You’re a Youth Leader…Yes, YOU! by Pastor Bennett
You’re a Youth Leader…Yes, YOU!
New Life made a prayerful shift in ministry focus within this past year: we transitioned from a traditional youth ministry approach to a more holistic and integrated approach to discipleship with youth. We know this is a big change, and we know it looks quite different from what many of us are used to. We don’t have all the answers, but biblical conviction regarding ministry and discipleship has steered us into these waters. Much prayer and Spirit-led conversation among leadership have steered us into these waters. As we continue to work our way through this transition, we’d like to communicate our thinking and our aim once again. Your help, flexibility, and prayerful support are all invaluable to our congregation during this time! Let’s consider two important elements to this whole thing.
- Understanding Youth Ministry
“Youth ministry” as we know it is a new phenomenon in the history of Christ’s church. It may not seem that way since we’ve grown so accustomed to it, but it is. And despite many years of some noteworthy success with the traditional youth ministry model, we’ve become convinced that it simply isn’t the most biblically faithful approach to ministering to our youth. While segregation of generations in worship and church life has become commonplace, it is simply not seen in Scripture. The Bible’s picture of ministry and community among God’s people always includes intergenerational worship. Therefore, we’re convinced that our young adults will be best served as they are integrated into the life of the church as a whole.
Our efforts to build this kind of community will be crippled if we limit our discipleship opportunities for young adults to a group or ministry that is essentially its own thing, separate from or outside of our everyday fellowship as the greater church body. More often than not, this is what we’ve seen many traditional youth ministries become. We know that our tendency as people is to gravitate toward others who are similar to us. But we also believe that allowing this tendency to shape our ministry as a congregation will limit our growth as Christians and witness as a church.
In The Compelling Community, Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever explain what we mean: “[A] community[that]
consists of little more than demographic segmentation…fails to display the power of the gospel…The reason why demographic-based ministry ‘works’ so well is that people are more comfortable with others who are just like them. But…this kind of community proclaims significantly less about the gospel than community among people who have nothing in common but Jesus.”
While we may have many things in common with one another at New Life, we aim to have Jesus as our most fundamental and ultimate unifier. He is the real glue to our community, and we believe that this reality can be more obvious and more glorious when we’re not sending our young adults to their own “thing” while the rest of us do our own thing.
- Understanding Our Call to Action
This big transition will fail unless we see ourselves (all of us) as ministers of the gospel. This requires intentional effort on our part. We no longer get to simply drop our youth off at some event and let others do the work of discipleship. It’s up to us! Pastor Tony has remarked that we don’t have a youth leader at New Life; we have three hundred of them! I am a youth leader, and so are you. We must see ourselves this way and act accordingly.
In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul describes the process of discipleship and growth within the church. What we must recognize is the emphasis on “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (v12). Discipleship is a church-wide activity. Nowhere in Scripture do we see God’s people relying solely on the “professionals” for the building up of the body. Rather, with sleeves rolled up, all are to take part together.
If you are a disciple of Jesus, then you are called to be a disciple-maker. In The Trellis and the Vine, Marshall and Payne write: “Jesus doesn’t have two classes of disciple: those who abandon their lives to his service and those who don’t. The call of discipleship is the same for all.”
What does that mean for you in terms of our big change? Be a youth leader! Invite young adults over for dinner, host a pool party, or grab coffee with a few teens that you feel led to connect with. Ask them about their lives and include them in yours. Start a focused Bible study with a small group of students. Traditional youth ministry removes this burden from us as it is placed solely on the program and its facilitator(s). But our approach is a call to action for all believers.
That said, it’s also important to realize both sides of youth ministry. Youth are not off the hook! We want our young adults to be encouraged to actively seek out discipleship opportunities and even take the initiative to become more involved with our church community. Church community is the only context in which disciple formation can occur for any of us.
As we journey ahead, please be in prayer for this continued transition process. Help us as we continue to work towards an “Only Jesus” community of believers that span ages and demographics.