Knowing God's Will
There’s probably a fairly safe chance that you own a smartphone. What if I told you that there was a new app that could change your life? It’s free. Just go to the app store and download the “God’s Will” app.
Once you have it on your phone, every morning, all you have to do is just open the app, it finds your location, it finds today, and then does a satellite link to God. All within seconds. A map comes up on your screen with the little green dot and little red dot with a trail in between that represents your day. As you start out, all you have to do is follow the instructions and you will be given God’s will—every moment, as you go.
No more wondering, wandering, stressing, blowing it, and having to ask forgiveness for getting off-track. Just like the Maps app, you simply do what it tells you, go where it says, and you arrive at God’s will.
As awesome and as simple as that sounds, what if your phone battery goes dead? What happens if you lose or break your phone? Get lazy or busy and forget to access the app? What if you disagreed with what it tells you or you decide you prefer to do something else? What if someone made fun of you for using the app? Even challenged you to not use it, but to wing it to see what happens? What other issues might arise from using the God’s Will app?
I think it’s safe to say that if God wanted us to have that, He is creative enough to provide it. Here’s why we will never have that download available . . . because He loves us.
He doesn’t give us the end of the day at the start of the day, or divulge where the road leads when we begin, or tell us all the details of the journey—because He loves us. He wants us to walk with Him, talk to Him, listen to Him, live in a relationship with Him, as we walk, as we go—as in “Follow Me”—which, by the way, when Jesus said those words to the fishermen, He didn’t indicate where they would go, or what they’d be doing, or for how long. The instructions to get to God’s will, was simply then, as it is today—“Follow Me.”
App is short for application. The application for us is the journey. The journey is the relationship. The relationship is Jesus. Download . . .
I am the Vine and you are the branches. Get your life from Me. Then I will live in you and you will give much fruit. You can do nothing without Me. —John 15:5 NLV
You may have heard the saying, “How something starts is often how it continues.” This means that, as a rule, people, situations, etc. tend to stay on a similar path to how they begin.
Think for a moment about the path a student takes in your ministry from salvation to discipleship. If he/she jumps into a small group or Sunday school, are they in over their head? Do they know enough of the basics to not get overwhelmed or feel insecure? Do you have an intermediary step to orient them into the student ministry?
Here’s a few areas to consider for the student that accepts Christ at your church through your ministry . . .
Who is the first person a student encounters after salvation? Who engages him/her? What is that interaction like? Is it the best start for a discipling relationship? Don’t ever forget what’s it’s like to be an insecure, wide-eyed new believer.
What is the first thing a student is guided through, or reads after salvation, or is given? Is it Biblical? Is it simple? Is it practical? Is it student-friendly? Putting a strong tool in a new believer’s hands and immediately teaching them to feed themselves spiritually is a positive first step.
Where does a student plug in after a decision? As mentioned above, offering a beginner discipleship path for a few weeks, whether that’s one-on-one or in a group, can make the difference in sealing their faith or slipping through a crack.
How something starts is often how it continues—and often too, how well it finishes. Are students in your ministry set up to succeed or fail in their new faith journey? It doesn’t really matter if it’s been faulty in the past, or for how long, all that matters now is where it’s going next. Where you take them next.
God is wonderful and glorious. I pray that his Spirit will make you become strong followers and that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. Stand firm and be deeply rooted in his love. I pray that you and all of God’s people will understand what is called wide or long or high or deep. I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is. —Ephesians 3:16-19 CEV
Sharing the Gospel
There is a strong likelihood that if you’re reading this, you are somehow involved with student ministry. So, as a person in leadership over teenagers, whether full-time, part-time, or volunteer, let me ask you a very important question:
Do your students understand and comprehend the simple Gospel of Christ?
Now, second question:
If your students understand it, can they explain it to someone else?
When any of us really understand and grasp a truth, that means we can explain it back to someone. Regardless of your theological training or denominational home as a Christian minister, the Gospel is and should be the pivotal point of your faith and your ministry. Without the Gospel, we have nothing but some spiritual principles with no foundation. But here’s the Good News—we do have the Gospel and it is our foundation. It is the power of God through which we are saved.
If there is anything that your disciples should leave your student ministry knowing, grasping, comprehending, and sharing is the Gospel. If they leave your watchcare after 4 years or 6 years and can simply tell the story of Christ and how He alone can save and redeem, you have given the world a powerful gift.
We want to challenge and inspire you in your on-going ministry and special events to make the Gospel a central focal point of your student ministry. Why? Because it is the pivotal point of Christianity.
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” —Romans 1:16-17 NLT
Be certain your students know the Source of their life. It may seem basic to regularly present and teach the Gospel, but it is still “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.” There is no other way. There is no other plan. Share Him with them, so they can share with the world!
New Year's Resolutions
I am a firm believer in goals. I’m not talking about, “I want to make a million before the year is out,” unless of course, you have three-quarters of a million in the bank already and you’re in pro sports. I’m talking about challenging, yet realistic goals. Faith-filled, God-honoring, life-changing goals.
Because of a mega-movie this past year, archery is a huge sport again. If you and I walk out into a field with our bows and arrows and I say, “I bet I’m a better shot than you. Let’s start shooting and see who can hit something.” Of course, that would be ridiculous, but don’t we often approach life exactly like that? Now, if I said, “I think I’m a better shot than you.” Then, I put up a target with a bulls-eye on a hay bale, marked off fifteen or twenty yards, then we will soon have no doubt who the better archer is. Why? Because we now not only have a standard, but the means to measure results.
