Resources to Encourage the Next Generation

Author

Mel Walker

Mel Walker has 11 articles published.

Is It Their Church? 5 Things to Help Teenagers Build Loyalty to the Church

in Going On For God/inter-generational ministry/Ministry/youth ministry by

Fellow youth workers and church leaders, I would like to ask you a serious question – and, please make an honest evaluation of your ministry.

Are your teenagers more loyal to your youth ministry than they are to the church as a whole?

If they are, it’s no wonder so many teenagers quit participating in church following their days in youth group. Let’s remember that youth ministry was never designed as a terminal program – with a specific ending point for the students to be finished and then walk away.

Here are 5 things that any church can do to help build loyalty to the church as a whole:

  1. Teach them the importance of God’s church. Loyalty begins with an understanding of what church is all about. Develop a series of lessons on the church. Perhaps you could take them through Acts, the Epistles, and even the 7 churches in Revelation to give them exposure to what the Bible says about the church. Talk to them about basic ecclesiology and your church polity. There are lots of materials out there to help you with this, but if you feel uncomfortable doing this series yourself, I’m sure your lead pastor could offer some suggestions or resource material to help you.
  • Provide opportunities for them to serve in the church. Loyalty also comes through what some would call “sweat equity”. Give your students practical opportunities to get involved in your church’s ministries and programs – and give them practical ways to use their God-given spiritual gifts. Provide ways for them to serve alongside adults and motivate them to get involved in work projects around the church. People are much more likely to continue in church if they have been actively involved themselves.
  • Motivate them to give financially to the church. I encourage all youth workers to teach their students to give financially to the church. The majority of today’s teens have their own money. Their parents must be involved, of course, but teach them the discipline of giving financially to the Lord and to His church. It’s hard to walk away from something after giving financially to it.
  • Expose them to church business and key church leaders. I also believe it is a wise move to give teenagers some basic instruction on how their church works. Why do you have communion? Why do you baptize people? What is the purpose of church business meetings? These are vital questions and your kids should know the answers. It is also a good idea to give your students some exposure to the key leaders in your church – and that starts with the lead pastor / senior pastor. Don’t forget he’s their pastor, too. I encourage youth workers to invite deacons and other church leaders to share their story or testimony to students. Maybe our kids are leaving the church because they really don’t understand it.
  • Help them develop positive inter-generational relationships in the church. Chap Clark has said that if we want our kids to stay in the church after they graduate from high school, they will need personal relationships with 5 significant adults other than their parents. How are you doing with that? These adults need to be people above-and-beyond our teams of youth workers. They could be adult mentors, prayer-partners, Godly parents of other teens, work project leaders, or senior citizens who are genuinely interested in the next generation. I really believe that we are doing our students a disservice if we totally separate them from other generations in the church. We must think this through if we want our youth to go on for God as adults.s

These 5 things are just recommendations, but I think they are very practical and workable in a church situation – and I think these strategy suggestions will help build loyalty to the entire church instead of just the youth program.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to implement these concepts into the fabric of your church!

Reaching & Ministering to “Spiritual Orphans” in Your Community

in Going On For God/Mentoring/youth ministry by

The rise of “spiritual orphans” in our communities is a reflection of the true state of the family in today’s American culture. I define this category of student as those who have come to Christ, but who do not have the spiritual support system in place to grow in Him, or they are young people who do not have any Godly adult influences in their lives.

According to a recent national survey, almost 65% of Americans come to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14[i]. This is an important reality for any church to think through. If your children’s ministry and student ministry are reaching young people for Christ, you undoubtedly have connections with spiritual orphans as a part of your ministry.

Plus, we are living in a culture today where most likely the “good, Christian family” does not exist. According to recent statistics, more and more couples are living together without being married; the number of single-parent homes in the US is growing dramatically; there is a changing definition of “family” and there is a growing number of households in America that do not fit the classification of a “traditional” family; and the number of dysfunctional or fractured families is also increasing[ii].

Theologically, of course, there’s no such thing as a spiritual orphan:

  • God loves us so much that He sent His Son so that we can have a relationship with Him – John 3:16 and 1 John 4:10.
  • Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family – Ephesians 1:4-5.
  • Also, through a personal relationship with Christ, we become children of God, and are actually “heirs” of God – Romans 8:16-17.
  • God Himself cares deeply for human orphans – Psalms 68:5.

Humanly however, the likelihood of us having the opportunity to minister to spiritual orphans is great. If we are seeing kids come to Christ, there will be several of them who are from households with very little Godly influence. This fact presents our ministries with a huge responsibility to help these young people become assimilated or integrated into the Christian community.

