People have very low expectations for teenagers in the Christian context and it’s absurd. We have such high expectations for kids in terms of school—kids are learning foreign languages, taking college-level physics, and holding important leaderships roles, like being team captains or leading service projects. And yet in the church we regard teenagers like they’re toddlers. I think we need to elevate our expectation of what kids can actually do in a church.
Historically, one of the failures of youth ministry is that kids have not been viewed as potential contributors in the church, and that is a disservice to them and to the church as a whole. We need kids to learn how to be real church members, and we need kids to have good ecclesiology—a good theology of the church.
A Role to Play
One of the best ways churches can do that is to give kids meaningful roles in their church where they’re actually contributing in a real way. That helps kids understand that to be a member of a church is to be a servant—it’s contributing to God’s ministry in this parish or in this congregation.
We need kids to learn how to be real church members, and we need kids to have good ecclesiology—a good theology of the church.
Some examples of that are training high school kids to be Bible study leaders for junior high kids, training them to have a central role in vacation Bible school, and training them be part of the worship team. The goal in my own church is when a kid is nineteen years old, and they go off to college, they can join another church and say “Hey, I can actually do something valuable for your church,” because they’ve had enough experience contributing in our church, they’ve had enough training, and they’ve had an opportunity to fail and learn from that failure.
There’s a great resource in young people that we often leave on the table.
This comprehensive handbook looks at every facet of youth ministry from a gospel-centered perspective, offering practical advice related to everything from planning short-term mission trips to interacting with parents to cultivating healthy relationships.
Equipped with the Word
Another way that kids can be a blessing to the church—and we strive for this in our own congregation—is to form kids that have a maturity in their faith and a knowledge of Scripture and theology such that older people say, “Wow, this is a seventeen- or eighteen-year-old who can really articulate the gospel and apply God’s Word to the way they think about their life.” This can become something that spurs on the adults in the church to go deeper in their own discipleship, their study of God’s Word, and their understanding of Christian doctrine.
To a youth pastor who is feeling discouraged, your reward is in heaven where you’ll see in glory the things that Jesus has done through your ministry, you’ll see the fruit of your labor.
Many youth pastors are young, but they still have valuable insights on teenagers that can be of great help to parents.
We need missionaries and evangelists out there reaching teenagers and sharing the gospel with them.