Without a vision, the people perish . . . —Proverbs 29:18a KJV
What do you think God’s vision is for your life and ministry throughout this coming year? He does have a vision for you, you know. He has the plan. For you and your ministry. What changes does He have in store for you?
When was the last time you sat down in the quiet and asked God what He wanted for your life? For your ministry? What if you took a day or even a few hours of personal retreat and solitude to hear from Him? What if you truly handed Him full control of your life? What would happen? What could happen? Listen to Jesus’ words . . .
"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage.
The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
—Matthew 6:6 MSG
Maybe this is an oversimplification, but try this as you roll into this next year—another brand new year:
1—Get with God. Hear His heart, His plan, for you. (Put up the target.)
2—Set your goals based on what you hear Him say. (Aim for the target.)
3—Next, go full force after that vision. (Pull the trigger.)
4—If things start to go wrong (you miss), repeat steps 1-3.
This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. —Matthew 6:8 MSG
Happy New Year from the Student Discipleship Ministries staff!
In the Fall of 1995, Hot Hearts was a growing movement of youth rallies throughout Texas and Arkansas, led by networks of local youth pastors, all committed to seeing students come to Christ. A group of these leaders called us at Student Discipleship and asked to meet. Billy Beacham, the founder and President of SDM, and I gladly agreed. They were looking toward the next year of conferences, expecting thousands of students to attend, and then also, hundreds of students to make decisions to trust Christ for the first time, to recommit their lives to Him after falling away for a time, or to surrender to ministry. They wanted a counseling and follow-up piece that was more youth savvy than current available resources and targeted toward these three decisions. But they wanted a very unique spin on the usual counseling pamphlet—something the student could take home and use to begin to grow in their relationship with Christ. We wrote down all their ideas and agreed to produce this resource, seeing the need for this in many ways.
By the first Hot Hearts conference in January of 1996, LifeChange was released. Born out of the expressed need of youth pastors, this 48-page booklet has now sold over 1.1 million copies and been used all over the world by most evangelical denominations. Continually updated and re-designed, this booklet is used weekly to walk students—and adults—through their commitments at the point of decision, as well as support their discipleship within that crucial first month.
Here’s how it works . . . Whether the person is led through the book by another Christian or is handed the book and uses the instructions, their decision is identified and then they walk through the Q&A pages to better understand their commitment. Then the person has 4 weeks of daily quiet time devotions and 4 self-taught Bible studies dealing with family, friends, doubt, and lifestyle changes. LifeChange also touches on baptism, accountability, addiction, and local church involvement. Plus it’s loaded with Scripture—all this inside 48 pages of full color. Each booklet includes a decision card for the church or ministry to get necessary info on the person making the decision.
Many churches, across denominational lines, use LifeChange as their go-to resource for anyone pre-teen and above making a decision in their ministries. While the booklet has clear instructions and is easy-to-use, it is best if someone is following up and checking on those who have made decisions for both connection and accountability.
If you’re looking for a cornerstone piece to help the disciples placed in your care get started on a strong relationship with Christ, LifeChange provides exactly that for the first month of their walk with Christ or re-engagement into a Christian lifestyle.
Next month, we’ll talk about and introduce the second phase in discipling new believers and an exciting new resource that can become an on-going ministry in your church. Until then, let your life be about changing lives through the power of Christ!
God, through His Word, has given us thousands of life principles to live by. Both offense and defense. Here’s some examples . . .
In the area of personal purity:
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.
Do you see how asking God to create a clean heart and renew your spirit is an offensive move? Taking action. Moving down the field toward the opposition.
Do you see how asking for strength to turn your eyes away from worthless things is a defensive move? Worthless things are in front of me, all around me, so I must turn away. That’s defense. Here’s some more . . .
In the area of relationships:
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.
In the area of worship:
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. Defense—Hebrews 10:25a
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.
In the area of spiritual growth:
"Be still, and know that I am God."
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
If you have never taught this concept to your students, try it on a Wednesday night or other discipleship meeting. You’ll accomplish two things. First, you’ll be encouraging and engaging them into Scripture. Second, you’ll be teaching them a life-long Bible study method to help them grow spiritually.
Give them a relevant topic to their lives, start a timer, and challenge them to find an offensive and defensive Scripture for that area. You can do this with each student finding his/her own or divide them into teams. When time is up, ask them to share what they found. Use this exercise/activity to be sure they understand the concept.
Isaiah 55:11 says, “That’s how it is with my words. They don’t return to me without doing everything I send them to do.”
God’s Word is alive and can work forever in the lives of your students. Teach them the incredible power available for both offensively growing in their faith and defensively defeating the opposition coming at them daily.
Even though you may find varying statistics on the actual percentages, all studies show that the vast majority of Christians on the planet right now came to faith between the ages of 4 and 14. So for student ministry, this makes the pre-teen years vitally crucial for not only evangelism, but establishing spiritual disciplines, before the high school years set in.
We all know that middle school ministry has a unique set of challenges and both guys and girls are a basket of hormones spilling out everywhere. But it also makes for the optimum time to introduce Christ and His principles into their energetic, wide open lives. If you are a youth leader that feels particularly called to pre-teens, you likely have a firm grasp on what to do, but, for many leaders, this age can be challenging on the patience, often feeling like their attention spans are about 20 seconds.
