For a good deal of my 25-plus years in youth ministry, I held to a mistaken philosophy. I believed that if you bring young people (children, adolescents, young adults) into an environment where good people with good thoughts, good motives and good activities existed, good things would happen. Although good things often did happen, an entire arena of spiritual focus and value was missed.
References to: Jeb Egbert
For any ministry to have lasting impact, new leaders must be identified, trained and mobilized.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus was active in making disciples. That work included seeking the lost, nurturing believers and equipping workers. But Jesus did not stop there—he placed high priority on another essential aspect of disciplemaking: multiplying and sending leaders. Jesus’ apprentice leaders, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, gave birth to the disciplemaking movement we know as the Christian church.
In our youth ministry articles, we are focusing on following the disciplemaking ministry patterns that Jesus modeled and then commanded his disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
We have a camp ministry that serves children, teens and college-age young adults. Most of the camps are held during the summer, but others occur at other times of year.
Youth ministry back home
The leaders of our camp ministry want to be more intentional about integrating the incredible ministry that occurs in a camp setting with the essential youth ministry that occurs back home. But how is this done?
“Is there anything else you would like to discuss before we conclude?” I asked the group of counselors sitting before me. We had just spent two days in counselor training in preparation for summer camp. During that time, we prayed, planned, discussed scenarios, set goals and shared thoughts about the young people God would be sending our way.
A young woman raised her hand. “I can’t wait until the campers arrive.” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “I can’t wait to see how God will use this experience to make a powerful impact in their lives.”
It’s a tough world. The devil, our fallen nature, a self-centered and materialistic culture, all are having a powerful effect on a vast segment of the population, and nowhere is this more evident than among young people.
I was sitting on the deck outside the house at a youth summer camp a few years back. It was early in the morning. Over a rise to the west, I heard the soft sounds of guitars, and young people singing. Like a magnet, the music drew me in its direction. I walked to a location where I could identify what was happening.
One evening after returning from a long day at work, I plopped into an oversized chair and flicked on the television. As I was channel surfing, looking for something that I could settle in to, I happened across a cartoon that caught my attention. The program featured a family, and in this episode the focus was on the dialogue between the father and his son. “Bobby,” the father began. “I want you to go to youth group.” “Dad, I don’t want to go to youth group,” was Bobby’s reply. “That’s boring.”
I crept closer to the circle of about 20 adolescent boys to listen in on their conversation. They were standing in a circle, hands clasped. They were praying. As I listened to these 14-, 15- and 16-year-old boys pouring their hearts out to Jesus, tears filled my eyes. The notion that they would be praying at all was something to celebrate. That they would do so with others like themselves was even better. But to listen to the intense, focused prayers that they offered was truly inspiring.
“Love expressed and experienced among members of the body is absolutely essential if that body is to be healthy and alive. Thus the development of love within the group must be the primary concern of spiritual leaders” (Larry Richards, A Theology of Church Leadership).
Love is an amazing language. It has a remarkable way of breaking through a hardened, indifferent exterior. It is the language of God. God gave his one and only Son so the world might be saved. In this matchless gift, God showed a love that is far above human love—the love of the Creator for his creation.