When I Think Back to Youth Group . . .
By Chris Maxwell
Youth ministry is full of tensions: sin and redemption, conversion and rejection, addiction and transformation, community and isolation. There’s tension between the drive for approval and the drive to introduce students to Christ and his church. Often, when pushed by inner need for success or local church plans for numbers, we focus on the things that will draw students to the ministry instead of what will stick with them far into the future. We offer what we assume they want—and end up competing with the entertainment offerings they get in bigger and better ways elsewhere.
It’s a tough tension to navigate. Without the attractions—the games, the food, the trendy series titles—many students won’t show up (at least not willingly). But it’s easy to become obsessed with those things, dropping the ball on the reasons youth ministry exists in the first place: discipleship, transformation, and relationship with God. I’ve lived this tension as a youth pastor and as a lead pastor. I live it now working with college students.
Let’s hear from a few of them. Let’s hear from college students who experienced the positives and negatives of youth ministry. Some of these students are followers of Christ today because they were discipled by servant leaders who chose to lead like Christ instead of fitting a cultural model. Others are following Christ in spite of youth pastors with jumbled priorities. Pay close attention to the things that stick out to them most, now that they’ve transitioned to college. Let their stories inform the priorities of your youth ministry.
Growing up, Preston moved around because of his father’s involvement in the military. He remembers youth group as a foundation during this time: “Looking back to my youth group years, I’m glad I had a youth pastor who was biblically sound and made the text come alive during his sermons.” Years after graduating from high school, he remembers youth group providing stability during an unpredictable time—not because of the pizza or games that brought him there in the first place, but because of solid biblical teaching that’s stuck with him.
Jonathan says, “I wish I’d had youth leaders who weren’t so busy doing other things. There were times when I felt like the youth group was just another thing on their plate rather than something they looked forward to. It showed in the way they interacted and communicated.” Now attending college and pursuing ministry, Jonathan works with the youth group at his own church. Though busy with schoolwork and relationships, he’s trying his best to invest time with his teens and to find joy in his current position.
Taylor is frank about his memories of youth ministry, and they aren’t all positive. He is in his final year of college and planning to enter some type of ministry. Taylor says, “I wish my youth pastor had been more in touch with the heart of God. More than anything, students need someone who understands the reality of who God is, a leader able to connect them to Him. I didn’t need the technology, the cool names, the clever series, or the random games. All I needed back then was for someone to show me rather than tell me about the love of God. I needed someone who was willing to follow God in a culture of apathy and arrogance, someone humble enough to lead by serving. Students may seem calloused, unmoved and unwavering, but the mercy of a humble leader breaks down those walls. Listen to their cry for relationship, and don’t mistake it for the demand for entertainment.”
Let’s end with a few honest thoughts from Jenna. She remembers the positives and the negatives: “When I think back to youth group, I wish my first youth pastor hadn’t been so focused on the children of prominent parents in the church. I wish he’d focused completely on bringing in unchurched youth and welcoming students who brought their unchurched friends. On the other hand, I’m glad my second youth pastor concentrated on teaching me how to lead others by showing me how to be a true servant and how to seek the best interests of others.”
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More