Ministry is far more than programs—it involves relationships where young people, assisted by caring adults, come to know and embrace God through a life of faith in the presence of a living person—Jesus Christ. As young disciples walk with Jesus and experience his life, they share Jesus’ passion—his love for God and for people (the great commandment). Motivated by his passion, they participate with Jesus in his ministry patterns that center on making disciples who make disciples (the Great Commission). This participation is guided and empowered through Jesus’ provision of the Holy Spirit in accordance with Jesus’ faithful promise to be with us always.
It’s a joy to assist young disciples to embrace Jesus’ person, share Jesus’ passion and participate in Jesus’ ministry patterns through Jesus’ provision and promise. This joy is the blessing that comes to those who are active in Jesus’ disciplemaking ministry to, with and through children, teens and college age young adults.
Nurturing believers using community, adoration, nurture and serving (CANS)
Jesus’ commission to the church is fulfilled through youth ministries that pursue the four primary disciplemaking patterns modeled by Jesus in his earthly ministry: seeking lost youths, nurturing young believers, equipping young workers and multiplying young leaders. A primary responsibility of youth ministry leaders and workers is to provide ministry environments conducive to these patterns.
Jesus nurtured believers by helping them grow in their love for God and for people. He advanced this work by using four growth-enhancing tools: community, adoration, nurture and serving (summarized in the acronym CANS). Starting with this article, we will take a look at CANS, starting this time with community.
Jesus ministered to his disciples (who were probably youths) by bringing them into a caring community where they spent time with Jesus and with each other. In and through the relationships developed within this community, the disciples found fulfillment of their God-given needs for love, significance and belonging.
Young people today have the same needs—and youth ministries help young believers grow spiritually by being disciplemaking communities where participants find an atmosphere of love, a cause to live for and a place to belong.
An atmosphere of love
God, who is love, created humans to receive his love and to share that love with others. Healthy disciplemaking youth ministries operate in harmony with God’s design by being close-knit communities with an atmosphere of love. In such environments, young people feel accepted, valued and welcomed into the lives of adult Christians who partner with the Holy Spirit to help them receive Jesus and then grow as his disciples.
Consider how Jesus created an atmosphere of love in his community of disciples. First, he genuinely and deeply loved his disciples. He then consistently communicated that love through acts of encouragement, support and comfort. Through verbal and nonverbal affirmations, he reassured his disciples that he cared for them and would never abandon them. As the disciples spent time with Jesus, they began to grow in their love for him and for one another. Jesus constantly coached them in expressing this love and sent the Spirit to live within them so that their love for him and for others would be full and lasting.
Imagine a youth group characterized by an atmosphere of love—a place where adult youth leaders and workers, as well as young believers, warmly accept and care for one another. Imagine a place of unconditional positive regard (grace) that faces the reality of human weakness and sin, yet ministers to the weak and the sinful with Jesus’ love.
Imagine a place where a wave of love washes over members and visitors of all ages. Such a wave is more than a feeling (though it involves powerful emotions). It is characterized by loving actions that convey the reality of Jesus’ love, flowing to and through us by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5). A youth group or a congregation that offers an atmosphere of love is a powerful attraction to youths who desperately need love in a world where genuine, holy love is rare.
A young member of our fellowship wanted to feel the impact of a new Christian environment. She visited a community church, arriving about 20 minutes before the service began. She was greeted warmly at the door and thought, that’s a good thing. But once inside, no one came up to introduce themselves to her. Though she was their sister in Christ, she felt like an outsider. Do young people feel like outsiders in your congregation?
An atmosphere of love is conveyed through actions that convey love. A youth group or a congregation that consistently expresses Jesus’ love in tangible ways is a magnet that attracts not only young believers but also their non-believing friends.
I challenge each of us to help make our youth groups and congregations places where a wave of love washes over all people, particularly the young. Pray that God’s holy love—his outgoing concern—will be expressed through our lives in ways that positively impact children, teens and young adults. In a culture saturated with self, let’s express the selflessness of Jesus, who has given himself, in love, for the entire world. For additional ideas on creating an atmosphere of love, see the article titled “How to Make Your Congregation Youth-Friendly.”
A cause to live for
By God’s design, people crave meaning, significance and purpose for their lives. This is particularly true of young people, who tend to be energetic and highly idealistic. Sadly, the causes they pursue and the groups they join are often dead-ends that lead to heartache and emptiness. What a blessing and privilege it is to offer to a young person the cause for which they were created—to be with Jesus as his disciple forever.
The cause of Christ is found and experienced in the community of Christ—his body, the church. Disciple-making youth ministries help believers grow into the fullness of their God-given potential and purpose by connecting young believers to local churches where they can share in God’s mission in communities of expectancy and hope.
Disciple-making youth ministries understand that young believers need far more than entertainment. For young believers to grow as God intends, they need to learn about the high calling and compelling purpose of being a disciple of Jesus. They need to learn about Jesus’ vision for their lives, including their part in his community of faith. In short, they need Jesus’ cause to live for.
Consider how Jesus constantly cast a compelling vision for his group—challenging his disciples to work together in his cause as fishers of people, ambassadors for Christ and harvest workers. Jesus gave his community a reason for being and then he gave them many opportunities to participate and grow in that purpose.
A disciple-making community nurtures believers in the faith because it provides, teaches and models a cause to live for—Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples who make disciples. I want to challenge each of our youth groups and congregations to be clear in their vision of that mission and then to share that vision with all members, including young ones. Challenge them to participate and then provide meaningful, age-appropriate ways for them to make meaningful contributions to Jesus’ disciplemaking mission. In short, be a community that provides a cause to live for.
A place to belong
What a paradox—our world is more over-populated than ever, yet people seem to be lonelier and more disconnected than ever. Such is a world apart from God, characterized by the terrible aloneness that sin produces. But in a disciplemaking youth group, that aloneness begins to be replaced by the oneness that Jesus offers in his community of faith, the church.
God has designed us to need others—to share community. The church is not an optional add-on to Jesus’ disciplemaking process—it is the process. So important is participation in community for believers, that Paul refers to the church as Christ’s body, where all the parts are interconnected and thus essential (see Romans 12:4-8).
Youth groups participate in God’s growth-enhancing design for the church as they plug young believers into the life of the church, helping them experience the church as the place to belong. It is contrary to God’s design when young believers are disconnected from the church, and it is
equally contrary when youth ministries are disconnected from the life of the local congregation.
It is essential that youth ministry leaders and workers embrace and model the importance of active participation in a local church. By doing so, they help young believers become deeply connected to the fullness of the community of Christ where they encounter God-ordained opportunities to mature in Christ.
I challenge each of us to make our youth groups and congregations thriving places where young people are encouraged and inspired to belong. Let us all be committed to participation in the local church—and then let’s make those churches communities that welcome and nurture young believers.
What a high calling it is to participate with Christ in taking “baby Christians” and nurturing them on to maturity—helping them grow in Christ-likeness. Jesus provides us with both the model and the means for this work—faith communities of love, significance and belonging. May God guide and bless us as we seek to provide such communities for young believers within our fellowship.
Author: Ted Johnston