“Their Faith will Increase: The Importance of Youth Ministry"
written by Natalie Awabdy, class of 2023
“Are you listening? Look at me when I talk to you.” How many of us remember hearing those words from our moms? They were eager to teach us some type of lesson and wanted our full attention. More than likely, we gave it to them, because that is what most kids do. In contrast, if these words were spoken to a fifteen-year-old, they might be met with an eye-roll, back talk, or ignored altogether. Believe it or not, there is a medical reason that explains why this happens. “Although the brain continues to develop throughout life, children's brains are far more impressionable than adult brains, meaning that they are both more open to learning and to being shaped by outside factors.” (Boston Children’s Hospital). Children are a more captive audience and more impressionable than older teens. This is why it is so important to build into their faith as they grow up.
Well-known pastor, D.L. Moody once said, “If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God.” D.L. Moody also said, “If you asked 100 people when they became a Christian, 63 became a Christian between the age of 4-14, 34 between the age of 15-29, and only 3 out of 100 after the age of 30.” People need to be reached when they are a child, or else they will most likely ignore what is being said to them as they grow older. Once children come to a saving faith, the next stage is discipling in their youth. This is where their local church holds the responsibility for providing that community for them. Students should be actively involved in a church youth group because there is a greater chance for them to come to know Christ and remain in their faith; there are many examples in the Bible where God chose to use youth for His divine plan; and they can be trained under equipped leaders who value youth and how God can use them.
So why value youth? Here’s why. Millennials (those born between 1981–1996) have shown a declining trend in youth ministry. “Millennials are leaving the church. Nearly six in ten (59%) young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away...” (“The Priorities”). These millennials are now parents with their own children and teenagers who likely are not being raised in the church.
What is the importance of a church youth group and its impactful youth leaders? Church youth groups are valuable because they shape the minds and values of today’s teenagers. Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn is well-known for saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” It is important that our Christian youth are surrounding themselves with other believers, because they will be greatly influenced by their beliefs and attitudes. These Christian friends can likely be found within a church youth group setting. A youth leader can be impactful on youth as well. Church youth leaders, specifically, have a Biblical worldview, which is why they should be a part of the young peoples’ daily lives. There are certain steps to become an effective church youth leader.
What makes effective church youth leaders? Two of the main things are commitment and consistency. This creates a stronger relationship between the leaders and their youth small group. It also allows the youth to trust one another and to open up to each other. Impactful youth leaders should have a stronger connection with the parents. By having a connection with the parents, the youth leaders are better equipped for ministering to their students. To further their impact, youth leaders should consider getting training by earning a degree in youth ministry. By getting this degree, youth leaders are better trained, equipped, and prepared to lead and teach youth God’s Word. Leaders will do whatever they can to pour into youth, because they realize how valuable youth are to God.
God values youth. There are different examples and ways of why and how Jesus valued youth. Jesus said in Matthew 19:13-14, “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and so not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” This verse explains that Jesus quickly corrected his disciples and instructed them to clear the way and let children come to him. He also said that if an adult wants to come to him, they must become like a child. Matthew 18:3-5 says, “And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” This verse is evident in showing that Jesus loved children and wanted to use them for His kingdom purpose.
There are many Biblical examples of how God chose to use youth. One example of God calling a young person to serve Him was Samuel. God spoke to Samuel, calling him to follow, obey, and serve Him in his youth, not just later as an adult. When Samuel was “old and gray,” he remembered that it was from the time of his youth that he was a leader for the people of Israel. In 1 Samuel 12:2 it says, “And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day.” Samuel wasn’t the only young person that was called to serve God in his youth.
A second example of God calling a young person to serve Him was Joshua. Exodus 33:11 says “Joshua was called ‘a young man’ standing guard at the tabernacle constantly.” Joshua was Moses’ aid since “youth/early age.” It was important that Joshua had many years to observe Moses’ leadership, his successes and failures as God was training Joshua to be the next leader of His people. There is another Old Testament example that God called as a man. This was Joseph.
