The great joy of those who minister to children, teens and college-age young adults is seeing them in fellowship with God and with the community of Christ’s body, the church (1 John 1:3-4).
This fellowship is theirs through Jesus Christ, manifested in the love God extends to them through caring peers and adult mentors and teachers who reach out to young people in Jesus’ name. These adults include the parents and youth ministry leaders and workers who are so important to the birth and development of young followers of Jesus.
What a joy it is for me to serve alongside many adults and teens who are active in youth ministry within our fellowship. I want to express my deep appreciation for their sacrificial service to the young people that God so deeply loves.
Our calling in youth ministry is to glorify our heavenly Father by participating with Jesus, through the Spirit, in his work to multiply young disciplemaking followers of Jesus. In advancing this work, we seek after lost youths with the intention of introducing them to Jesus.
We then work to nurture young believers by helping them share in Christ’s love for God and for people. Then, as they grow, we work to equip them to participate with Christ in his work within the church, in the youths’ homes and friendships and in the world at large.
This seek-nurture-equip work is patterned after Jesus’ own disciplemaking lifestyle that he pursued during his ministry on earth. Now ascended to the Father, he sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that he may now live that lifestyle in our world, through us. What a blessing and privilege! How rewarding to participate with God as he ministers to young people.
Jesus’ disciplemaking lifestyle
In the next several articles, we’ll be exploring ways Jesus’ disciplemaking lifestyle relates to ministry to and through children, teens and college-age young adults. We’ll address those three aspects of Jesus’ ministry patterns in the following order: 1) nurturing believers, 2) equipping workers, 3) and seeking the lost. Then we’ll add a fourth aspect: multiplying and sending shepherd-leaders. This article focuses on the first: nurturing young believers.
Once a young person turns to Christ in faith, they begin to experience the salvation that is theirs in God who, through Jesus, has granted them full forgiveness and credited to them Jesus’ own righteous standing with his Father. In Christ, they are newborn children of God, adopted by the Father and given membership in the spiritual family of God, where they have an awesome inheritance awaiting them in eternity.
Having been born from above, they are now invited and enabled by the Holy Spirit to grow in Christ—built up as believers toward the fullness of the maturity of Christ. It is our goal in youth ministry to partner with the Holy Spirit in nurturing these young believers. But how are we to do this?
Once young people have accepted Christ and become believers, their immediate need is to be nurtured—built up in their emerging love for Christ and for their spiritual family, the church. Youth ministers seek to assist in this nurturing process by doing what Christ did with his group of followers.
For the first half of Jesus’ ministry, it seems that his primary focus was on building relationships—helping the disciples know and love him more and helping them know and love one another more. Jesus advanced this strategy by providing environments in which such loving relationships would grow and thrive.
In following Jesus’ disciplemaking patterns, we advocate the use of four associated tools useful for providing nurturing environments in which God works to grow love-filled, Christ-centered relationships. We summarize these tools in the acronym C.A.N.S., which stands for community, adoration, nurture and serving.
Community (reaching in)
Jesus took a diverse group of followers and built them up by bringing them into a close-knit community where his disciples spent time with Jesus and together found fulfillment of three great needs: love, significance and belonging.
Young believers today find the same fulfillment in Christian community, where people worship, love and work together focused on Christ. Within a community of Jesus’ followers, they find that the aloneness that sin has produced in their lives begins to be replaced by the oneness that Jesus offers in his community of faith, the church.
Youth ministry seeks to be and thus provide a loving, close community where young believers find a place to belong. In a later article, we’ll discuss some of the details concerning how to build loving community within a youth group. We’ll also discuss what makes a congregation youth-friendly—a place where youths feel part of the community.
Adoration (reaching up)
In the presence of his disciples, Jesus openly and unapologetically worshiped the Father. In doing so, he modeled a life of adoration, openly expressing wonder, gratitude and trust toward God. When Jesus was revealed to the disciples as divine, they came to adore and worship him and, in turn, taught this adoration of Christ to others.
We seek to follow their pattern in our youth ministries. We seek to show young believers more of the majesty, beauty and holiness of God their Savior and model to them a lifestyle where God is so regarded and worshiped that he is glorified by our thoughts and actions. The worship of God is the heart of youth ministry and in a later article, we’ll present ideas for advancing passionate worship in our youth groups.
Nurture (reaching down)
Through his incarnation, God came down to us and lived in the flesh. Jesus was God in our midst as one who served. As a servant, he ministered to his followers. Through this personal presence, he offered direction and guidance for living and loving.
In youth ministry, we seek to minister to young followers the personal presence of Jesus. We do so by helping them follow the Holy Spirit, who brings Jesus, the living Word, into their lives in accordance with Holy Scriptures, the written Word.
Such nurture yields an abundant life in step with the Spirit. In a later article, we’ll discuss how parents, youth leaders and workers may cooperate with the Spirit in ministering God’s nurturing care to young followers of Jesus.
Serving (reaching out)
Jesus also built up his believers by helping them serve others in his name—expressing love through personal contact and support of those outside the immediate group. In youth ministry, serving beyond the youth group is an essential part of helping young believers grow in their love for God and for people.
Such growth is seen as young believers begin to value others so much that they adjust their own lifestyle to express care for and meet the needs of others. In a later article, we’ll offer suggestions for teaching youths the value of such service.
It is our goal in youth ministry to build young believers in their love for God and for people. We do this by using the tools of community, adoration, nurture and serving. I encourage parents of youths to capitalize on these four tools in working with their children and teens. Together we are participating with Christ as he advances the kingdom—one person reaching out to another; one generation reaching out to the next. There is no higher calling.