Here’s some suggestions to help with this age group:
1—Find the people in your church that do feel called to pre-teens. It’s a guarantee that God has placed them in your Church Body, but you have to locate them. You actually might find one or two in your high school group. You could have some more mature, upper classmen that would accept the challenge of coming alongside you to minister to the middle schoolers in your church. So much of effective ministry to this age group is being available, listening, and paying attention. Find those in your church to help you put real focus on your pre-teens as you bring them up in your youth group.
2—Find and use resources targeted directly for pre-teens. They aren’t children, but not yet young adults. Some may be very street savvy already, while others still quite naïve. There are some great tracts, devotional guides, and curriculum that focus on this age group and their spiritual needs.
3—Remember that you are raising your next youth group. It can easily become “oh, yeah, the middle schoolers.” They are going to be your youth ministry focus sooner than later. Developing a strategy for evangelism and discipleship focused on them is going to make your life easier, more productive, and more efficient once they are in the youth group, because you have groomed and trained them to be ready.
If most Christians make a decision by the age of 14, then the Church must place a unique focus on the ages of 10 to 14. You can bet the enemy will do everything to get them safely past the window without making a decision, so you must do everything you can to bring them in and make disciples of each one.
Teach these things and tell everyone to do what you say. Don’t let anyone make fun of you, just because you are young. Set an example for other followers by what you say and do, as well as by your love, faith, and purity. Until I arrive, be sure to keep on reading the Scriptures in worship, and don’t stop preaching and teaching. —1 Timothy 4:11-13 CEV
Making An Appointment with God
Evidently a growing debate among youth pastors is whether students in this generation will actually spend time alone with God. Is it a useless effort if God doesn’t have His own Facebook or Twitter page to teach them to spend time with Him? Or is it a waste to provide resources for them that they may not choose to use?
Consider these points on this dilemma:
1—We all know how volatile college life can be to a Christian teen. Even going to a Christian college. So, teaching them to have a relationship with God—on their own—during their high school years is crucial to them surviving the 18-21 years. One of the foundational elements of a relationship with God is learning to talk and listen to Him.
Mark 1:35-39: 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
In verses 36-39, how did Jesus know what He and the disciples should do that day? And where did He get the power and strength to preach and cast out demons? . . . Read verse 35.
2—Our final commandment from Christ was and is to go and make disciples. Not church members, fans, or sympathizers, but disciples. Again, a foundational element for making a disciple is teaching him or her to speak to and listen to God—their personal God.
Matthew 28:18-20: Jesus came to them and said: I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.
Teach them to do everything I have told you . . . Pretty clear mandate.
Is it possible that the reason one generation doesn’t want to teach the next about spending time alone with God or providing them the resources is because it’s no longer a priority? And why teach something you don’t fully believe yourself?
But what if just one student catches the fire of God this summer? What if one student’s life is radically changed, because he/she starts talking to Him and figures out that He actually speaks back? How cool would that be? Only one way to find out.
While so many parents and students are focused on the end of school and graduation, as youth pastors, you are focused on summer already. Camp is likely in major final push mode right now, trying to get every student to sign up. Stats show, year after year, that summer camp is one of the most effective tools in the hands of God to either lead a student to Christ or re-focus their relationship back to their faith. Camp is also where many students surrender their lives to full-time service to God. No doubt, summertime is a huge opportunity to win students to Christ through camp, VBS, weekly Bible study, and other activities during the school break.
Of course, a major responsibility is created as soon as a student trusts Christ for the first time, turns their life around and re-focuses on their faith, or decides to surrender to the ministry full-time. The enemy of God will immediately work hard to steal away what the Holy Spirit has done. Non-Christian family and friends can discourage or discredit their decision and quickly cause doubt and confusion. A plan for on-going discipleship for these students is just as crucial as planning events like camp. After all, Jesus called us to make disciples, not just converts. Converting is just about the decision, while discipleship is all about the journey of a relationship with God.
So, what’s your plan for the students who make a decision for Christ this summer? Here’s some questions and thoughts to help you think through the next few months.
Do you have resources to give them? A point-of-decision guide that can get them started right there at camp would be great.
Do you have a plan for you or another leader to meet with them for either one-on-one or small group discipleship? Having a group or small groups ready to begin right after camp would build a great foundation.
How does the student’s family factor into their decision? Supportive or no? This is where the adult volunteers in your student ministry can be crucial to making connections that last. A sense of community and church family are a must.
What about their friends? Supportive or no? Have your core students ready to engage and befriend the students who make decisions. This is an opportunity for them to lead, serve, and disciple too.
Do you have prayer support? Go to your senior adult church members this month and enlist prayer commitments for all your summer activities, as well as for the students who make decisions. Be sure and give them updates. Let them see and hear what their prayers help birth. It’s amazing how a handful of little blue-haired ladies can pray a fringe kid into the Kingdom!
If you have a solid plan for discipleship in place before your summer launch, you and your church will be grateful. And God will be glorified and honored in your efforts to build solid believers for a lifetime.
Are You Ready to Share?
For Christianity to grow and flourish, there must be “satisfied customers.” The more we see our deep need for Christ, the more we desire others to find Him as well. Christians who think they have life figured out, but just need a ticket to Heaven, won’t win very many people to the Kingdom. The more mature a believer becomes, then the better example and role model they become, thereby they are more likely to attract people to the Savior.
Sure, a brand-new Christian can be so excited that he or she can win people, but isn’t that just another satisfied customer letting people know that satisfaction has been found? But, actually over years of service, the best evangelists are also the deepest disciples.
