Kevin, Kyle and Eric are 3 names that immediately come to mind when I think about generational youth ministry. I was their small group leader and they, in turn, went on to also serve in some capacity as youth workers. Kevin is an active junior high small group leader, Kyle served as a summer intern for our high school ministry, and Eric has been a camp counselor.
While that’s pretty cool, it’s also kind of sad that I’ve been in youth ministry since 1994 and can only count 3 students who have served in youth ministry. I learned something along the way that changed the way I work with students. If I hadn’t learned this, even those 3 probably would not have served in youth ministry.
The Bible is has amazing examples of mentoring skills; people raising others up for the work of God. Our mission as youth workers is about more than raising up a crop of believers. We need to raise up a crop of believers who serve. This takes more skill and intentional contact than teaching a weekly Bible study.
To raise up a crop of believing servants, youth workers must:
- Watch for potential: You can’t mentor every student. Look for the ones who are open to being molded, eager to serve, and are, on some level, dedicated to God. These students aren’t perfect, necessarily skilled or even popular. They are, however, full of potential, and almost select themselves – they’re not difficult to spot because they’re already exhibiting these characteristics
- Let students behind the scenes: Let them in on the decisions that need to be made, what you’re trying to accomplish, and how it will benefit the cause of Christ. Get their input and talk through options. This will teach students critical thinking while allowing them to take ownership in ministry
- Plant seeds of service: ”When you’re a small group Bible study leader…”, “When you’re a college student facing temptation and standing firm on your faith…”, “When you’re a parent and your teenager does that…” I speak seeds of service into my students’ lives frequently. I want them to see themselves as serving Christ in every area of their lives. Some of them, like Kevin, Kyle and Eric, will even translate that into serving students.
- Pass the torch: Currently, I’m working with a student who graduated from our ministry a few years ago. While he wasn’t in my small group, I’m still grooming him to be a small group leader. He served as my co-leader last year. We’ll spend one more year together, then he’ll be on his own. I’m passing the torch to him by doing all of the above with him. He’s rough around the edges, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the last year. He’s going to be a great youth worker.
At the beginning of summer, I happened upon an all nighter Kevin (former small group student) was throwing for his junior high small group. It was so great to see him loving on what amounted to my youth ministry grandkids. I had never met those students before that night, but they were very bonded with Kevin. It was an incredibly rewarding youth ministry experience to see him impacting another generation like I impacted him.
I started this post by saying it’s sad that I can only name 3 of my students who are in youth ministry. It took me a long time to learn the actions I mentioned in this post. The good news, if you’re a new youth worker, is you can learn these earlier than I did and see a return sooner of students becoming adults who minister to students.
The rewards of youth ministry aren’t always in words. Many times it’s in seeing the evidence that something you said or did is impacting others through former students. These are the best years of ministry.
Dennis Beckner is one of our dear fellow youth workers, director of The Landing at Saddleback Church, and all-around good guy. Be sure to show him a little love by following him on Twitter and checking out his blog.