Ministering to “Spiritual Orphans” –

Here are 5 strategic suggestions for your church to consider:

  1. Creatively and effectively present the Gospel. We must never forget the truth of Romans 10:15, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” God brings people into His family through His Word, and people grow in Christ through His Word. Because we are very likely to have a growing number of kids without any other spiritual influence in their lives, it will be imperative for us to make the clear communication of God’s Word a top priority in our ministries.
  2. Provide Godly adult mentors. Most of today’s students will respond positively to the influence of significant adults who care enough to build growing and healthy relationships with them. (Of course, it is imperative to build safeguards into our ministries including a well-defined and implemented “child protection policy[iii]”.) However, Godly mentors can provide a new layer of inter-generational relationships in your church’s ministry to young people[iv]. Many of the kids you reach for Christ today will be from households without the positive influence of significant adults. This is one of the reasons why is it so important for the church today to be inter-generational[v] in its ministry philosophy and programming.
  3. Show them God at work in the lives of their peers. One of the key advantages of any local church is the larger community of God’s people. Positive peer pressure is so important for kids. If we can help spiritual orphans see God at work in and through the lives of other young people, they will begin to see this activity as the norm. Churches must never be dominated by fun-and-games, nor should they be entertainment-driven in their programming. Activities like that are important of course, but only as a way (along with other means of programming) to show the reality of Jesus Christ in life. All new believers need to see that other Christian can have fun, and that it is exciting to serve the Lord and to live out their faith in real-life situations.  
  4. Help them connect with the total church. God designed His church to be inter-generational. The end result of student ministry is not participation in youth group. It must be that kids grow up on and go on for God as adults[vi]. We must grasp the fact that youth ministry was never designed as a terminal program where our students graduate from high school and then walk away from God’s church. We can help connect them to “big church” via intentional involvement in serving, giving, worship, teaching and preaching, outreach, and other means of developing sweat equity. Young adults are much less likely to walk away from involvement in church when they become adults if they have been personally involved in church-wide activities when they were kids.
  5. Encourage good families to “adopt” spiritual orphans. It’s interesting that the world grasps this idea and yet the church falls behind in implementing it. The general community where you live probably has programs like “foster kids” or “big brothers & big sisters”, where solid families take an active role in building relationships with kids from broken or dysfunctional households. Why shouldn’t the church lead the way in this kind of ministry? Probably churches leaders will need to paint the vision of how this could work. But the concept is sound – and it works. Good parents can be motivated to “adopt” kids who need to see what positive family relationships look like by including them in typical family activities like meals, sports, movie nights, etc.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to reach out to the “spiritual orphans” in your community.


[i] https://www.nae.net/when-americans-become-christians/

[ii] A great resource on the current state of the family in the US is: Households of Faith, by Barna Research. https://shop.barna.com/collections/family-kids/products/households-of-faith

[iii] I recently wrote a post on my blog about building safeguards into our mentoring ministry. Check it out. http://melwalker.org/mentoring-safeguards/

[iv] See Mentoring the Next Generation: A Practical Strategy for Connecting the Generations in Your Church, by Mel Walker, published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2019. https://goingonforgod.com/product/mentoring/  

[v] See Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why A Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church, by Mel Walker, published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2013. http://intergenerationalyouthministry.com/the-book/

[vi] See Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God, by Mel Walker, Published by Vision For Youth Publishing, 2108. https://goingonforgod.com/product/going-on-for-god/

WAYS OLDER ADULTS CAN MINISTER TO YOUNG PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH

in Going On For God/Mentoring/Older adults/youth ministry by

“Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” Psalm 71:18

According to the US Government’s Health & Human Services Department we live in a country with a dramatically increasing population of older people. At this moment, almost 50 million people in the United States are 65 years of age or older – and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next several years. This demographic trend will definitely impact church ministries and programming as we consider how to reach and serve this growing cohort.

Even though most of us have been raised believing there is a considerable “Generation Gap”, I am absolutely convinced that the different generations in the church need each other and that both sides of the generational divide actually want the same things in the church. Younger people and older people alike desire to serve and worship God in a local church environment that honors God, that teaches and preaches the life-changing Word of God, and that effectively reaches out to the unsaved and un-churched members of the surrounding community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches the unity of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-16) and that older people can and should mentor and encourage young people in the church (see Titus 2:1-10). Today’s young people need Godly and loving encouragement from the older people in the church – and actually current research points out that this generation of young people is very, very receptive to building close relationships with older people. (See https://www.barna.com/research/multigenerational-friendships/?mc_cid=5df38c9891&mc_eid=bfbee3c1fa.)

If you, like me, are one of the “older” generations in your church, please join me in doing all we can to encourage emerging generations to grow up and go on for God. Here are 5 simple things older adults can do to minister to younger people in church:

Pray for them

I highly encourage senior citizens to pray for their church’s younger generations – specifically, by name! It’s probably easy to obtain a list of their names from your church’s youth workers. Take each one to the Lord individually. God will begin to put a burden on your heart for them. You will be amazed at how external things fade away as you pray specifically for them and their spiritual growth. Once you have developed the habit of praying intentionally and individually FOR young people – then take the opportunity to pray WITH them. You will be amazed at how receptive today’s young people are for a time of special prayer with older people.