One of the best ways you can teach your students to be great evangelists is to disciple them into deep, mature believers in Jesus. The more belief they have and the more believable they are, the more likely they will attract others into the fold.
So when people ask you what you’re doing to win students to Christ, tell them you are making disciples. The best witness to a 14-year-old middle school boy is another 14-year-old boy who loves Jesus. The best witness to a 17-year-old high school girl is another 17-year-old girl who loves Jesus.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. —Colossians 4:6 NIV
Who should we be ready to answer? . . . Everyone.
When will everyone ask or talk to you? . . . Anytime.
So when should we be ready? . . . Always.
Starting the New Year off Right
One of the consistent battles in this culture will always be maintaining excellence in a status quo, “that’s good enough” world. Let’s look at three different scenarios for the youth leader.
Scenario #1—Everyone loves you. Whether that’s because you’ve only been there for 3 months and you’re still in the “honeymoon stage,” or you’ve been there forever and outlasted six pastors, or even that you are simply an amazing minister. You set the standard around the church and you’re nailing it. Well, who challenges you to keep raising the bar? Who says to you, “That’s awesome, but what is God going to do next?” When everyone loves us—and that rarely lasts forever—we need to be training ourselves to not read our own press and keep the challenges fresh and the inspiration flowing.
Scenario #2—You have a handful of people who love and support you, but you also have a handful of people who wouldn’t mind at all seeing you go, and then the rest of the church is just good with you as long as things keep rocking along close to what they are now. Lots of neutral people. But raising the bar and aspiring to a higher standard of ministry could swing the polar people to either side. That’s risky, isn’t it? Yeah, but which is better? Being accused of mediocrity or stepping up your game?
Scenario #3—Things aren’t going well and your church fan club broke up sometime last year. You’re actually in that Twilight Zone place of do I put my resume´ out or do I stick it out? Honestly, you are in a great place to learn and challenge yourself. If you feel like you can’t please anyone already, then why not please yourself—and more importantly, God. Get a new plan. Map our your ministry goals, ask a few close folks to pray for you, and then develop the best ministry your town has ever seen. Lift up your head and then raise your standard! Be excellent. Work hard. Glorify God.
Do you see how no matter what your circumstances are, you can challenge yourself to excellence and decide how high you will raise the bar for you! I’m not talking about rebellion or proving anything, just doing all you can with what you have.
Please remember—no matter your situation, you are making a difference in someone’s life. If you are diligent about walking with Christ daily and allowing Him to manifest Himself in your work, you are changing the world by changing someone’s world. And that’s why we’re all here.
"Let's go for it! Let's attack. We've seen the land and it is excellent. Are you going to just sit on your hands? Don't dawdle! Invade and conquer! When you get there, you'll find they're sitting ducks, totally unsuspecting. Wide open land—God is handing it over to you, everything you could ever ask for.” —Judges 18:9-10 MSG
New Year Goals
Other youth pastors, denominations, and para-church ministries would offer and debate hundreds of various approaches, systems, and programs that would be the most effective way to accomplish your vision for your students. Some would work, some would fail, while some would merely entertain. So what do you do? How do you decide what’s right for you? Obviously, that is going to come down to you being the expert on your youth group. Knowing their needs and seeing how to best meet them. But here’s one thing we want to offer that is a fail-safe for any ministry, regardless of your church’s theology and polity.
For this next year, focus on Jesus. The Truth, the Life, and the Way. The Savior of the world. The One to Whom one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. If you put Jesus front and center, right-in-the-middle, unapologetically, unashamedly out there for your students in every meeting, Bible study, game, activity, and event, you can 100 percent know that something will happen. Because you’re seeking first the Kingdom of God. You’re putting the eyes of your students right where they should be.
Will the hottest program work for you? Will that new series of studies you saw at the big conference make your students be like those kids on the promo video acted? . . . Don’t know. But, regardless, if you put Jesus first in all things in this next year, we are promised, something will happen, someone will change. Your hard work and efforts will see fruit. Students will be made different and make a difference.
As you prepare for every meeting, every study, every event, you and your team should ask this question: Do we have Jesus front and center, clearly communicated, easily available for all who may seek Him? If a student is seeking Jesus, can he/she find Him in this meeting, at this event?
Programs come and go, the hot new book will be in the clearance section soon, and even your best plans have a 50/50 chance of connecting, but Jesus showing up as the Special Guest offers a 100 percent chance for change—every time.
May your student ministry be the city set on a hill for all to see, because Jesus is the Light placed there. Then when people ask you what amazing strategy you credit for what God is doing in your midst, you can just smile and say, “Honestly, it’s just Jesus.” Your work will shine and your Heavenly Father will be praised.
You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.
—Matthew 5:14-16 CEV
Ending the Year with Success
Wringing Out the Old, Ringing in the New
If you’re like most people, you’re thinking, “Wow! December! Where did this year go?” As with us all, the end of a year and the preparation to begin a new year brings an opportunity to evaluate where our ministry has gone and where we’re going. As Scripture teaches, “Without a vision, the people perish.”
A crucial aspect of vision is constant evaluation and adjustment. Both change and stability are key components of vision. Keeping the main thing the main thing, while always tweaking the negatives and liabilities.
If you surveyed your students about the past year, what do you think they would say they have learned? What areas of discipleship would they say they have grown in? What would be an area they would express more change or help is needed in their lives?