In Genesis 37:2 it says, “. . . Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. . . .” It was about this age when God interrupted Joesphs’ sleep with some amazing dreams. These dreams foretold that Joseph was going to be a great leader one day, and that others would bow down to him. While this was many years away, God called him as a youth and was already working in him to bring about His plan. The New Testament also has examples of God calling young people to His service. The most well-known of these was Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Mary was likely around fifteen years-old when the angel appeared to her. As Christians, we know that Mary was engaged to Joseph, and that would put her around fifteen or sixteen years-old, which was about the age girls married. Mary questioned the angel’s words when he appeared to her in Luke 1:34: “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” But out of obedience to God, she responded in verse 38: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’”
All of the examples show that it’s important to remember God when you are young, because He can use you in big ways to complete His work on earth.
Being involved in a youth group is important because it bridges the gap between the older and the younger; you get discipled with peers; you get to do mission projects and fun ongoing activities, and youth leaders partner with the parents. Phillips Brooks, American Episcopal clergyman and author said, “You can keep a faith only as you can keep a plant, by rooting it into your life and making it grow there.” One way to make young peoples’ faith grow is to connect with older Christians in church. This might be through a worship leader, Sunday school teacher, or small group leader. All of these older believers can provide faith experiences that only came over time. They know the importance of attending church and youth group, reading the Bible, and choosing your friends wisely. All of these examples can actually be found in a small group setting. This is where discipleship with peers happens.
Discipleship with peers is like a journey of spiritual growth. There are many examples of Biblical heroes and their mentors. The very name discipleship comes from the disciples who followed Jesus. He was the greatest teacher and mentor that ever lived, so to say that His spiritual mentoring of His followers is called discipleship makes perfect sense. Jesus discipled a small group of followers, but discipling can also be one-on-one. An example of this discipleship between Paul and Timothy. One of the more well-known pieces of advice from Paul to Timothy is found in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Paul is telling Timothy to not let his youthfulness keep him from being used for God’s glory. Besides discipleship between youth and their leaders taking place in youth group, there are many other activities that happen as well.
Youth groups are often involved in mission projects, have fun entertainment, as well as participate in ongoing activities. An article written by AriseChurch says, “As young people see the effect that the service has on their community, their faith will also increase. They will understand more and more that this is how Christ originally came to serve us in any capacity we needed, willingly, out of kindness and love.” There are numerous mission project opportunities for young people to do in their community. Some of these might include serving food in homeless shelters, making care packages for troops or college students, organizing a clothing drive or clean-up day at church, and visiting nursing homes or hospitals. While these mission projects serve the local community, they often create a fun environment for the participants. There are many other activities that are both fun and entertaining for youth group. Some examples are movie nights, youth retreats, summer camps, game nights, and going to Christian concerts.
These are just special events that happen throughout the year; however, it is important to stay involved in weekly activities such as youth group meetings, Bible studies, and church attendance because this is where students will learn about the Bible and grow in their Spiritual walk. All of these activities and events can only happen with strong leadership in place. This is why it takes a capable and educated youth leader to make these activities happen and keep students interested and involved.
An effective youth leader is someone who is committed and has consistency in being at youth group, has a strong connection with parents, and gets trained in a youth ministry degree. “It may be easy to ignore the youth [them], but the truth is that they are desperate for adults to actually show up and invest in their life on a consistent basis” (Bayne). College Park Church requires or strongly urges a student leader to make a four-year commitment to their students, taking them through their four years of high school. Commitment and consistency are big because so much of life today for teens is noncommittal and inconsistent. As teens open up about struggles they are having, they need a leader they have built trust with over a long period of time. In order for a youth leader to effectively lead, there are personal qualifications and responsibilities to help them prepare.
The first responsibility for an effective youth leader is to have a Biblical foundation in order to communicate well with young people. There are several ways to build this Biblical foundation. One of the easiest ways is to go to a Bible teaching Christian church. Another way is to sit under the teaching of a pastor, a youth pastor, or a worship leader. Additionally one might attend a Bible study, community outreach, and any evangelism projects. They should do as much as they can with their local church to grow in their knowledge of God. In addition, leaders should take the responsibility to understand the modern and current influences on youth. They then should apply that Biblical foundation that they have received to show youth how to view the world through the teachings of Scripture. Parents can help with this Biblical worldview interpretation, which is why youth leaders should partner with parents.