Encourage them.

It’s also important for the older, established people in the church to actively and purposely encourage them in their walk with God. Take the Biblical examples of Barnabas and Onesiphorus to heart. They were exceptional encouragers. Today’s young people hear so much criticism and negativity. Let’s change that trend in the church. Imagine the positive influence you could have on your church’s teenagers and college age young adults just by being a verbal encouragement to them. Ephesians 4:29 puts it this way, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Older people should take the initiative. Just say an encouraging word or two to young people in the church foyer or hallway. Believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.

Tell your story

Today’s youth love stories. Most of the recent blockbuster movies have been epic tales told as stories. God uses human interest, real-life accounts of real people to touch the hearts of others. I think this is the idea behind the truth in Psalm 78:1-8. Older generations were instructed to tell the next generation “the praises of the Lord. And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done….” So that, “They may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.” This generation loves “God stories”. Seniors should take every opportunity they can to share what God has done and is doing in and through their lives. Practical ideas abound. Invite young people over to your home and take the opportunity to share your testimony with them. Take a few young people out for coffee. Today’s young people love to connect with older people. I strongly recommend that churches use this as a ministry advantage. This simple action step will help break down the Generation Gap.

Minister alongside them.

It should be the standard norm in your church for each ministry position (ushers, Sunday School teachers, VBS leaders, work days, etc.) to include a mentoring relationship with a younger person. Our churches must be intentional about becoming inter-generational. So, if you have any kind of ministry position at all in your church, why not invite a younger person to serve alongside of you? Even if you are not a ministry leader you can still minister with teens by asking them to help you bake cookies to encourage someone in the church, or to go with you to visit a shut-in. The key is to demonstrate your desire to serve the Lord to emerging generations.

Mentor them.

I believe that every mature Christian in the church should have growing mentoring relationships with younger people. This is the Biblical pattern (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and Titus 2) and it should be replicated throughout our churches today. Over 90% of today’s young people have indicated that they would appreciate an older mentor. Yet, most adults feel like they don’t have time to so something like this. Friends, I have said for years that true mentoring is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. It is doing what you already do, just doing it with someone younger. The best mentoring takes place at church by the way. Begin this Sunday by building intentional, growing relationships with younger people.

              It makes sense for older, spiritually mature people to be intentional about personally ministering to younger people in the church. Let’s bridge that Generation Gap!

5 Ways to Transform Your Church Youth Ministry Into a “City on a Hill”

in Evangelism/Outreach/youth ministry by

Youth room. Church kids. Snacks. Games. Praise band. Youth speaker. Small groups.

How long has church youth ministry looked this way in America? I am 41-years-old and it’s been this way since I was in youth group… and possibly before. I was in youth group in the 90’s, specifically from 1990-1996. I have also traveled extensively and observed many American, church youth groups since graduating from Bible college, and almost everyone has looked almost exactly like mine did.  

If your church youth ministry still looks like this, should it? Are you content with where it is currently, or do you dream of and pray for more?

Many, if not most, church youth ministries right now are in decline. A good number of churches have even decided against paying a full-time youth director.  Middle school ministries are doing better, but high schoolers are checking out due to busyness and simply feeling too old for youth group. 

Would you like to experience growth, both numerical and spiritual? Reach your community? See students embrace real, radical relationships with Christ? Watch them become disciple makers and world changers for Christ?

The following are five, strategic changes to implement in your church youth ministry this year to create a “city on a hill” culture that shines a light in your community, and not just in your youth room:

