We all want to make the most of new beginnings, and longtime youth pastor Ralph Paige has helped point the way for me.
Though he’s been a ministry leader for more than 20 years, he treats every start of a new school year as a blank page. I joined a group of young youth pastors hungry to learn from Ralph’s veteran wisdom as we launch ourselves into another school-year reboot. I’ve turned our conversation with Ralph into a four-part series, starting with this first installment. First on his new-year agenda is a basic we say we value, but often ignore…
Enter into a new season of prayer. Every new school year Ralph says he enters into a season of prayer. He focuses his Jesus-conversations on three areas…
- First, he starts his “prep week” of prayer focusing on thankfulness. He reaches back over the last year and slowly, specifically thanks Jesus for all that He accomplished in and through his ministry. Like Jesus, he is generous in his praise.
- Second, he puts a blank sheet of paper in front of him and asks Jesus to direct what goals, priorities, and shifts he should be focused on. He finds a quiet spot to meditate on Scripture, then practices the spiritual discipline of listening to the voice of God. This practice produces results. He admits that when he was a young youth pastor he was less dependent on Jesus and more apt to rely on his own resources and ideas. He’s learned, over many years, that we get the best ideas from Jesus directly when we carve out time to pray and listen to His voice.
- Third, he prays for his teenagers and leaders. Ralph gives every leader (student and adult) a prayer card and asks them to fill it out with their pressing needs. This does two things—he can pray in a targeted way for them, and it gives him a window into their everyday life.
As a way of broadening the focus of his season of prayer, Ralph plans an early-fall prayer service for teenagers in his ministry. At the service, he moves them through three steps:
1. Personal Reflection—The night starts off with a relaxed “walking prayer” exercise, where kids wander the building while they pray.
2. Group Reflection—After the prayer walk, Ralph asks his teenagers what they learned from it. It’s amazing how God speaks to each of us differently, and students love hearing what Jesus is revealing to their friends.
3. Worship—Half of the service is then spent in a worship time.