The second responsibility is to have a strong connection with parents. Parents, not youth ministries, have the primary responsibility for raising kids. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. . . . Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” These verses are addressed to parents and talk about their role in impressing on their children to “. . . Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The verse also says to write them on the door frames of your houses. This also implies that He is addressing parents in this commandment. Because the role of parents is so important, youth leaders should partner with them to equip and train them for this calling. An article written by Crossings says, “A most recent concern in the church has been the observable disconnect between young people and their parents” (“What Makes Youth Ministry Biblical?”). Young people tend to open up more to their youth leaders than to their parents. Because some very sensitive information might be shared, it’s important that the youth leader and parents have already established a strong partnership in guiding the young person.
The third responsibility for an effective youth leader is to continue in a spiritual education. One way for leaders to grow spiritually is through reading books written by other youth leaders. Some of these book topics might be about growing as a youth leader. Others might be more practical topics such as new and exciting trends in today’s youth. Others books might be all about youth group games or appealing technology to today’s youth. Whatever is appealing to youth today is where a youth group leader should be investing in his/her knowledge. This is important because it will allow the youth leader to better connect with their students. Besides knowledge from books, youth leaders can grow spiritually from being in a classroom.
One classroom setting is at seminary or Bible college. Here, they can further their education alongside others who are interested in ministry. They can be taught by professors or pastors who have years of experience and training that they can benefit from. Another classroom setting might be from conferences or conventions they attend. These might be on topics that are relevant to them or could be useful in the future. Some training can simply come from the local church and resources they might offer. Even with all of these positive things in place, some youth ministries still struggle, or can even fail.
There are many explanations that people give when their youth ministry fails. These are some of the main ones. Youth ministry only focuses on entertainment; it only focuses on being fun, and there is no emphasis on spiritual growth. Another reason could be that the youth ministry only focuses on bringing in the lost, yet neglects the spiritual growth of those who are already attending. A third reason is that youth ministry is only focused on by the youth leaders of the church and doesn’t have the support of the rest of the church. Youth ministry should not be seen as a church within the church. Another12Ministries says, “Nowhere do the authors of the New Testament speak of three “bodies of Christ” or three churches, one consisting of believers from 0-12 years old, 13-18 years old, and 19 and up! Youth ministry must never become encapsulated unto itself. It must keep, as a primary focus, the preparation of youth to take their place in the Body of Christ, the Church.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 doesn’t talk about three different age brackets in a church. Instead, it talks about one body, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” This verse doesn’t specify children, youth, or adults, it is just one body of believers. This is why all age-related ministries should have equal emphasis in a church, with special emphasis on discipling children and youth.
Students should be actively involved in a church youth group because there is a greater chance for them to come to know Christ and will remain in their faith; there are many examples in the Bible where God chose to use youth for His divine plan; they can be trained under equipped leaders who value youth and how God can use them. Over a life-time of ministry, Dr. Moody knew the importance of Proverbs 22:6, which says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The way to train up a child is to value them as Jesus did. Many times in the Bible, Jesus said we are to be like children, both in our faith and how we approach Him. There are many examples in the Bible of how God showed how valuable youth are, because He used young people in big ways.
Young people need community. They become like the people closest to them, because they are so impressionable at a young age. Because of this, students should become part of a church youth group to become more Christ-like. They can also have a lot of fun and serve their communities. It takes a strong leader who is well-organized to make these events happen. He can get further education and training to be more effective. Reading books, attending conferences, and having ministry mentors will also equip them well. Though there are reasons some youth ministries fail, most can succeed when the right elements are in place.
Capturing youth’s attention when they are young is a priority. Their eternity is at stake. Young people are the most attentive and impressionable of any age. If they are going to choose to follow Christ, it will likely begin at an early age. It is the role and responsibility of a youth leader and the church to make sure that they are given every possible tool to grow Spiritually and keep them from walking away from their faith when they are older.
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