Although there will never be a “church test” to evaluate your students to see if they are ready to go out into the “real world,” in a very real sense, that test is applied within the first year they are out of your ministry and away to college or the work force. When you look at the students that have passed through your ministry these last few years, what do you see? Is there a major strong point that is consistent in your graduates? Is there a consistent weak area you notice?
All of us who are ministers of the Gospel will have tendencies toward certain areas of strength or passion. Some are strong in evangelism, while weak in discipleship. Some produce prayer warriors, but not many missionaries. Some are strong in social justice, but weak in sharing their faith. On and on. Part of our job as ministers is to continually allow the Holy Spirit to balance us, using our gifts and strengths, while helping us in our weak areas so as to balance our ministries.
So, where did you win with your students this past year? Where did you put your punches? That will help determine where you should put time, energy, and resources. You likely have several events calendared such as DNow, retreat, and camp, but on-going throughout the weeks of ’12, where are you taking your students?
Decide now to evaluate where your ministry is currently and then put a solid plan in place for ’12, week in and week out between the “big events.”
Here are some ideas to consider as you plan toward a brand new year:
—Plan a retreat for your youth staff—anyone who ministers to students with you—even if it’s just a Saturday morning prayer and strategy session. Giving your volunteers and support staff an opportunity to speak into the ministry is vital.
—Give your students a survey with questions that you (and your team) write, asking about spiritual disciplines, strong areas, weak areas, etc. Tweak it each year and give it out every December to get feedback on where your students are.
—Consider a few focal areas of discipleship that create a target for you and your team, such as your students tend to be weak in sharing their faith, so you will focus on relational evangelism in ’12.
—Decide on a ministry theme and Scripture verse through which all events and ministry opportunities will flow. Use it like a filter to keep you on track. It could also keep you from having to come up with a different DNow, retreat, and camp theme. This will focus your students as well.
—Regardless of where you put your resources and energy, encourage your students to spend time with God daily and get to know Him. This is a failsafe that always brings them back to the truth of Christ—His Word and His presence.
Merry Christmas from the staff of Student Discipleship Ministries! Thank you for allowing us to partner with you this past year. May God bless you as you serve Him and His kids.
Reading the Word
I was recently at a Bible study where the average age of the group gathered was around 25 years old. I was seated at the back of the room. When the leader told the Scripture passage he would be teaching for the night, turned to it, and began to read, not one person in the group opened a physical Bible. About 75 percent of the room picked up their iPhones, hit their Bible app, typed in the passage, and began to read along. The other 25 percent didn’t move, no Bible, no phone, just listened. I made a mental note that I had just witnessed a paradigm shift in American Christian culture.
Sure, I’ve seen people in church look at their Bible apps on their phone and even take notes in their Notes app, but this was different. This was 100 percent. An all-under-30 crowd, no physical Bibles there, except the leader. At 35, he probably felt he should still read from his actual Bible. Plus it was handy for concealing his notes.
Likely many of the older generation would criticize this shift, but the crowd I was with that night would insist that they did bring a Bible and read it. In fact, they brought about 25 versions—and that’s just the English ones!
Regardless of old school or new school, physical or digital Bible, there is actually a much better version than any of these. It’s also much easier to carry than even your phone. . . . What? Is there some new technology? A chip implant or something? No. It’s the Word of God inside us. Memorized in the mind. Implanted in the heart. Nourishing the spirit. Flowing out of our lives.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. —Psalm 1:2
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. —Psalm 119:11
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds. —Deuteronomy 11:18a
No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. —Deuteronomy 30:14
Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart. —Job 22:22
As we can see in just these few places in Scripture, there is a process that we are constantly called to in the Word. Getting it into our hearts and minds, carrying it into every conversation, circumstance, and cause.
There is really only one catch—we have to read it over and over to take it in, to memorize it, to meditate, to hide it, to lay it up, to delight in it.
There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. —2 Timothy 3:14b MSG
Halloween is one of our strangest of American Holidays. Due to its origin and history, it causes for some interesting reactions in the Christian community. Some believers think it’s no big deal and just celebrate it like everyone else. Some think it’s a Holiday of the Devil and won’t go near it. Then there’s lots of people who fall right in between the two extremes.
All this coupled with parents’ desire to keep their children safe in our crazy society has all but stopped the random go-down-any-street trick-or-treating of days gone by. In response to all of these factors, many churches have chosen to take a very positive stance and offer an alternative to the community with a Fall Festival. This creates an often very effective open door to the community for outreach and ministry. Many churches today reach more people on Halloween night by offering this event than they do all year with any other emphasis.
If your church offers a Fall Festival, get your students involved. Make it a part of your ministry to get them engaged with the parents and children who will be coming to your church. They can truly make a difference in the number of volunteers you have and in the lives of those kids who show up. It is a clear intersection to help them engage their community in a positive way.
If your church doesn’t offer a Fall Festival, consider going and volunteering for a church that does. Now, that would be a pure ministry opportunity, to help another church reach out! Or maybe you could join some other positive community event. If that idea doesn’t fly with the church leadership, get your students together and brainstorm a way you can reach out in the name of your own church on this night where families and children are going to be accessible in a way they never are the rest of the year.
Regardless of how you or your church feels about the celebration of Halloween, it has most definitely become a unique opportunity for ministry to the families of your community. Give your students a chance to have fun, work together, and reach out to your community around October 31.
It is crucial in today’s student ministry to not just minister to students, but to teach them how to minister. After all, are we not training up our next set of leaders? Getting them ready to reach their own culture in college and beyond? What better strategy could you have than to show them creative ways to respond to their world and engage their faith in unique ways?