  1. DETERMINE WHO YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY IS ABOUT. Who is your desired target audience? Is it ONLY “church kids,” or would you like to see your youth ministry reach outside of the walls of the church into the community? My guess is that you would love to impact more than just the kids who attend your church. If not, this article might not be for you, because you might be more content than you realized with the state of your current ministry.
  2. FORMULATE A PLAN TO REACH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. (Step one might require talking with your church leadership and casting your vision. Based on how that conversation goes, step two might require a great deal of prayer and fasting for a shared unity of vision, or even a re-location to a church that shares your vision. Radical action is usually necessary and worthwhile in order to bring about great impact and change!) If your desire is for your youth ministry to transform your community, you’re thinking BIG and I applaud you, but you have to have a plan! Sit down with your youth leaders and/or student leaders and create a MIND MAP (https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Mind-Map). Use this exercise to determine your next steps.
  3. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE IN YOUR COMMUNITY. It’s likely that you have already planned outreach or evangelistic events (ie. a Super Bowl party) in hopes of attracting students in your community, only to be disappointed with the end result. Students who have yet to embark on a relationship with Christ, will likely not join a church youth group which feels like a members-only, or elitist Christian club. It is much more effective to go to them! Find out the needs of the students in your community. Ask your local high school principal, letting him or her know that you are willing to help in any way. Perhaps there is a need for tutoring, volunteers for extra-curricular activities, help with repairs and renovations, etc. Start small and continue to ask for ways to help. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16, ESV).
  4. DARE TO LEAVE THE YOUTH ROOM. From where do you want the growth to come? If you’re dreaming of reaching your community or local high school students, you need to GO to them. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) commands us to GO in order to reach people:  Therefore go and make disciples…” A city on a hill does not hide!Dare to leave the youth room. Take your existing students and GO somewhere. Be strategic. Go where the needs are. Go let your light shine before men! A church in northeastern Pennsylvania skips church all together one Sunday every year to spend the day instead serving their community. Take your cues from the high school principal, teacher, coach, PTA president, social worker, etc. and GO reach your community . . . WITH your students! Make this a regular activity on your youth calendar!
  5. THINK LIKE A MISSIONARY. Your church may be your job, but your community is your mission/harvest field. Make your community a higher priority than it’s ever been before. Almost weekly in the news we are hearing devastating accounts of students being bullied, committing suicide, or shooting their teachers and classmates. The local public schools need you. They need your youth ministry. Most of all, they need the hope and light of the Gospel. Take it to them! Don’t expect them to come and get it. Go and make disciples. Do this and your youth ministry will become that “city on a hill” transforming darkness into light!

By Kristi Walker – CrossWay Church in Berlin, Germany


Mentoring Safeguards

in Cautions/Going On For God/Mentoring/Safeguards by

The reports of influential religious leaders who have been accused and even convicted of being sexual predators are making the news almost every day. These nauseating accounts seem to be more prevalent, and perhaps, even more heinous than ever before. Of course, these perpetrators are not just priests from faraway places; nor are they just clergy members, coaches, or teachers from other denominations that have nothing to do with us personally. The reports are too numerous to explain away or ignore. Kids are at risk today and we must build policies and procedures of protection into our ministries.

It’s true that evil is out there. Sin is rampant – and sinful adults with wicked motives abound. But, readers, please hear me. God is still on the throne and we must trust Him to keep our kids safe from the evils of sinfully corrupt predators and abusers. God is in control – and yet, we must follow His Word in developing protections within the church to keep our kids (our own children, if we are parents; and our church kids, if we are church leaders or workers) safe. Christian parents and church leaders alike must do everything possible to put safeguards in place that will protect our kids!

I understand that this brief blog post can never be the final or definitive word on developing child protection policies within the fabric of our church’s ministries. But, since I recently wrote an article and published a book about mentoring (Godly adults taking the initiative to develop growing, healthy relationships with younger people), I felt it was important to write a follow up post on some of the practical things we can do to develop and implement precautions and protections into our ministries.

Here are 5 possible safeguards to think through for your family and for your church:

  1. Adult mentors should always minister with the blessing of the young person’s parents and family.

It is admirable, wise, and even Biblical for Godly adults to want to build personal relationships with kids. The histories of children’s ministry and youth ministry are lined with caring adults who cared enough to develop connections with the younger generations. However, these relationships should always be developed with the permission and understanding of the young person’s parents or guardians. It should always be a danger sign for an adult mentor to seek to build a relationship with a minor without the consent of their parents.

I have noticed a scenario recently that may deserve some attention in our ministries. Often it is true that the kids from the most dysfunctional families are the ones maybe the most at risk. Children and teenagers who do not have close relationships with their own parents may be especially susceptible to the impure motives and advances of predatory, evil adults.

Friends, I believe that the best adult mentors are caring, Godly adults who work in harmony with the young person’s parents and family members to reinforce how God is already working. Of course, God can and will use other Godly adults to impact kids from weak or dysfunctional families. However, it is imperative for church leaders to see this as a likely issue or concern.

2. Adult mentors should always minister under the authority, accountability, and communication of a local church

The local church itself creates several layers of safety that should be built intentionally into a mentoring ministry. Mentoring must never be adults just hanging out with kids. That would be incredibly dangerous. The structure, programs, authority, and accountability that exist within a local church must be honored and enforced. This includes the role of the pastor, elders, deacons, or other positions of leadership. This also includes the church’s membership procedure; and its policies for how people are recruited, screened, and trained for any type of service within the church. In other words, mentoring should be a church-based program that operates within clear lines of communication throughout the entire church.

I’ll be as blunt and honest here as I can. Be very careful of adult volunteers – those people who seem too eager to jump in (especially in a ministry with minors) without going through your church’s established practices for involving people in positions of ministry. Plus, there is a real level of safety and accountability that exists in any local church. Faithful church members who have demonstrated Godliness, authenticity, and dependability over the long haul are probably the best mentors.

3. Adult mentors should always minister within the structure and procedures of the church’s existing child protection policy – and should never go around it.

