Successful youth ministries - efforts that transform students' lives for the better - also impact the future in powerful ways. Your work leading a student ministry is a vital investment in the future of the church and the world.
Here's how you can develop the skills to lead a ministry that will transform members of the next generation:
Cast a vision. Ask God to give you a picture of the future that will produce passion in you and the students you lead. Understand that your ministry is much more than just a string of activities like meetings and retreats - it's a means to a positive outcome in the future. Imagine yourself going forward in time, and think about what you'd like your students to experience then. Ask God to reveal His dreams for your ministry's future. Be patient as you listen for God to speak, and expect Him to answer in His timing. Get in touch with the unique needs in your community and local schools, and take that information into account when developing your vision.
Once you have established a clear vision, communicate it to others, answering three questions: "Where are we going?," "Why?," and "How will we get there?." Make your vision compelling by making sure it's vivid, inspiring, and succinct.
Shepherd your students. Don't let other responsibilities distract you from your primary job of pastoral care. Pray for God to break your heart for your students and give you deep compassion for them. Make the time to genuinely listen to each one of your students. Get to know the details of their personal lives, and figure out specific ways you can encourage them to grow closer to Christ. Comfort them when they need it; challenge them when they need it. Pray for them regularly.
Raise disciples. Develop a passionate relationship with Christ yourself so you can be a good role model for them as you urge them to discover their own passion for Christ. Don't worry about arbitrarily coming up with activities to spend time with your students; instead, join them in activities that are naturally part of their lives and enter their worlds with sincere interest. Understand that no discipleship path will look exactly the same because each person begins his or her spiritual journey in a different place. Pray for wisdom in how to lead each individual toward maturity in Christ. Use your God-given talents and employ your unique style in the disciple-making process; don't just try to copy what someone else is doing. As they grow, encourage your students to become teachers by discipling others.
Lead biblical worship. Study the Scriptures as you develop values to guide your worship. Make sure the focus of your services is on God - not the worship team or the congregation. Select readings, songs, images, etc. that honor God and encourage students to seek Him. Make sure that every element of your services accurately represents biblical truth. Plan and prepare well. Be sensitive to the current youth culture so you can make the services relevant to your students' lives. Keep in mind that they value sincerity, passion, variety, and opportunities to participate in the services themselves (such as through reading Scripture passages).
Develop a discipling worship ministry by modeling Christlike character and passion for Christ, communicating frequently with the worship team as you plan each service around a theme together, finding a place on the team for anyone who's interested, calling for servant-leadership, teaching your values in worship, preparing students to move from small acts of service to ones that require more responsibility, and transferring skills effectively to them.
Make evangelism a lifestyle. Shift your focus from viewing evangelism as events or activities to seeing it encompassing how students live their lives. Instead of saying, "I do evangelism," say, "I am evangelistic." Remember and emphasize to your students that your goal is not just to convert people to Christianity - instead, it's to build relationships with people in which you can share Christ's love with them. Teach your students that they should keep loving people even when they don't respond to the Gospel. Focus on love before anything else. Train students to ask questions about other people's lives, and take the time to genuinely listen to their stories. Help your students figure out what primary needs (significance, security, or belonging) other people's stories reveal. Then help students discern how they can help meet those needs in appropriate ways through service.
Encourage them to enter into others' stories through friendship (perhaps by picking up a shared hobby, attending events that are important in others' lives, etc.). Then teach your students how to share their own stories - their testimonies - including information about their lives before Christ, how they met Christ, and their lives after Christ. Have them practice telling their testimonies and identifying their key learning experiences. Explain that their stories may intersect in some way with the stories of those they're trying to reach. Help them discover connections. Finally, teach them how to clearly to tell the Gospel story and call their friends to respond to it by repenting and believing.
Use spiritual power tools. Help your students grow by using five tools that possess built-in spiritual power: repentance (lead them repent and model repentance for them), faith (encourage them to live confidently on the basis of what cannot be seen but is true because it's based on the unshakeable person and promises of Christ), prayer (pray every time a student comes to you with a problem, encourage your students with quick prayers through phone or e-mail, and regularly fast and pray for all your students), the Holy Spirit (submit to the Holy Spirit's work in your life, seek to be filled by Him, count on the Holy Spirit's work in the lives of others, and help them respond to Him), and the Word of God (read and study your Bible often, encourage your students to do the same, and proclaim God's Word rather than just your own words).
Inform your youth ministry with the theology of a church. Make the Scriptures central to all you do. View each of your students as priests and encourage them to get involved in meaningful ministry. Don't isolate your youth ministry from the rest of the church; build intergenerational friendships and join those in the congregation of other ages (from preschoolers to the elderly) in shared activities. Be sensitive to the spiritual realm and how it is affecting the natural realm in your students' lives. Constantly pray for God's presence to strengthen you as you work for Him.
Adapted from Impact: Student Ministry that Will Transform a Generation, copyright 2005 by Steven Patty, editor. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.BroadmanHolman.com.
Steven Patty is the academic editor of Youth and Educational Ministries at Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Or. He earned his B.S. degree in biblical education at Multnomah Bible College, his M.A. in educational ministries at Wheaton College, and his Ph.D. in educational studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has nearly 20 years of experience in youth ministry. He lives in Portland, Or.