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they'll be won over to God's side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. —1 Peter 2:9-13a
The Strength of Prayer
We all know that the power we witness in our ministries is directly connected to the level of prayer for our ministries.
That said, this article isn’t intended to create any guilt for you. Actually, the goal here is to give you some practical help to enlist others to pray for your students and ministry.
Most churches today are separated into age groups, but there is great value in connecting the generations. Go to the senior adult classes and invite them to pray for your students. You can ask for a senior adult class to adopt a youth class. Like the 70-75 age class prays weekly for the 9th grade boys. Or you might want to give class members a list and ask a member to adopt a student, so that person will pray specifically for that student. Get creative. You can come up with even better ideas once you start thinking through relationships.
Does your church have a prayer list or a prayer ministry? Put your students on that list. If you’re at a small church, then just give them every name. If you’re at a large church, maybe give the prayer chain one class at a time per week, or divide up however you know will work for your church’s situation.
Don’t forget your students’ parents. Invite them to pray for you and the students. You might even want to have a regular parent prayer gathering specifically for the students. Nothing can touch a parent’s heart quite like hearing other adults pray for their child.
Lastly, encourage your students to pray for each other. Give them frequent opportunities to intercede for other students. One of the best ways for them to get “outside of themselves” is by praying for the needs of their peers.
Don’t forget See You at the Pole is September 28th! 7:00 a.m. at the school flagpole. This is a Global Day of Student Prayer with people praying all over the world. Encourage your students to stand with their peers and pray for their world. www.syatp.com.
Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.
Back to School
Because of school starting and families getting back into the normal nine-month routine, our culture really has become more geared toward the beginning of a new year feeling like this time of year, almost more than New Year’s Day. School starting once again and “normal” setting back in causes an influx of people returning to church regularly, and, consequently, students who have disappeared for a while coming back into the student ministry.
So, in effect, as a youth leader, you get two “starting over points” with your students—the New Year and the new school year.
As your students get back into their school routine and back into being with their friends daily, it’s a great time to remind, refresh, and re-engage them into establishing, or re-establishing, their time alone with God. Maybe for many of your students who are already consistent, it is simply a reinforcement of what they are doing.
Regardless, it is a great time to teach—or re-teach—them how to have time alone with God. How to read their Bible, pray, and listen to Him. Teaching this key discipline two or three times a year, whether you spend an entire Wednesday night, or just a five minute reminder on your school year kick-off night is a great use of your discipleship time.
Here’s a simple run-down of a teaching plan:
- A quiet time is simply time alone with God in the Scriptures, prayer, and active listening to Him.
- Read Genesis 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 1:9. We were created for fellowship with God.
- Keep your time with God simple. Not complex and not too long. Read Scripture, pray, and listen to Him. Find a version of the Bible that you understand.
- Read Joshua 1:8. Consistency is the key and application of what God tells you is the goal.
- Busyness will try and crowd out your time with God, but your time with God will help you balance your busyness.
- Write down anything God speaks to you. Using a journal is a great tool for your faith.
- There is not a stronger resource available to you for growing spiritually than spending a few minutes with God each day.
Lastly, as a minister of the Gospel to students, we want to encourage you to lead out in spending time with God too. Let’s face it—a busy life can crowd this all-important time out for any of us. And it is often easier to teach it than to do it ourselves.
May this school year be the best of your ministry and may you truly make disciples this school year, as they are missionaries on their school campuses.
Growing New Believers
A secondary way that camp impacts teens is through them coming home from an incredible week with a new fire to share their faith with their friends. Many students have been won to Christ by a friend coming home from camp and displaying the difference Christ makes.
Summer is a huge opportunity for evangelism in any student ministry today. As a youth leader, this is where planning a student’s first step in discipleship is crucial. Getting these students started in the disciplines of the faith to keep them growing for a lifetime is vital to a strong student ministry. That is why it is a must to set up a consistent discipleship plan that you use on an on-going basis, so you aren’t responding to every student that makes a decision with “let me see what I can come up with for you.” There are some decisions to make in arriving at the right platform for you and your church. Here we go . . .
First, what material will you use to train your students? This should be a simple, yet Biblically solid resource that you can use regularly. Find the balance between being user-friendly for the leader and solid for the student. Make sure it is fitting with your church’s doctrine. Don’t use something you have to re-word, re-teach, or apologize for. And, of course, you can’t break the budget. There are reasonably priced quality resources out there.
Second, who is going to teach these students or facilitate the material with them? There are three options to consider, depending on your church and your availability of solid believers.
1—You. Start a class where you are their first discipler. As their youth leader, showing you care and are accessible can be a huge positive—the first person to answer their questions and teach them the basics. They may go on to be taught by others in the church after this, but their first leader relationship is you.
2—Adult Volunteers. Most churches, small or large, have a core of dedicated, committed, and solid men and women that are capable of discipling students. The advantage of this is that you are allowing others’ gifts to be used and you are equipping both the adults and the students to do ministry. We all know we grow when we have the responsibility to teach. This is an especially good option if you are a summer youth pastor or know you won’t be at this particular church long-term.
3—Older, mature students. Hopefully, by the time your students have reached their junior and senior year in high school, they are becoming mature believers. A great segue in their walk is to give them leadership responsibilities inside the student ministry. Older students discipling younger students can be a powerful alliance in the church. And no one understands the plight of a 14-year-old quite like a 17-year-old that just went through everything they are struggling with. This choice needs watch care for many reasons, but can be a win-win for everyone if handled with wisdom.