I am definitely not the authority on this subject, but I highly recommend that every church find experts – people who know the law, and who can implement and enforce “best practices” of an effective child protection policy. This might include lawyers, police officers, or representatives from your church’s liability insurance company. The important thing is to do it right and develop your policies based upon the laws in your state and with the motive to do everything you can to protect the kids in your church from evil predators. (Plus, it is imperative for your church to put these policies into place as soon as possible!)

By the way, it should always be a danger sign if any adult is not readily willing to submit to your church’s policies, such as background checks.

4. Adult mentors should always connect with students in public places – and should never engage in a practice of private communication with minors.

Mentoring should always be a public ministry. That’s why I always say that the best personal, inter-generational connections are made in the church foyer – in a very public place, that is almost-literately, the hub of church life. I understand the importance of developing confidential relationships, but secrecy and private meetings must be avoided. I believe that it is possible to build strong personal relationships in very public places. In fact, I think it is a wise thing to do. There is real wisdom in the Biblical methodologies of both Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Much of their work with others took place in group settings (sometimes large groups and sometimes small groups), and often their ministry took place in very public places.

Here’s another danger sign: adult mentors should avoid a pattern of private and exclusive methods of communication with minors. In this culture of electronic and digital communication, adults must be careful of on-going, private “conversations” with young people. Please – keep your ministry public.

5. Adult mentors should avoid any suspicion or doubt of their concern for what is best for the younger person.

The Bible’s characterization of the importance of an elder being “above reproach” is imperative. Mentors, likewise, should have nothing that others could accuse them of doing wrong. The genuine motive of a mentor will be quite visible. Godly mentors must want what is best for the young people in their churches – and that is that they want the kids to grow up and go on for God! Good mentors should never do anything that might cause others to question why they would be doing this. Never.

You can order these books at: http://www.GoingOnForGod.com.

Friends, as I mentioned briefly above, I am NOT an expert on this matter. However, I have observed what other churches are doing and I have written about the importance of implementing principles and best practices of child protection policies. This information is included in my recent works, Going On For God and Mentoring the Next Generation.

Mentoring: Why This Should be a Priority in Your Church

in Books/Going On For God/Mentoring/Parents by

The concept of “mentoring” most likely originated in Greek mythology. In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, Mentor was the older gentleman who was entrusted with tutoring Odysseus’ son and providing guidance and instruction in the absence of his father. From what I understand, Odysseus wanted his son to have another male influence in his life during the times when the soldiers were away from home at war.

Perhaps Odysseus was on to something that has turned into a significant opportunity in our current culture. Here’s what I am seeing that is so often happening today:

  • Our culture and our churches tend to isolate various generations from each other into age-distinctive programming.
  • So many families are struggling. Many families are no longer “traditional” (with a strong Dad and Mom) and too many kids are growing up without the positive influences of Godly adults in their lives.
  • I’ve also met several Christian families who attempt to protect their kids from outside influences and actually detach their kids from the larger body of Christ.

I have become more and more convinced that every young person today needs older mentors – and that every mature, older person should be a mentor of younger people.

It’s time to connect the generations – especially in the church.

Like the ancient warrior’s son as described by Homer, our kids today need the influence from other adults in their lives – especially Godly adults who are committed to encouraging them to grow up and go on for God.

Here are 5 quick reasons why mentoring should be a priority in your church:

1. Mentoring is a practical way to connect the generations.

Sure, it makes sense to keep children together with other children, teenagers with other teens, and adults with other adults in many aspects of our church ministries. There are many valid reasons for doing just that. However, the different generations need each other, and mentoring is an ideal way to institute a layer of older-to-younger connections in your church. My own research has revealed that most young people would love to be mentored by significant older adults – and most older adults would be interested in positive relationships with young people. All it takes is a little bit of motivation, organization, and intentionality.

2. Young people want positive relationships with older adults.

I want to expand a little bit on what I just mentioned above. It has been my experience that the current younger generations in the church (such as “Gen. Z’ers” and “Millennials”), usually welcome positive, growing, and healthy relationships with caring and Godly adults. Often, it’s the older adults who feel as if they don’t have the time to develop these relationships. However, the real genius of effective mentoring is that it is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. I tell people all the time that real mentoring is just “doing what you already do, just doing it with somebody younger.” Almost anyone can do that!

3. Mentoring gives older people opportunities to connect with younger people.

For about the last 30 years I have had the opportunity to visit about 30 different churches each year. Most of the older people I’ve met love their church and want to see it continue as Christ tarries. They just don’t know how to hand off ministry and leadership opportunities to upcoming generations. They don’t want their young people to walk away from church, but they are not sure exactly what to do about it either. Friends, mentoring (especially in various aspects of ministry) may be your answer. If older people are willing to develop positive and personal relationships with young people at church (like even in the church foyer), they often find that these young people have a heart for God and would love to live for Him over the long haul. It is amazing to me how encouraging, personal relationships break down the barriers of external trends and fads. Who knows? Maybe the two generations have more in common than they realize.

