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Navigating Youth Ministry For The 21st Century: 4 Areas Every Youth Pastor Needs To Inspect

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Circa 2000-2002, I was training to be a pilot.  My CFI instructors always drilled in me that all your work is done on the ground before you ever takeoff.  It didn’t matter how many hours or experienced you had in the cockpit, you still had to re-calibrate all your instruments and re-inspect the aircraft for every scheduled flight.  My favorite part was the recalibration process during pre-flight inspection.  Every great pilot who does a thorough pre-flight inspection takes great pride in paying close attention to every instrument (altimeter, GPS,  ATIS, radios, engine control, flaps, navigation, mixer, propeller control) that is relevant to making the flight successful.

I think the same thing applies to youth pastors when preparing our youth ministries for the 21st century.  Every youth pastor must pay close attention to what will make our youth ministries most successful in a very postmodern and biblical illiterate context.  The student we ministered to 10 years ago is a completely different student today.  Every year (or flight), you have to inspect your youth ministry assumptions, practices, tools and methods very thoroughly and re-calibrate those things that will ensure great ministry to the next generation of students.

4 Areas Every Youth Pastors Needs To Inspect For Proper Youth Ministry Navigation For The 21st Century:  
  1. The need to network with other youth workers.  It is a lonely journey out there and we need other like minded youth workers to come alongside us to help resource and pray with us.  Youth workers have to leave their egos at the door and connect and network with other youth pastor.  Successful and healthy youth pastors are the one who are plugged into a local network of youth pastors.  Youth pastors must understand, theologically, that God has called his local leaders to be in relationship (aka unity) with others in order to further the Kingdom of God at a faster rate.
  2. The need to get more students committed to the mission of the church.  The next generation is the future of the church so we need to teach them how to already lead the church.  The mission of the church is to rescue the world of its plight.  This means getting our students not only loving God, but loving, serving, caring and befriending others.
  3. The insane importance of discipleship.  Churches need more adults pouring into the lives of students.  The church needs more adults who are willing to disciple the teens of the church.  Discipleship is not just shoving “deep-theological” information down the throats of teens.  Discipleship is about getting students to serve and practice being a co-labor for the Kingdom here and now while getting more adults to come alongside teens to help them become healthy adults.
  4. The need to recapture an incarnational approach to evangelism.  You cannot do discipleship well if your students are not doing evangelism well.  You cannot separate discipleship and evangelism.   Incarnational evangelism (Matthew 5.13-19, John 1.1-18, Philippians 2.4-8, and Colossian 1.15-19) argues that:
    Jesus went into the world  —–>  we (students and leaders) go into the world
    Jesus embodied the traits of God  —–>  We (students and leaders) embody the traits of God as we witness and evangelize
    Jesus engaged relationship with no expectations ——>  We (students and leaders) engaged relationship with no expectations.
    Incarnational evangelism invites the youth worker and students to be Jesus to other non-Christian students they have relationship with.  Incarnational Evangelism is relationally driven.  Evangelism happens when there is a invested and trusted relationship.  Youth ministry evangelism means we (adults and students) win students over by hanging out with them and befriending them as we model Jesus.  We win the right to share Jesus because of Christ like character and trust.

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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4 comments

  1. love this post…would love to see each of the 4 points fleshed out more, especially what discipleship looks like. Where I struggle is what does a high school disciple look like and even what does a middle school disciple look. I realize how subjective that can be, but what are traits or marks that these students would bear in being a disciple. Thank you Jeremy for your work in encouraging guys like me!

    • Sean-

      You are right the discipleship process is very subjective depending on your church culture, doctrine, values and traditions.

      For me I think there are some guidelines to what discipleship looks like. You can read my thoughts here: http://www.reyouthpastor.com/ym-culture/the-four-principles-of-youth-ministry-discipleship/

      I always have to remind myself of what the 12 disciples did when they were with Jesus. Essentially brought them into unique environments to minster to people. He didn’t have them sitting around doing Bible studies. For me the marks of discipleship are: how much does a student know, love mimic and trust Jesus? How do they love people? And how are they befriending others?

      What are your thoughts to your questions? I would be so curious to hear what you think. I kept this post general to provoke contextual discussion because of these points can land differently.

  2. Jeremy- So much I love about this post. Many good things to think about further. But I was wondering: what do you mean by “Jesus engaged relationship with no expectations.” As a small group leader, this one had me wondering. I agree with your comments about investing, but how do you take that to the next level if you don’t set any expectations? Thanks again for the great post.

    • Jenna-

      Thanks for the comment. Jesus engaged relationships with no expectations when he was trying to reach the lost. We need to have expectations for those students who are trusting Jesus but we have to be really sensitive when we are building relationships with the lost (1 Peter 3.15). When we do evangelism we need to not have expectations but when we do discipleship we have to have expectations.

      If a lost student even sniffs an agenda, superiority, authority, certainty, control or judgement, they will bail immediately. They just need to know you care for them.

      Does that make sense?

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