled, "Has been since kindergarten." He took a sip of his milkshake. "Of course, I didn't have him until middle school. He wasn't a perfect kid, but he was always hungry for truth, and he found it in the Bible. I've been discipling him since eighth grade. Last year-his sophomore year-Aaron joined our teen leadership team. He's moved from attending Bible studies to leading them."
"Wow," I finally offered. "Aaron sounds like a real asset to your ministry."
"Jonathan," he said, leaning in really close, "you have no idea. If I'm going to be out of town on Sunday, I don't call any of my adult leaders ... I call Aaron."
"Wow!" I repeated, at a loss for words. What I was honestly thinking was, I want an Aaron
Heather-a kid who did more outreach in a year than most youth workers do in a career.
Aaron-a kid who could run a Bible study ... or the entire youth group ... by himself.
Forget about all our programs and ministry methodologies for a moment. Set aside all our volunteer training and development, as important as that is, for just a moment. Can you imagine if your ministry had a "Heather" and an "Aaron"? What about a few "Heathers" and "Aarons"?
Think about how our ministries could be radically transformed with teen leaders like these two.
Now let me ask you a more probing question: How much time are you devoting to developing "Heathers" and "Aarons"?
When Jesus finished his ministry on earth, his last words before he returned to the heavens were hard to forget: "Go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:19). How many of us are really doing that?
Let me quickly clarify: Discipling a kid doesn't make that kid a leader. But in the case of Jesus and his disciples, numerous leaders did emerge, including Peter, who became "the rock" on which Jesus built his church.
It all started with discipleship.
Recently, our ministry surveyed thousands of youth workers who use the free resources on our website, asking them how these tools and resources have helped them. We asked them a handful of questions, including these two:
- Have these resources helped you introduce teens to Jesus?
- Have these resources helped your teens grow spiritually?
I was amazed at how many people didn't even address those questions.
Allow me to explain. This isn't due to a lack of these kinds of resources on our ministry's website. Our front page alone contains an "Outreach Resource of the Week" and "Spiritual Growth Resource of the Week." The focus of our ministry is helping youth workers make an eternal impact. Our site is content-rich.
Regardless, most youth workers who responded thanked us for the games and skits our site provides. The majority didn't even answer the questions about their kids meeting Jesus or growing spiritually. Some candid responses were, "Our program is going great; but no, I don't think I've seen much of those two things" ("those two things" being meeting Jesus and growing spiritually
Think about that statement for a second: "Our program is going great ..." I'd be curious to know their definition of great
mean big numbers? Maybe it means large numbers of ice-cream sundaes consumed? Perhaps great
means a huge response to the dodgeball tournament?
How great are our youth ministries if we "aren't seeing much" of kids putting their trust in Jesus or growing spiritually?
As our ministry's content team got together to review the survey results, our jaws dropped at some of the responses we received from youth workers around the world. (We sent our survey to thousands and received hundreds of responses.) We saw it again and again: "Thanks for the games! We use them every week!"
I'd read a response like that and yell, "AND ... ?" (There's no denying that I'm a dramatic person.)
I'm fine with games if they help connect us with kids or break down walls between us and them. But what then? I wanted to scream, "What are you doing to make a lasting impact with teenagers?!! What are you doing to expose kids to the truth from the Word of God?!!"
Will playing dodgeball, attending Christian rock concerts, and participating in icebreakers be the only youth ministry experiences our kids have to lean on when they face the real world? Or are those activities opening doors to something more foundational for their lives?
Yesterday (as I write this) I looked at our web statistics to examine the traffic on our website-something I try to do once a month. Do you know what the top two pages were?
"Games" and "Skits."
Imagine our disappointment.
If you're like us, you want to make an eternal impact in the lives of teenagers-not just break the record for the most marshmallows shoved into a kid's mouth.
I don't think many youth workers would argue against God's desire for us to "Go and make disciples"! The question is, "Are we really making disciples, or are we just making a lot of root beer floats?"
And we wonder why kids are exiting their faith when they leave high school.
What are our youth ministries really focusing on? What's the desired outcome of our time with kids? How much effort are we really putting into not only discipling, but also developing "Heathers" and "Aarons"?
"To" or "By "
Millions of teenagers are apathetic about their faith, and their indifference greatly reveals itself each year when they graduate high school ... and exit their faith altogether
. It's a problem every youth worker in every denomination acknowledges...
If you enjoyed this article from Jonathan McKee, you'll love his brand new book, Ministry By Teenagers: Developing Leaders from Within
. CLICK HERE to order this book
from us right now.