4. Mentoring provides ways for people to minister to others who have things in common.

That being said, one of the best ways to make mentoring connections is through the things the two generations may have in common. It’s not that hard to identify some areas of commonality: you go to the same church, you live near each other, you have the same interests or hobbies, or the older person has gone through life experiences that the younger person is going through now. I love the story in Acts 11 where Barnabas was sent to the early Antioch church to encourage them spiritually (see Acts 11:23). The greater text in that chapter tells us that one of the reasons Barnabas was sent there was because he had certain things in common with many of the people there. Those background experiences gave him a great opportunity to connect.

5. Mentoring is Biblical.

Take a look at Titus 2:1-5. The Apostle Paul specifically instructed his readers to connect the generations. He believed that older people could be used greatly by God to “admonish” or encourage, train, teach, and challenge the younger people in that church. This pattern is what God intended. He wants older believers to minister to younger people and to encourage them in the things of the Lord. As this passage indicates, the older men and women certainly have the life experience to help younger people in specific areas of life – like in family situations (see verses 4 and 5).

NOTE: For more specific information on how mentoring connections could be developed and implemented in your church, take a look at my new book, Mentoring the Next Generation: A Practical Strategy for Connecting the Generations in Your Church. You can purchase a copy on my website at: www.GoingOnForGod.com.

Ministering to Your Church’s Kids Who Are Now in College

in College Age/Going On For God/Young Adults by
  • college.jpg

I live in a college town. A few weeks ago, I met a young girl who will be attending college here this fall, so I asked her if anyone from her home church recommended a good church to her while she completes her studies. To my amazement she replied that no one from her home church, including her parents or pastors, had said anything to her about finding a good church in the town where she is attending college. Of course, I suggested that she should try our church; but that conversation left me wondering.

Are pastors and youth pastors talking to their church’s graduating high school seniors about getting plugged in to a good church while they are away from home attending college?

Here are 5 practical suggestions for ministering to your church’s college students who are away from your church while they are in college.

  • Encourage your church’s college students to find a good church immediately when they arrive on campus!

 

If nothing else, take the time to talk to the college students from your church who are away from home about finding a good, Bible-preaching church in the town where they are attending school. You might also want to take the time to investigate the churches in the area where your students are living to make informed recommendations to them. This will not take a long time with the wealth of information available on the Internet. Make sure your young adults are plugged in to a good church nearby the college or university they are attending. Believe me; this is also important if your students are attending a Christian college or even a Bible college. Experts on this age group are saying that college-age habits are usually formed within the first 2 weeks they are away from home; so this suggestion is very, very important for their spiritual growth and development while they are away in college. 

  • Stay in touch with your church’s college students encouraging them in their walk with God.

 

Your church’s college-age young adults are leaving home sometime during the next couple of weeks to begin this year’s academic schedule. Make sure you know their mailing address, e-mail address, and cell phone number so that you can stay in touch with them while they are away in college. Put it on your personal schedule to send them an e-mail or a text message just to find out how they are doing in college and to let them know that people from their home church are praying regularly for them.  

  • Send them a “love gift” from home within 2 weeks of when they arrive on campus.

 

Make sure your church sends them a care package (home-made chocolate chip cookies are a must for college students!) in a couple of weeks. You might also want to send them a gift card for a free pizza. Why don’t you recruit a team of church people to handle this important project? There’s nothing like the encouragement from receiving a love gift from people back at home. 

  • Suggest ways they can stay connected with their home church while they are away at college.

 

College students often feel out-of-touch while they are away from their home church. Perhaps it would be a good idea to send each of them your church’s weekly church bulletin and prayer request list. Put this simple practice on a tickler file as a reminder to send them this information on a regular basis.

  • Recruit a team of people in your church to pray specifically for those students while they are in college.

 

I can’t tell you how important it is for today’s college students to know that caring people back home are praying regularly for them while they are away at school. Put together a complete list of all of the young adults from your church who are away in college (and in the military, for that matter) and add them to your church’s prayer list. Then make sure you remind your church people to pray for them regularly and faithfully. This simple act of prayer will be a real source of encouragement to your church’s students who are studying away from home.

Please don’t forget that these students are still your church’s young people. Your church has invested so much in their lives during their formative years as children and youth. Don’t drop the ball on them while they are away in college!

5 Ways Parents Approach Youth Ministry

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Let’s face it, a lot of youth workers sometimes view parents as almost one of the necessary evils of youth ministry. A friend of mine took a survey a few years ago in his network of approximately 400 youth workers. He asked them to name the biggest concerns they faced in local church youth ministry. The most listed answer was “parents of teenagers.”

