Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. - Psalm 119:105

Discipleship

How to Kill a Youth Ministry

By ITW Staff
WE'RE LOSING YOUTH PASTORS!

With only 2,550 full-time youth pastors and 23 million teenagers in this country, we cannot afford...

by Eddie V. Rentz

He was there with his wife and newborn baby. I noticed them because they were so excited about God's gift to them-their child. They were among the approximately 50 youth pastors and workers who had come to the district youth leaders conference because they were hungry to grow as leaders. The conference was charged with energy and enthusiasm. During one of the roundtable discussions, I fielded questions about vision, how to plan outreaches, and discussed products available to help them become more relevant as leaders. The mood was light.

Then it happened. It was one of those moments that changes the atmosphere in a room. The young man I noticed earlier was visibly upset. His voice began to crack with emotion as he shared the pain he experienced in the past two positions he held. They were terrible experiences; he and his wife were wounded deeply. Both pastors he had served feared change. They opposed anything different from the way youth ministry had been done in the past. As tears ran down his cheeks, he shared how he was afraid this would happen in his new position. He could not go through this again. His sharing opened a floodgate. Others began to share similar experiences in their journey of youth ministry. Most spoke with broken hearts, afraid they too would again be wounded. Suddenly the room had grown solemn.

WE'RE LOSING YOUTH PASTORS

If this were a rare account, I would dismiss it as someone who is unable to work well with others. Unfortunately, I hear similar accounts more than I care to tally. There is a boneyard of potential nation-changers who have become so discouraged they have either left the ministry or now hobble along wounded and ineffective. Survival is their way of life. Some churches change youth pastors as often as people change clothes.

With only 2,550 full-time youth pastors and 23 million teenagers in this country, we cannot afford to lose one youth pastor to discouragement or mistreatment. 

There are many fine pastors in our Fellowship. However, if we are going to reach the next generation, we must reevaluate what we are doing. With only 2,690 Assemblies of God youth pastors and 23 million teenagers in this country, we cannot afford to lose one youth pastor to discouragement or mistreatment, especially since we have only 317,000 young people involved in Assemblies of God youth groups. Allow me to share a few thoughts on how to kill a youth ministry. These are not the only elements, but they are the ones I see time and time again. Pastor, my desire is that you will open your heart to ask the Lord if you are hindering youth ministry or empowering today's youth leaders.

THREE WAYS TO KILL A YOUTH MINISTRY

Mistrust

Wolf J. Rinke, author of 6 Fail-Safe Strategies for Building High Performance Organizations, writes, "If you mistrust your employees, you'll be right 3 percent of the time. If you trust people until they give you a reason not to, you'll be right 97 percent of the time." Not trusting or believing in your youth pastor will create resentment and weaken his confidence.

Les Giblin said, "You can't make the other fellow feel important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody." While it is true that our confidence is in the Lord, as a mentor you have the power to build up or tear down the confidence of the person God has placed in your care.

Mistrust hinders the potential of people, no matter what title or position they hold. Proverbs 18:21 states, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." The enemy of our souls is doing everything he can to condemn and render ineffective each person called of God. Jesus warned in Luke 17:1, "Offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!"

Henry L. Simpson, former U.S. Secretary of State, said, "The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way you can make a man trustworthy is by trusting him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust."

Many pastors have tragic stories of being burned by a staff member. However, we must forgive and trust again. Guard against working from a lack of trust. Jesus believed in those who were entrusted to His care. He was patient and forgiving. He showed them by example how they should live, love, and serve others. When they failed, He encouraged and forgave them. God has placed in your care a young minister to mentor and lovingly care for while he or she is serving you and your youth.

B.C. Forbes said, "Better to be occasionally cheated than perpetually suspicious." Are you struggling with mistrust? Ask God to help you overcome, or it will kill your youth ministry.

Resistance to Change

The gospel is sacred; it must not change. However, the methods in proclaiming it are always changing. We live in a post-Christian nation. Truth has been swallowed by relativity. The stories of the Bible are foreign to a majority of teenagers in our country. They see the church as irrelevant and boring. To reach this generation, we must be open to new ways to communicate truth. Some of the necessary tools are unique to this generation.

