Every year I get the privilege of personally connecting with thousands of youth leaders from all across the nation as part of my ministry. The vast majority of these youth leaders have one thing in common: They long to see their teenagers on fire for Jesus Christ.
But this holy desire can lead to some real frustration. Teen apathy can bar the door to the furnace room of spiritual revival in the heart of the typical church-going teen.
How can you break through this spiritual barrier and help your teens catch the fire? Here are three ways to ignite their passion for God:
1. Spend a chunk of time praying for your teens by name every week.
I’ll never forget meeting John. He was a youth leader in Florida and super frustrated with where his five teenagers were at spiritually. He began to pray for each of them by name for two hours every Thursday afternoon. He prayed for various aspects of their lives that he knew about. But, more than anything, he prayed for their salvation and transformation.
One by one every one of these teens came to Christ and were set on fire. Soon they had their friends attending. Within a year his group had grown to 50-plus and all of the new teens came to Christ through teens in his youth group reaching out to them with the Gospel!
When I asked John if he was still praying for two hours every Thursday afternoon, he told me “no.” Surprised, I asked why. He explained that because his schedule was getting too busy in the afternoons, he had to cancel his Thursday prayer sessions and start praying an hour early every morning. He went on his daily prayer walk but, instead of just jamming to the tunes on his iPod, he turned into the heavenlies through intercessory prayer.
John shared with me some of the amazing answers to prayer he had seen. In addition, he lost 25 pounds by walking an hour every morning. (Bonus!)
Whether you choose 10 minutes, 30 minutes, “Sweet Hours of Prayer,” prayer walks or finding prayer pockets (not to be confused with Hot Pockets) throughout the day, DO SOMETHING to make intercessory prayer the engine and not the caboose of your youth ministry efforts.
2. Get your teens evangelizing as soon as possible.
When your teenagers share their faith, they are put in a position of risk. They can lose face and friends. Teens can be mocked, marginalized and even ostracized as a result of their evangelism efforts … just like the disciples were (Matthew 5:11,12.)
But it is this same sense of risk that puts your teens in a position to trust in Jesus like never before. Now they are not just sitting in a meeting listening to you tell stories of heroes of the faith. Instead, they are being strategically being put in a position to become heroes of the faith themselves!
Just like Jesus led the early disciples on evangelistic campaigns, we must do the same with our teenagers. It will give them a sense of mission, adventure and danger. The stark act of evangelism will fill them with excitement like it did the early disciples.
“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name’” (Luke 10:17). The disciples evangelized from town to town and witnessed some amazing miracles as a result. Jesus reminds them the biggest miracle is not demons fleeing someone’s body but the Holy Spirit invading someone’s soul!
When teens are put in a position to share the Gospel, they can witness firsthand God at work like never before. We must put them in that position through the outreaches we coordinate and by constantly challenging and equipping teenagers to share their faith with their friends, classmates, teammates and family.
We must equip them to share the Gospel with the right balance of boldness, tact, love and wisdom. And we must seek to model this brand of evangelism ourselves. When we do this prayerfully and strategically, we are on the pathway to becoming firestarters in our youth groups.
3. Set yourself on fire.
John Wesley said when he preached he set himself on fire and people came to watch him burn. May that be the way we preach. May that be the way we teach. May that be the way we live.
If you want to see your teens on fire, it starts with you. Ask God daily to fill you with His Holy Spirit and empower you to set the pace for a full-on, on-fire life and ministry.
A few years ago I wrote a little book called Firestarter … Ignite Your passion for God. Although it was written for teenagers, I think every youth leader will get fired up to see a true revival break out among their teens as a result of reading this book. Check it out and see what you think.
But don’t wait for the book. Start praying today, send your teens out to evangelize tomorrow and set yourself on fire right now.