It has been my experience in ministry that there is a divide between the “churched” and the “un-churched.” In my opinion, this all comes down to one question. Are we leading them to the cross or expecting to save them ourselves? Our job, my friend, is to lead them to the cross. It is Jesus’ job to save them, not ours. Our perspective on this specific issue makes or breaks the impact of what we, as leaders, call ministry.
I remember being told this on the first day I asked to be a youth leader in my now 27-year-old son’s youth group. At the time, I had a “savior” view on life. My own insecurities led me to desire to be the savior. I wanted to be the rescuer, but that’s not my job – it never was.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
We can read over this verse and never let it marinate. I know I have so many times. As a Youth Pastor now, I am finally, after years, beginning to understand this, and it is taking my ministry to a whole new level! Why do we need a whole new level, you might ask? Because revival has been breaking out all over the United States in recent months. This is what we, as Youth Workers, have been praying for, some for weeks, some for months, and some for years. So what are we going to do with it? What will we do when our youth rooms are overflowing? What will we do when our old youth couches and chairs are filled with all the teens coming to youth night because they want to experience this Jesus they have heard about? This Jesus who will love them despite their “huge failures, struggles, mess-ups, and deep emptiness?” They’ve been chasing sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, electronics, and meaningless relationships that will bring them nothing but more emptiness. They will be coming, searching for what we know to be the only true thing that can fill their hearts, Jesus.
Are we ready to receive them? Are we prepared to love them? Are we willing to meet them where they are, in ALL their brokenness, hurt, and failures? Are we ready to lead them to the cross and not take the glory for ourselves? Are we prepared to meet them where Jesus met us? Will we love them as Jesus loved us, with complete compassion, despite their appearance or how they wear their sin? Despite whom they are dating, what they are watching, or if they’re wearing their sin visibly or hiding it. Will we receive them?
So how do we lead them to the cross? This is the question that keeps us up at night. This is no simple task, and it has a lot of weight. So let’s get into it!
Welcome them with no condemnation, whether they wear their sin visibly or hidden, welcome them with no condemnation. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” He did not send Jesus to condemn the world, so neither should we. Receive them right where they are, with no judgments, no condemnation. They won’t follow you to the cross if they feel condemned.
Feed them pizza (for their body) and the Word (for their spirit). Break bread with them. Now, I don’t always feed them pizza, but I feed them lots of candy and snacks. When you get adults that ask how they can help, ask them to grab an extra box or two of candy and chips at Costco. If the youth are hungry, let them eat, God will provide more. This has so much impact, spiritually and physically. We can probably think back to some of the best moments in our lives, and they happen around food and the Word. Put it all together, and you have one awesome youth group.
Play, talk, listen, share. This is so crucial. Build a relationship with them, and they will build it with Jesus. Most teens have no clue about how to build a lasting relationship with someone, let alone someone they can’t physically see. You are the bridge to what their relationship will look like with Christ. You will be the example they see first. God will play, talk, listen, and share with them, so you do the same. Know this – the world is teaching them that a relationship with God looks like a SWAT team coming to bust down the door of their life and take everything away. Show them the truth of a relationship with God, that He will talk to them, listen to them, and share with them.
Teach them to pray, study Scripture with them, and pour into them. John’s gospel is a great place to start. Chapter by chapter, go slowly and discuss the verses. In my college theology classes, I was required to have a Life Application Study Bible NASB. This Bible has information on almost every verse at the bottom of the page with further explanations. I encourage you to use a Study Bible in whatever translation you use to help your discussions with students. The Word, not us, will change their hearts. Read and dig into the Word with them. This is more valuable than gold; God will change and heal their hearts through His Word.
Disciple them and teach them to be disciple-makers themselves. Break into groups for discussion and ask for them to lead discussions. Create study groups outside of the youth group. Challenge them to get a “log-in” or plan streak on the Bible app in exchange for a group ice cream outing or Chick-fil-A or Subway gift cards. My kids go nuts for a $15 gift card. Remember, a leader can only lead as far as they are willing to go themselves, so make sure you are surrendering yourself to God. Get your quiet time with God every day – don’t miss it. The deeper you go, the deeper your youth will follow.
Pray for them, pray with them, and know God wants their heart more than we do. They belong to God, and we have to surrender them to Him. Don’t cease in your prayers for them every day. Tell them that as they draw closer to God, He draws closer to them.
Thank God for the work He is doing and that you can be a witness. I will never forget when one of my kids came to me and showed me that he had a 200-day streak on the Bible app and had completed 39 Bible plans! I literally burst into tears right in front of him. His record was far better than mine, and it challenged me to do better and challenge our youth group to start their streaks. That is God, my friend. We can’t beat God. I’m a competitive person, but I can’t hold a candle to God. He will blow my doors off every time and then laugh with me about it!
Love them, my friend. It is your blessing to be a part of their lives, not the other way around, don’t ever forget this.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Have you struggled with having a “savior mentality?” What has helped you overcome it?
- How would you describe the current culture in your ministry? Is there anything you’d like to change? How do you think you can go about that?