Here are 5 basic ways that parents of teenagers approach youth ministry. It has been my experience that somewhere along the line all youth workers will face parents in each of the following categories:

  1. Protective – Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the phrase “Helicopter Parents” – those parents who “hover over their kids” and are overly-protective of them. A recent survey reported that freshmen in college sometimes send and receive 11 text messages a day from their parents – and those were college students! We noticed during our summer youth missions trips that many of the participating teens used their cell phones to call their parents almost every hour. It’s true; we are ministering to a generation of hovering parents. My advice is to use this as an advantage and take every opportunity you can to communicate clearly and carefully to the parents of the teens involved in your ministry.
  2. Afraid – Some parents are afraid, and they worry about the negative influences facing their kids. These parents look at their kids’ peers as potentially harmful and manipulative. They also tend to see even the church youth ministry as a problem. The roots to this particular approach are often deeper than just surface negativity. There are some parents who seem to be pessimistic and critical about almost everything. Probably the best thing you can do to help these parents is to keep communicating to them the positive virtues and characteristics of the church and youth ministry.
  3. Proud – Akin to the last approach is something I’ve seen growing over the past few years of my ministry. There are some parents who are so proud and arrogant that they feel as if they are the only ones who can have a positive influence in the lives of their kids. I’ve met some parents of teenagers who will not allow their kids to attend youth group or other youth ministry functions because they see those ministries as a problem. This group of parents looks at other Christian youth and even church youth workers as part of the problem, so they do everything they can to keep their kids with them in everything – including school and church activities. Again, I believe that communication is the key to ministering to this group of parents. Show them Biblical examples of the church in action and help them see the advantages of building other Godly people into the lives of their children.
  4. Idealistic – Some other parents are quite idealistic. They think that everything will turn out okay in the end, so why worry about anything. These parents are often somewhat permissive and lenient with their kids. Plus, this group will often prove to be materialistic in getting their kids anything they want. I suspect that in most cases, their motives are good. They want their kids to grow up to be positive and constructive citizens; it’s just that they try to smooth out all the feathers for their kids along the way. I have found that this group of parents may respond well if they see the positive aspects of youth ministry that includes actively serving the Lord and motivating students to enthusiastically share their faith.
  5. Engaged – Praise the Lord for active, engaged parents. These are the parents who stay involved in the lives of their kids as they mature through adolescence and they are the ones who value the church’s youth ministry and realize how important it is for the family and the church to work together to help kids grow in Christ and go on for Him as adults. This is the group of parents you should try to recruit to be a part of your team of youth workers. They will have a positive influence on their own kids and will often help minister to other teens as well. Praise God for engaged parents of teenagers!

The Keys to Longevity in Student Ministry

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Let me introduce you to 2 of my heroes:

The first was my Sunday School teacher when I was in 6th through 8th grade. I thought he was way too strict, too conservative, and way too quirky to work with students. I hate to admit it now, but I’d complain about him to my Dad. Come to find out, he was also my Dad’s Sunday School teacher when he was that age. This faithful leader served the junior higher youth group in my home church for over 30 years! He’s in Heaven now, but you’ll meet him there someday. He’ll be in the front row – after working with early adolescents for that long (with guys like me in his group), he deserves to be the front row!

The second was a youth worker that I’ve known for over 40 years. He served for almost 25 years as a youth pastor in two local churches and coached in public high schools for over 20 years. He still leads an international youth ministry organization and he travels to speak to hundreds of kids each year in camps, retreats, and other youth events. The bottom line is that he’s a youth worker, and I can’t picture him doing anything else.

I’ve told churches for years that people may get too old to play tackle football (I would probably fall on you and crush you), but you never get too old to minister to kids!

So, what are the keys to longevity in student ministry?

  • What has God called, gifted, and equipped you to do? It’s really quite simple, if God has blessed you with the ability to work with students – then do it, and keep doing it. Honestly, why would you stoop to do anything else?
  • Do you love students? If the Lord has put a burden on your heart for middle schoolers, high schoolers, or even young adults, then I believe that you’ll do anything you can to spend time with them and their families in an attempt to reach them for Christ and to help them to go on for Him. It’s not just a cliché, youth workers keep working with youth.
  • Are you willing to be a servant? Let’s face it, sometimes ministry is hard – and it takes faithfulness over the long haul. Kids need adults to be faithful – to be the kind of people they can depend upon. You may want to resign every Monday morning, but don’t do it! Teenagers need loving, caring, and faithful adults to be an ongoing part of their lives.
  • How can you make the greatest impact for eternity? Reproducing yourself in the lives of the next generation may be the most important characteristic of a true leader. As I write this post, I am reminded that there is one real advantage to getting old in youth ministry. You stay around enough to see the students that you invested your life in grow up and go on for God.

 

I’m praying that the entire front row of heaven (if there really is such a thing) is totally full of youth workers. To quote the old crooner, Steve Green, “May all who come behind us find us faithful!”

