How To Lead A Youth Group
PRACTICAL OUT OF THE BOX MINISTRY
Decide to be a youth pastor.
This sounds simplistic in black and white, but in reality it’s a big thing. This ministry has been used as a stepping stone until “real ministry” happens. It’s like a transitional time until the person can become a “real” pastor. If that is your goal, than you are not a youth pastor. Skip it and give the youth the privilege of having someone work in their lives because they have a passion for it, not as a rung in their ladder to success.
One of the reasons that youth ministries struggle so much with leadership and consistency is because so many youth pastors walk away from youth ministry in their early thirties taking years of experience with them. The misconception is that if you are going to be a youth pastor you have to be young but youth ministry is not restricted by age. I have met some fantastic youth pastors in their 40’s and 50’s and some young youth pastors that didn’t have a clue.
If you are just starting out in youth ministry find a couple of youth pastors that have been serving for years and connect with them. Your drive and willingness to take risks as a young person are an amazing asset to the youth ministry you are working with. The wisdom of veterans will be a great asset and balance to you. If you have been in youth ministry for a while you should take an inventory of those around you. Are there any people that you have mentored? Are you connected with the next generation of leaders? If not you should reevaluate your core ministry goal. Why are you doing this?
Establish an Identity.
One of the most important, if not the most important thing for a teen and/or young adult is identity. A foundational part of developing a solid and vibrant youth ministry is to create an identity for your youth group. This can be tricky because we have bought into the idea that youth ministry is basically about slick marketing and advertising savvy.
If you hire somebody to design a good logo, or come up with a catchy name you have not developed identity. You have developed a brand.
Branding is good and it can be important, but it’s not the same thing as identity. Kids don’t wear a certain brand because of the name or the logo, they wear it because it means something, something they can and/or are willing to “identify” with. The brand and logo are secondary to this more important concept: What does your youth ministry “mean”?
Define the ministry not in terms of cool graphics, catchy slogans or nifty logos, but in terms of purpose, value, cultural significance, and community. Is what the name and brand embody big enough? If you boil it all down is their something significant about what your youth ministry is doing other than creating an audience for you to speak to or a large number of teens gathered for bragging rights by you or the congregation you’re a part of?
What difference would it make in his/her life or world if a teen decided to buy into your concept? It’s got to be about more than coming to your church. If Christianity is about going to church it’s not about much.
Expect Greatness not Perfection.
When people say the words “young people” they are really saying “youngpeople.” One word, as a noun. Try it, out loud say young people the way you would normally say it. Why does this matter? Because when you say “youngpeople” instead of young people, you change the meaning of the words.
Youngpeople are a kind of quazi-human creature that are outside of the realm of normal expectations. On one hand we don’t expect a whole lot from them. We’re just glad they come to church and don’t have drugs in their pocket. On the other hand we expect perfection from them. “The ‘youngpeople’ should be the supreme example of what a person should be as a Christian. Their friends and family and the entire world are watching them and may be turned away from God if these “youngpeople” don’t do it exactly right.” I am exaggerating (a little) but you get the point.
Let’s look at the term the way we should, though. They are young, and they are people. I’m not trying to be sarcastic and yes, I know this is a simple concept, but it could change the way you relate to your “youngpeople.”
They are young. This means they aren’t going to have a lot of wisdom because they haven’t lived long enough to develop it. It means they are going to trust freely (for a while) and trust the wrong people and the right people. They are going to be fiercely loyal to their ideas, their music, their friends and the other things that make up their identity. They are going to be reckless and impulsive. The reason they are is because they don’t have a lot to lose. All of the investment has been from their parents. That’s not wrong or abnormal, it’s youth. Think maybe God designed them like that so they would be willing to go out and change the world? Do you remember when you thought you could do anything? They are going to be passionate. Your job isn’t to shut this all down and make them like you, they are not miniature adults, they don’t think like you because they don’t have all of the risks you have. Your job is to help them harness all of this energy and power, yes power, and point them in the right direction so they can make a difference in their world.
They are people. They are going to do amazing things, normal things and incredibly stupid things. They are going to be subject to their emotions, peer pressure (you still are), ups and downs and everything else everybody goes through. Don’t put them in the “youngpeople” category and limit them to that paradigm. They are people, created by God for a purpose with a capacity for greatness, but the propensity for failure. Expect greatness, but don’t expect perfection.
Most of these things will seem like no-brainers. It’s these simple things, however, that can make the difference between a good youth ministry and an effective youth ministry.
Can a youth ministry be good and not be effective? The answer is yes. It depends on the goal of the ministry. If your goal is to create a venue where teens can congregate, have good music and hear preaching you can certainly do that, but that doesn’t necessarily equate effectiveness. If it doesn’t change the lives and/or direction the teens are going in outside of the venue, and there is no transformation, no development, no difference in the lives of the teens than the ministry in Biblical terms it is not effective. Is it good? Yes. Fellowship in a positive environment is good, but is good what we are looking for as a youth ministry?
Effective comes from intention. You will see specific results if you have a specific plan. Are you trying to create community in your group? What community enhancing events have you planned? Do you have a group of kids that need to be born again? What have you done to create a pathway for them to gain the understanding of this somewhat abstract concept and apply it to their lives? Do you have a group of church kids that are inward focused and not reaching out to their school, family or world? How have you decided to lead the outward.
