Should the “youth” in our youth ministry be our primary focus? Wherever we go these days, we’re introduced as guys who really have a heart for today’s generation of young people. And of course we do. We love teenagers, are quick to defend them, and are passionate about understanding them. But we think the “ministry” side of youth ministry is sometimes unrecognizable in the shadow of the “youth” side.
Ask the kids we work with—we’re not total killjoys. We love a good time and a good laugh. But what does it mean to authentically demonstrate the love and mission of God to the “people group” he’s entrusted to our care? What do they see valued as they watch the things we prioritize?
Let’s take the “youth” out of youth ministry for a moment. Ministry is the biblical description for what we do—we’re ministers who happen to be called to youth.
Consider Paul’s’ ministry imperatives to young Timothy (2 Timothy 2):
• Be strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ. Show kids that Jesus is our source and hope for life.
• Work to become a great teacher. There’s no shortage of great content for teaching, so let’s experiment with irresistible, creative ways to communicate God’s great truths.
• Endure hardship. That’s right, ministry is hard!
• Train like an athlete. Ministry is about discipline. Lots of discipline. Self-control. Restraint.
• Work like a farmer. Ministry takes time, vision, and patience. You’ll never meet a farmer who’s addicted to instant results.
• Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, central
to God’s plan of redemption. This is what it’s all about—a growing relationship with Jesus, what he called “the one thing” when he admonished Martha for criticizing Mary’s single-track attention to him.
• Endure everything for the sake of God’s people. We’re talking about the hours, the criticisms, the parents who are chronically late to pick up their kids. Endure all of it for the sake of God’s people!
• Live in light of your calling. Do not be ashamed as you correctly illuminate the Word of God. Study. Pray. Live in Christian community.
• Gently instruct others so that they might be led to
repentance. Call others to the same journey you are on.
Maybe the following questions would help us prioritize what “ministry” looks like before we default to “youth” ministry:
What does it mean for us to truly develop our young people?
Do we promote our mission trips to be “fun” or “sacrificial”?
Do we see ourselves as a “youth group” or the “church”?
Do we value ministry to parents as much as to their children?
Do we live out the above imperatives in our small groups?Is God the genie who fixes all our problems or the One who promises to walk through our problems with us?
Are we interested in numeric growth or growth in devotion?
Are parents viewed in our ministry as partners or enemies?
We need to meet our students where they are, but let’s not leave them there. Let’s identify ourselves, and them, with “Jesus the King, risen from the dead…according to [the] gospel—for which [we] suffer like a criminal….That’s why [we] put up with everything for the sake of God’s chosen ones, so that they too may obtain, with glory that lasts forever, the salvation which is in King Jesus” (from N.T. Wright’s paraphrase of 2 Timothy 2:8-10 in Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters).
Steve Argue and Dave Livermore are co-founders of Intersect, a community for emerging influencers intersecting for theological, personal, and missional formation. They live in Michigan, and you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.