I love 80s movies. My favorites ones are those where the teenagers take on grown up roles and save the world. The Iron Eagle series was my very favorite. In this series, a teenager learns to fly fighter jets and fights off the enemy. While most of these movies were not realistic, I love the empowerment that allows these students to lead.
For most churches, student leadership is an area of struggle. This is a church philosophy issue. Churches often question if teens should lead or are they just considered an older child in the age graded ministry paradigm? If we believe the latter, then when teens become adults, we (the church) will train them to serve and lead. In the meantime, let’s disciple them and help them enjoy the church experience through age relevant worship and activities.
Another way of looking at teen leadership is to consider teens Christians in training. They will be the future
I find both of these philosophies limited in perspective. Ephesians 4 says that our task as ministers is to equip saints for works of service. If a student, even at age twelve, puts his/her faith in Jesus, then biblically, that student is considered a saint. Why, then, does the church say, not yet?
Research has stated that students leave the church after high school graduation because they are not plugged into the community of faith. Could it be that in not allowing students to serve and to grow in their faith by doing, the church is creating the problem?
Here are a couple of suggestions to move churches and youth ministers toward utilizing our students’ gifts and talents for ministry and service.
Active Goal for Discipleship
Discipleship is more than what students know about God and the Bible. Discipleship is finding an identity in Christ and fulfilling your God given purpose for the kingdom. So beyond making sure students find salvation, begin to think about how to teach students about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. For students in fundamental churches (Baptist for example), their knowledge of the Holy Spirit may be limited. To know that God specifically sent Himself, by way of the Holy Spirit, to reveal truth and to empower them to live not only righteously, but also to help others and advanced the kingdom may be mind blowing. Students need to know they are not left to live the Christian life on their own. They also need to know that they were created for a purpose, which is not to be used later but now.
Develop Ministry Avenues
I know it’s “safer” for the adults if the students are in the student section or in their own building during Sunday morning worship. “Students can lead in their own building.” However, students have unique gifts that the church doesn’t know what to do with. What does the church do with the student who is good at coding? What if you are Baptist and have a student who is incredible at ballet? If God has gifted them, why can’t these students’ gifts be used for His glory?
First, students need to know that their gifts can be used for God’s glory. They may have never made the connection that what they are passionate about can open doors to spread the gospel. Second, the local church might find great benefit using students to help the church grow and function. However, for both of these things to happen, students need someone who can help them open doors of opportunity, especially if these are new concepts. Youth ministry leadership in the church can discover students’ gifts and then champion them to adult areas of ministry. If your team has done well in networking with the rest of the church, then connecting students with adults who have similar interests won’t be a problem. In my ministry, I’ve seen student mechanics, artists, musicians, light and tech, and drama, to name a few. By the way, if you use students who have a gift for dancing in worshipping, call it choreography!
Ecclesiastes says that everything has a season. Some ministries don’t have to be institutionalized or developed with the expectation that they will be around for 10-20 years. If a ministry lasts for a few years or even a few months and allows students to be able to exercise their gifts, it’s a win. Help people understand that because a ministry ends quickly doesn’t mean it’s a failure. During that time, students gained valuable experience in discovering who they are. And, for that short period of time, people were positively impacted.
Remember the goal is not to put students to work but to help them grow. Don’t expect professionalism or perfectionism. Expect excellence as one serving the Lord. Allow for students to grow in failure. Encourage them when they get frustrated and the newness wears off. Help manage other people’s expectations.
Jesus spent three years with a group of men whom most considered to be around the age of teenagers, except for Peter. He coached them, helped them to stay humble, admonished them when frustrated, and helped them rest when they were tired. In the end, when the Holy Spirit came, the church exploded because of this group’s faithfulness and spiritual growth. May the same happen to our churches because we were willing to allow teenagers to serve and grow.
I would love to hear of “outside the box” ways you have plugged students into ministry. It might spark the idea for others.