Some pastors say that colored lights that move or using video, certain styles of music, and even drama are of the devil and compromise the Word of God. We must remind ourselves that these are just tools. The message of the gospel does not change. Holiness is not the absence of moving lights or loud music. It is not a lack of holiness to use video or illustrated sermons to proclaim the message of Christ.

As a senior pastor, you may feel uncomfortable with how your youth pastor reaches the lost. One well-known Assemblies of God pastor made a comment about the youth group in his church as being wild and loud. He expressed his discomfort with the methods they used as different from the way youth ministry once was. However, with excitement in his voice, he spoke of how God is saving more teens than ever, and that they were on fire and growing in the ways of the Lord. He realized that his discomfort was not a barometer of God's disapproval, just his struggle with his age.

The youth ministries that are thriving are using creative methods to reach the lost. They have not stopped praying or discipling teens-if anything, they are more committed to those elements. However, they are creatively using whatever tools they have to preach the Word to more teenagers.

One youth group uses video and PowerPoint demonstrations to communicate the gospel. Another group does an illustrated sermon once a month. They incorporate drama, make-up, lights, and video to preach a powerful message of truth. One youth pastor staged an accident outside the church and once transformed the sanctuary into "hell." His group has grown from 75 to more than 600 teenagers.

Other youth pastors are doing weekend outreaches that turn the church parking lot into a recreation center. They build skateboard ramps, put up basketball hoops, erect climbing walls, set up paintball courses, and then preach the gospel during a mandatory halftime. Pastor, only you have the power to allow your youth pastor the freedom to use other methods to reach lost teens. You will get complaints-something different usually does. Be courageous and supportive. You will reap a harvest of new souls.

Lack of Money           

I am not speaking about the salaries of youth pastors, although that needs addressing. Rather, I am speaking about the lack of money churches invest into building an effective youth ministry. Many youth pastors are given no funds to reach teens. They are told to raise their own budget.

Churches that are growing have made it a priority to invest in both children and youth. If you reach a teenager, you touch the hearts of the parents. Many youth pastors struggle with a lack of resources to build a relevant youth ministry.

We must invest in our youth ministry. We are in a crisis within the Assemblies of God. Our churches are declining in growth, and we are aging as a Movement. Churches are closing faster than we care to admit. If we do not act now, we will lose this generation. Time is of the essence. Every day 80,000 people die and go to hell without ever having heard the gospel. Show me a youth ministry that is reaching teens, and I will show you a church that is investing money in that program. How much money does your church give your youth ministry to reach teens?

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Pastor, you can make a difference in the youth of your church and community. Let your youth pastor know how important he or she is by spending time mentoring and encouraging him or her. Build trust. Be open to new ways to reach this generation and give so your leadership has everything it needs to touch young people for Christ. I know you care. Start today to make a difference. You will be grateful you did. Your youth pastor will rise to meet the challenge if you will only give him or her your trust and support.

I Wish My Senior Pastor Would…

1. take at least 2 hours a week and disciple me, train me in all areas of ministry, hold me accountable, be honest even when it hurts, correct me, and encourage me.

2. ask for my input on decisions that affect my ministry.

3. recognize the need to communicate more with me.

4. understand that a lack of planning on his part does constitute an emergency on my part.

5. see the youth as a vital force of the church now, not just in the future.

6. dedicate more time in building a personal relationship with me and not just a working relationship.

7. allow me to focus more on youth ministry and not so much on associate duties.

8. be more relevant in his thinking so we could reach more people effectively.

9. cast more vision to the staff as a whole and not keep us guessing where his heart is.

10. grant more freedom to spend money on effective youth ministry outreaches and events that have eternal rewards.

11. feel a freedom to delegate more ministry to lay leaders to take pressure off the staff.

12. spend more time focusing on the ministry within the church than on his golf game.

13. be more compassionate toward people.

14. live what he preaches.

15. show more respect to his wife in public.

16. be more relevant by not restricting the youth ministry from using multimedia in presenting the gospel.

17. plan ahead and not overwhelm me with too many responsibilities, thus respecting my time.

18. affirm me more.

19. not take me for granted.

20. have more of a spirit of excellence pertaining to his ministry and leadership to others.

-Taken from an informal poll received on a youth pastors Email list serve.

Eddie V. Rentz is director of National Youth Ministries, Springfield, Missouri.
 

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