The end goal for any pastor, paid or volunteer, full-time or part-time, is to develop mature believers in Christ. As a youth leader, you have a maximum of six to seven years, often less, to reach that goal for the average student who starts in your ministry. Keeping the focus on maturity and not entertainment is an uphill battle in today’s culture. Regardless of the method you choose or the manpower you implement, make maturity your goal. Your students deserve nothing less.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.—Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV
In the '60s and '70s as the church was following the cultural move to industrialization and corporate structure, evangelism became a major focus of the evangelical church. Programs infiltrated the church that trained believers in mass evangelism. The stadium revivals were at their peak. People were challenged to go out and share the Gospel, win people to Christ. Door to door witnessing was a common activity for many churches. The awesome thing about this movement was the spread of the Gospel. The downside was a lot of people prayed the prayer, but were never discipled. We wonder why 83 percent of Americans will say they are Christians today? This movement is a major reason for that.
As with all cultural cycles, things change. In a few years, the church moved toward a paradigm shift that brought a new emphasis on discipleship. Again, programs saturated the church that focused on commitment to Scripture, study, prayer, and discipling others. That wave lasted for many years too.
About a decade or so ago, the “emerging church” and the worship movement started sweeping the nation and the world.
So, where are we now? Focused on evangelism? Discipleship? Worship? An ever- changing church culture?
Regardless of where your specific church is or what your answer would be, here’s the one goal we know you have, as do we—balanced, growing, healthy, mature students who are following Jesus with a passion to reach others in His name. Wouldn’t it be great if this generation of students wasn’t known for one dimension of the faith, but for balancing it all—developing into strong, faith-filled believers that are empowered to reach their world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When was the last time you taught your students how to share their faith in an articulate manner with a peer? When was the last time you taught them a strategy to begin spiritual conversations that end in an offer to receive Christ?
One thing we know, there won’t be another generation of believers if we don’t train the current one to share Jesus. Pray for your students, pray for the wisdom to know what they need, and then be faithful to give them quality resources to build the Kingdom—the one they are inheriting right now.
Ministering to Pre-Teens
There are a lot of jokes and crazy stories among youth pastors about middle schoolers, junior highers, or pre-teens—whatever you call them where you live and minister. One popular summer camp calls them the “electric chihuahuas.” Now, there’s a visual for you!
Pre-teens are known for their high energy level (especially mixed with sugar), often coupled with a “do it first, think about it later” mode of behavior. But, as you well know, if you’ve been in youth ministry very long at all, this is also the age where you can harness and guide that zest for life into a walk with Christ. The more solid a foundation we can help them build between 10 to 13 years old, the more likely they are to stand strong through high school and even become leaders in your youth group. We all know testimonies where the wildest, most out of control kid at 12 became the leader of the youth group by 16.
We all know there are no guarantees of the choices a kid will make, but our job is not to be driven by their choices, but ours.
Will we give them the resources and tools to build a strong spiritual foundation?
Will we provide the environment for them to grow in their relationship with Christ?
Will we inspire and challenge them to become young leaders in their generation for Christ?
It is so tempting, and often easy these days to forget that Jesus said to go and make disciples, not go and entertain the sheep.
Early discipleship is so crucial in youth ministry. Helping a student fall in love with Jesus and begin a lifelong friendship with Him can take care of many of the typical teenage temptations down the road. Teaching students how to spend time alone with God daily is one of the best ways to get them on that track in their relationship with Him.
So, the next time you’re frustrated by a goofy 7th grader bouncing off your youth room walls or discouraged that your latest herd of junior high girls can’t stay off their phones and away from the mirror, just remember you are looking at a cache of diamonds in the rough and God’s heart is to build a generation of students who love Him with all their heart, mind, and soul.
Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. —1 Timothy 4:11-12
Keep on being an example to your students, teaching them how to be examples in life, love, faith, and purity.
Writing things down in order to remember them is as old as the first writing utensil. Writing is designed to do one of two things: to communicate to others or to communicate back to ourselves. Journaling—the concept of writing down thoughts, ideas, and facts for personal use—is used in everything from psychological therapy to book club studies. Many Christians effectively use journaling to write down prayer requests, answered prayers, thoughts on Scripture passages, sermon notes, and anything they sense God is speaking to them.
In the area of note taking, from class lectures to Bible teaching, studies have proven time and time again that people will selectively recall what they’ve heard, but when people write things down, the information becomes ordered and organized. In other words, if a student hears you teach on Wednesday night and doesn’t take notes, he/she might recall a point or two a few days later, but if that same student takes notes and writes down your main points, he/she has a better chance of recalling more points, even in order. And a 100 percent chance of remembering if they look back at their notes! The more they recall of teaching, the more they can practice the points.
Teaching your students to journal could be a valuable, life-long habit that improves their lives and enhances their spiritual growth. The story is told of a major corporation that brought in an efficiency expert for a day of consultation with the management staff. After a half hour or so of lecturing on efficiency methods, one executive interrupted and said, “We’ve heard all these sure-fire ways to be more productive before. What we need is just a practical tool to help us grow this company.” The expert said, “Alright, fair enough, I’ll give you one tool right now, I’ll leave, and only pay me for today if this does you any good.” A couple of weeks later, the consultant received a check for his full day at the company. What did he tell them that made such an impact? “Every morning, first thing, make a to-do list to prioritize what you work on. Stick with the list, marking things off as you go. If something doesn’t get done that day, add it to the next day’s list. Writing down your priorities is a plan to succeed and a tangible way to see your results.” . . . It must have worked.
