We won’t be dealing with a group of “nominal Christians.” We’ll be ready to teach, disciple and equip a generation of future church leaders—“new creations”!—who are hungry to know and speak God’s Word. Converted students will go on to love Jesus and serve the church.
2. Kids who stay are equipped.
Recently, we had “man day” in our youth group. Guys began with an hour of basketball, moved to softball, and finished by gorging on meaty pizzas.
I’m not against fun in youth ministry. But youth pastors especially need to keep repeating Ephesians 4:11-12 to themselves: “[Christ] gave…the teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Christ gives us—teachers—to the church, not for entertainment, encouragement or even friendship primarily. Our mission is to “equip” saints to do gospel ministry so the church is built up.
If I haven’t equipped students to share the gospel, disciple younger believers, and lead a Bible study, then I haven’t fulfilled my calling, no matter how good my sermons are.
We pray for conversion, which is entirely a gracious gift of God. But after conversion, it’s our Christ-given duty to fan into flame a faith that serves, leads and grows. If students leave high school without Bible-reading habits and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we’ve lost them. We have entertained, not equipped, them…and it may indeed be time to panic!
Forget your programs for a second. Are we sending out students who will show up to college in a different state, join a church and begin ministering without being asked? Are we equipping them for that or merely giving them a good time while they’re with us?
Keeping kids in church doesn’t mean we need youth group junkies. Instead, we need to grow Christians who can teach, lead and serve. Set aside strategies as you look at that 16-year-old. Ask, “How can I spend four years with this kid, helping him become the best deacon and Sunday school teacher possible down the road?”
3. Kids who stay have parents who shared the gospel with them.
As a youth pastor, I can’t do all this. All this equipping is utterly beyond my limited capabilities. It’s impossible for me to bring conversion, of course. But it’s also impossible for me to have an equipping ministry that sends out vibrant Christians if parents aren’t reinforcing my ministry at home.
The common thread that binds together almost every ministry-minded 20-something I know is abundantly clear: a home where the gospel was absolutely central, not peripheral. The 20-somethings who are serving, leading and driving our church’s ministries had parents who made them go to church.