As I write this, I have an email in front of me from some volunteer youth workers asking what should be included in an effective youth ministry program in a congregation. Apparently, there has been a difference of opinion as to what the focus of the congregation’s program should be. Should it be fun and games? Should it be Bible study and worship? Should it be service? There is not one answer. But we do want youth ministry to serve the whole person, the whole teenager. We want to approach youth ministry holistically.
What does that mean? Seems to me there are several ways, each good, to approach this: The first would be to approach the person holistically and minister to and with them in body, mind and spirit. We care for their bodies in the games we play, the fellowship we enjoy, the food we serve at youth events. We take into account healthy nutrition, healthy competition and healthy relationships. We minister to the mind and give young people the opportunity to explore God’s word, to ask their questions, and to dialog about the issues and concerns that are a part of their lives, their culture, and their communities. Ministering to their spirit means helping them grow spiritually, again through Bible study, through music, through worship, and prayer.
Another approach might be as follows: A few years ago, we used to talk about the five functions of a congregation: worship, nurture, service, outreach, and fellowship. It is easy to see how a solid youth ministry can be built around concepts like these. You provide opportunities for youth to participate in worship, Bible study, service, learning, sharing the gospel and enjoying each other’s company in the process. If your youth program is weak in one area or another, you might concentrate some effort in that direction. However, you would never want to abandon the whole either.
Your youth ministry program should always be open to change and redirection as it is sensitive to the needs and concerns of youth. For example, perhaps your group has little or no experience in service. Planning a servant event or mission trip could be a great way to give your youth opportunities they haven’t had before in expressing their faith in God as they serve the needs of others.
At some point, you might find that getting together for volleyball and pizza won’t be so important, but engaging in dialog about a spiritual issue may be paramount to ministering to your young people’s needs. You may find that the annual January ski trip isn’t meeting needs anymore, that your youth are really looking for ways to share the gospel with their peers. You might find that your Sunday night praise service isn’t really working for your teens; that they would prefer something more “traditional.” You never know. Youth Ministry is funny like that.
God provides a model in Acts 2, very much along the lines we’ve already mentioned. In verse 42, Luke writes that the early church devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching. In other words, the early church devoted itself to Bible study, to the breaking of bread €” that is worship and celebration of the Lord’s Supper €” to fellowship, and to prayer, taking the opportunity to take the needs and celebrations of the group to the Lord for his guidance, care, and blessing. Luke also reports later that the early church members had everything in common, they praised God, and they were respected in their community. Do the things you do in youth ministry match up to the early church?
The best youth ministry program first focuses on Jesus and growing in relationship to Him. He is Lord and Savior, Guide and Brother. He is the reason we are God’s people. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, God has made us His own and we want to live for him in praise and thanksgiving.
Then the things we do, with Christ as center, should all be directed to honor God, help teens grow in their faith, and enable them to celebrate as God’s people with one another in all kinds of activities. We minister to the whole teen, in all his or her person, in all kinds of ways. That’s what makes youth ministry challenging. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it ministry.
Published October 2004