Teaching students to write down what God is speaking to them to taking notes on Bible teaching will spill over into every area of their lives and likely make them stronger Christians and more productive people. You already know how important it is in your student ministry to teach them practical skills and Christian principles that will last a lifetime, so consider devoting one Wednesday night, or other training time, to teaching your students how to journal. Then in the coming months, watch to see how it not only changes them, but your total student ministry.
Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. —Luke 1:1-4 NLT
Importance of Evangelism
First, pray. Pray regularly that they will fall more in love with Jesus. We talk about what we love. If they love Him, they will share Him. Sure, some more than others, but more than anything, their lives will begin to reflect Him and cause questions among their peers.
Secondly, teach it. Students do need to know what Scripture says about sharing their faith.
Third, show them how. One of the simplest and best methods is having them write out their testimony. Have them answer these questions/finish these statements.
—Tell what your life was like before asking Jesus into your heart.
—Tell how you were introduced to Him. How did you come to know Him?
—Share what He has done in your life since you began a personal relationship with Him.
Encourage your students to be able to share their story in three to five minutes. Have them get into pairs or trios and share their story with each other. Practicing on a “friendly” audience helps make the first real situation a little easier.
Lastly, give them a resource, a tool, to help in situations where someone is interested in knowing more about the Gospel. This is really the best way to use a tract—to take someone through the Scriptures and the plan of salvation after you have shared your own story and faith walk. Then, also, a tract is a great resource to leave with someone, because it gives them the way to Jesus, with or without you. If the person you have shared with is alone and the Lord moves in his/her heart, he/she can pray right then and know what to do.
The bottom line for each of us is “evangelism” is sharing a love story—from God to man and from His heart to your heart, then from you to your own circle of influence. Each of your students has their own circle. You may never get a chance to speak into that circle, but they do every day. Teach them, train them, equip them, show them how to share their faith. Then pray for boldness and opportunity for them. Your students will then become well-trained stewards to share their own story of faith.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to
everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. —1 Peter 3:15a
Being in The Word
Every minister, even every Christian, knows the importance and the value of God’s Word. In recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence of the Church placing a priority on Scripture in the life of the Body of Christ.
God’s Word has life-changing power with eternal accuracy . . .
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. —Isaiah 55:10-11
God’s Word produces divine light and repels darkness and sin . . .
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. —Psalm 119:105
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. —Psalm 119:11
God’s Word is both offense and defense on our behalf . . .
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. —Hebrews 4:12
In just four short passages we see the amazing resource we have available to us in the Bible.
In your student ministry, you would be hard pressed to find an ally as effective in changing the lives of students as Scripture. The key is finding unique ways to get your students into the Word and the Word into your students.
Think about the ways you encourage your students to spend time in God’s Word, beyond just “Hey kids, you need to read your Bibles.” Do they see the importance and the power of God’s Word in your own life? Do you share your insights from your own study with them? When you counsel students, is Scripture a normal part of your dialogue? If the answer is yes—great. If the answer is no, then what a great time of year to change that direction for you and your ministry.
Isn’t it awesome that God Himself said when we speak out His Word that He will insure it does the job for those who hear it and never return to us empty? There aren’t too many fail-safes in ministry, but this is one of the few. We want to encourage you to be in God’s Word, so God’s Word is in you, then your impact will be great on today’s student culture. And that’s the bottom line of why you minister and we exist.
What if someone told you they could guarantee radical change in your students’ lives?
What if they said they could give you the secret to making disciples of your students with lasting fruit for the rest of their lives—all beginning in your student ministry? . . . Yeah, right. That’s a youth pastor’s dream.
It’s funny how in ministry we can get so caught up in periphery and details that we forget the basics. There is an activity that you can teach your students, an activity you can show your students, an activity that you can participate in with your students, that can change their lives forever. Like anything else, they will get out of what they put into it. Actually, they will get a lot more out of it than they put into it. . . . What is it?
It’s called a quiet time, time alone with God, a devotional time. It has a lot of names, but it’s simply sitting quietly. talking and listening to God in prayer. It’s great to start with reading His Word, then sharing with Him what’s on your heart, lifting up all your concerns, then listening to Him speak to your heart.
Yeah, I know, there’s a few of you that may have rolled your eyes at this concept. You may have thought, “A quiet time? I tried that a few times. Kids just won’t commit to that anymore.” Or “That’s so basic. They know they should be doing that. I’m on to more important things.”
If you haven’t talked about spending time with God with your students in a while, the beginning of the year is a great time to start.
Be sure you either provide them with or tell them how to get the right tools to help them be successful in their time with God. A devotional book and a journal can be powerful tools to get started and stay on track. There’s a lot of good stuff out there, including our devotional series. Encourage them to set a time, set a place, and then just do it. If they miss a day, encourage them to just get back on track the next day. They can do 5 minutes a day or 20 minutes a day, depending on their maturity. (Check out the sidebar in this e-mail with instructional pages 2-3 from the My Quiet Time series.)
Here’s the real challenge for you as a youth pastor: after you teach your students how to spend time with God, then every week share with them a highlight of what God spoke to you that week. You can do this through social media, when you speak to them on Wednesday nights, or through whatever method you choose. But tell them what God is saying to you and give them a venue to let you know what God is saying to them.
Wouldn’t it be crazy if something as basic and elementary as a quiet time revolutionized your student ministry this year?