“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.”
Why make disciples?
Jesus told his disciples to make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. This is the Great Commission. Youth ministry is a disciple-making gold mine. But what is the motive? Why make disciples?
Simply put, because we love God with our whole hearts, souls and minds, and we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s why we want young people to experience the greatest gift of all—the gift of an eternal relationship with Jesus. This is the great commandment Jesus spoke of in Matthew 22:37-38. As we learn to love God, he gives us love for others.
Loving God, loving others
Jesus loved God first and foremost. He showed this through his prayerful dependence on God. The disciples knew Jesus prayed (Luke 9:18; Luke 22:32; John 17:1). He showed them how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13). Jesus’ prayers demonstrated a life of dependence on the Father, not self. Prayer needs to be an essential component of our youth groups.
A second way Jesus showed his love for the Father was through the priority of the word of God in his life. He made the words of life, the Scriptures, his source of wisdom and authority.
Finally, Jesus showed his love for God by focusing on God, not on himself. Even as he approached death, Jesus subordinated his own desires to the desires of the Father. He set his own desires aside in favor of what God wanted for his life.
Jesus loved God, and he loved people. The Gospels frequently note Jesus’ compassion for others (Matthew 9:26; 14:14; 15:32). Several years ago I watched the Matthew video, which chronicles the life of Jesus as told in the first Gospel. It struck me how many times Jesus physically reached out and touched or embraced others. An individual bathed in love often becomes less resistant and is thereby prepared for the gospel message.
Young people in the church need to feel loved, appreciated and important to the adults in their congregation. When I was growing up, an elderly woman learned the children’s names and always had candy for them. I felt that I was important to her.
Jesus ministered to people. All people. As he did, he gave them hope (Luke 7:36-50). Whether it was a blind man, a Samaritan woman or a Roman centurion didn’t matter. While religious leaders stayed away from them for fear of becoming defiled by contact, Jesus valued and was drawn toward them.
Jesus sacrificed self for the benefit of others. He put himself in the intersection of needy people’s lives. While sports heroes today often can’t be bothered by simply signing an autograph for an eager fan, Jesus spent countless hours, no doubt physically exhausting himself in the process, to serve those who needed to be served.
As Jesus lives in us, congregations need to find ways to reach into young people’s lives in a positive way. Successful youth ministries advise participants to go where the kids are and show an interest. As we seek out young people both inside and outside the church, and make a difference in their lives by expressing the love of God to them, we further the Great Commission.