Effectiveness doesn’t just happen, it’s planned for. We sat down in November of 2008 and had a planning session for the first quarter of 2009. Our objective was to share the message of salvation with our students, many of whom were not familiar with the Biblical message. We planned to preach and teach about repentance in January. We then went into February teaching about baptism in Jesus name, what it meant and how it applied.
When we started into February we let the teens know that on the last Wednesday of the month we would be having a baptismal service. Needless to say on that last Wednesday we baptized 12 people and had several more over the following weeks. Were we surprised? No, we planned it, we were specific and focused. In March we taught about the Holy Ghost and it’s availability to us. Several students have received the Holy Ghost. This is what we planned, what we intended to happen and it did.
What needs to happen in your group? Find it, plan it, focus on your plan and see it happen.
If All Of Your Friends Think It’s Cool…
If you’ve got a “great” idea, a revolutionary idea even, that you are going to spring on your youth group and you call up all of your youth pastor friends and they think it’s “cool” and slap you on the back and hold their thumbs up, you might need to be worried.
Do you have one or two, maybe even a small group of young people who are your advisers? Could I use the word “mentor” here and you not be offended? I have now, and for several years since I passed out of the “cool” stage, had a few teens and post high school students who are my C.A.B. (I just made that up) Cool Advisory Board. My job isn’t to be cool, it’s to know what cool is.
“I’m not cool and I’m OK with that.” Yeah, my friends all laugh at me and finish my sentence when I start saying it, and if you visit Granite City you’ll see some “cool” stuff happening and every bit of it has been filtered through a young person because that is who it’s for.
We are trying to reach into a different generation, like missionaries. The first thing a missionary should do when they put their feet on the ground on the mission field is find someone that can translate the culture, not just the language. You need to do the same. You have young people around you (or you should) who understand their culture and the mission of the youth ministry. They are Ambassadors and are as important, if not more so, than the youth pastor because they are who truly interfaces with the youth culture.
You are reaching into their culture, they are in the culture. So before you move forward with this amazingly cool idea, ask a few of your mentors what they think. Chances are they might think it’s cool, too. But maybe not.
Teens Are Sensual
Of course, because we expect teens to be walking hormones, when you read the title you assumed (and I am assuming this) that I was going to talk about how all teens are sex crazed lunatics, but that, first of all that is not completely true and secondly that’s not the point of this blog. What I mean by sensual is that they are driven, like everyone, by their senses. What they hear and see affect their emotions and how they feel is what they go by.
What I’d like for you to consider is this, people’s lives are dictated by externals. As we grow in maturity, we begin to be able to balance those externals with wisdom, hopefully, and become more stable, mostly. We are still affected by externals and media producers have come to understand that in order to get our attention they have to use sensationalism. BANG, POW, BOOM!!! You get the idea. The news is filled with the biggest stories, the series on TV are flashy and the movies, musicians, tabloids and such are always over the top because they have to be in order to cram a (!) in our face so we’ll turn our head. (!) is big, it’s outrageous and it demands your attention now!
Your teens aren’t opposed to (!) in their lives, they are all about (!) because they are at the beginning of their foray into the world of independent sensory decision making. Before now their parents dictated where the (!) would be in their lives. They were told what was important, what was worth their time and how they should feel about things from their parent/guardians perspective. They didn’t choose their movies, books, friends, etc. so if there was a (!) anywhere it was filtered through their parents’ wisdom. This is true in most cases, but not in all and you may have some kids in your group whose parents are morons (yep, I said it) and let their kids fill their little mental pockets with whatever (!) they could get a hold of since they were five. That’s the kid you need to keep closest to you for his/her sake and the sake of the other kids in your group.
That’s why teen magazines and movies are sensational! You’ll see (!) in their lives when it comes to relationships!, emotions!, problems!, fears!, ect!, etc!. They seem to thrive on (!) and gather around it like moths to a flame. This is normal and you should expect it.
You can be a very effective youth pastor if you understand that you are not going to be able to take the (!) out of your youth group and instead you become a (!Filter). Find out what’s going on in their world and without being condescending give them insight from an external perspective, that being yours, to what they are watching or listening to and what they are being affected by.
One more thing, if your teens are all about (!) and your youth services or small groups don’t have (!) in them, you will not reach into your kids’ lives. They will be bored(!) and hate(!), not dislike, hate(!) coming to your class or meeting. Your messages, discussions and gatherings need to generate (!) in your youth. They need to address the things that are affecting your teens in their everyday (!) filled lives. So, start right now thinking of how you can be a !Filter and how you can generate (!) in your youth services, otherwise they’ll see you as a (,) in their lives. A moment of pause between two ideas, neither of them being you or your ministry.
2009. Armando Heredia
Excerpt from Cardboard Astronaut by Armando Heredia. Visit http://cardboardastronaut.com
Armando serves as a youth pastor and is a full-time student pursuing a B.A. in Secondary Ed.
He is an accomplished artist, web designer, writer, trainer and videographer. He has traveled extensively establishing youth, children's and media ministries. Visit http://ArmandoHeredia.com