This month we’re looking at the time-tested principles that lead to building a thriving youth ministry. Each week, we’re discussing one principle and digging into how it can be applied right now, even in the midst of changing methods and uncertain times. Read our introductory post with the first principle here and the second post here.
Principle 3: RELIANT
Explanation and experience
Our explanations about God aren’t enough. Students want–and need–to experience God’s love, power, peace, and closeness for themselves.
In an uncertain world, our teens need to hear from the God who “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). When society leads them to question their value, they need an experience with the God who calls them “very good” (Genesis 1:31). When racial and political divides argue for their attention, they need to meet Jesus, who broke down barriers and shared meals with the outcasts on countless occasions.
Our young people need more than just stories, doctrine, or explanations–they need to taste and see. Our youth need to know that they are loved and cherished, that there is a uniqueness they carry that is a gift to others and not a burden. Ultimately, they need to hear these things from God’s Spirit, because one word from the Lord ministers more than a trillion words from us.
If we want our young people to experience the love of the Father for themselves, we need to create space for Him to show up.
You may be thinking, “He’s already here, why do I need to create space?” You might already be mentally reciting countless verses about how Jesus is with us and for us. These are promises we cling to! Yet, being present and engaging his presence are a bit different.
Let’s say I hosted a party for my best friend and invited you. Then I talked for hours about my best friend’s story, passions, and character, but didn’t let him talk at all. You’d leave knowing a lot about my friend, but you wouldn’t really know him, even though he was there with us the whole time.
Every illustration breaks down, but at the end of the day we don’t want students to just hear explanations about Jesus, we want them to have a personal encounter with God. We want them to develop a relationship with Jesus that will last. We want their faith to be rooted in a demonstration of God’s goodness and power, not in persuasive and eloquent words that can be knocked over by more eloquent words.
Thriving youth ministries create space for students to encounter Jesus.
This requires the humility to sit down, to be quiet, to let things get uncomfortable. Just as we need to train ourselves to become good listeners to our students, we also need to discipline ourselves to become good listeners to the Spirit of God at work among us.
We love our students by listening to them.
We love God by listening to Him.
A thriving youth ministry, in any age or context, isn’t about the youth ministry itself, it isn’t about the youth pastor or leader, it is about Jesus. Centered on Jesus. Looking toward Jesus. Listening to Jesus. And inviting students to look to Him and listen to Him as well.
Join us for the last post in this series next week where we’ll talk a little about building a youth ministry that is reproducible.
This is the third in a series of four posts sharing core principles of reaching youth in a tumultuous time. Learn more about how the Alpha Youth Series can help create a space of listening and connection here.