5 THINGS PARENTS WANT FROM THE YOUTH MINISTRY

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Youth ministry is really a ministry to parents. As veteran youth worker Dewey Bertolini says, “Our ultimate effectiveness with teenagers may depend upon our concerted effort to gain an influence in the homes of our youth.” Sure, youth workers can have a real impact on the lives of impressionable youth, but our most effective long-term ministry may indeed be our entrance into the lives and hearts of parents.

We understand that God’s Word gives the ultimate responsibility for raising children to parents, and especially fathers (see Ephesians 6:4 for example.) That’s why a main focus of local church youth ministry should be upon equipping parents to be effective in how they raise their kids for the glory of God. However, most youth workers spend the majority of their time ministering to teenagers. The problem is that we sometimes fail to implement even the basic ingredients of an equipping ministry to the people most responsible for the spiritual maturity of our students: their parents.

The Lord has given my wife and me the opportunity to lead several seminars and workshops over the past few years for parents of teenagers and preteens. (This only means that “we’re old”; our kids are grown up and are now adults.) This experience has convinced us that many parents are looking for the following five things from the church: communication, training, fellowship, encouragement & support, and resources. We have talked to hundreds of parents of teenagers and preteens in churches of various sizes all across the country. These interviews give ample credence to our belief that every church should include these five priorities in its ministry to parents.

Communication

Parents want to know what’s going on in the youth ministry. What are you teaching their kids, and what are you doing with their kids? These are the imperative questions for any youth worker. Make sure that the parents know what you are doing. Well-known youth ministry author Doug Fields quotes one parent, “I would rather have over-communication than none at all. It shows leadership and it gives me confidence I know what is going on.”

I encourage all youth workers to regularly communicate in every way possible to parents. Don’t assume that the teens will get the information to their parents. This is your responsibility. Utilize your youth group website, e-mail, texting, newsletters, the church bulletin, announcements, phone calls, mailings, and all other means of communication at your disposal to get the necessary information to parents. I know several youth workers who schedule regular informational meetings with parents so that they do not have any excuse for not knowing what the youth ministry is doing.

Training

Parenting is a difficult task even for the best of parents. It seems ridiculous to me that churches don’t make training and equipping for parents more of a priority. This responsibility is one of the most important tasks we face, and yet we often go into parenting so unprepared. It has also been reported that church growth guru George Barna has stated that parenting classes might be the most effective means of community outreach in contemporary culture. It is no wonder, then, that so many parents of teenagers have told us that they wish their churches would provide specific means of training.

There is a very real tension here, though, because many church youth workers are younger than the parents of teenagers. I personally faced this apprehension as a young youth pastor, right out of college and trying to relate to the parent of teens and preteens in my church. I discovered that I could talk to them about the big picture of youth ministry without trying to state that I was some kind of expert on being a parent of teenagers. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue how to be a parent back then, but I did come in contact with several teenagers in church each week, and I also made weekly visits to multiple high schools in our area. I couldn’t tell them about how to raise their own kids, but I could share my own observations and conclusions about teenagers in general and the overall picture of youth culture.

I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t provide specific training in how to be a parent of teenagers, but I could make other “experts” available to them. So, I utilized our senior pastor (he and his wife had grown kids) and other adults with parenting credibility in our church to lead parenting classes and workshops for younger parents. We also brought in outside parenting specialists for training and provided other training tools for our parents of teens and pre-teens to utilize on their own.

Fellowship

The third thing that parents need from church is fellowship. I believe that parents of teenagers desperately need fellowship and interaction with other parents of teenagers to show them that they’re not in this all alone. They also need fellowship with people from other age groups as well, especially with parents who have already raised their own children. Wise youth workers will help parents make these kinds of connections through various church programs and ministries.

I want to share another idea with you. Why not try planning some activities each year for parents and teenagers to attend together? Mark DeVries, the author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, touts this idea is his book. He writes, “I began with this rule of thumb: if it works with teenagers, try it with youth and parents together.” Maybe he is on to something.

Encouragement and Support

Parents need regular sources of encouragement and support. Ideas abound. The key here is to do everything you can within the youth ministry to show parents of teenagers that you appreciate the work they are doing in raising their kids for the Lord.

Resources

Finally, youth workers should do all they can to provide parents with some helpful resources and materials for parenting. These resources are plentiful today – check the Internet and your local Christian bookstore. Perhaps you could create a library of sorts within your ministry for parents to check out books, websites, or other practical resources to help them with their kids. You’ll need to be discerning about what kind of materials you provide for them. You should read or watch everything first and only then make those resources available that you would personally endorse or recommend. You may also want to involve the senior pastor in that process. Ask him to list some resources that he finds helpful for parents of teens and preteens.

As you gather resources for parents, don’t forget the “people resources” that are a part of your church or community. What about doctors, police officers, child advocacy experts, lawyers, and counselors? Sometimes parents need these kinds of resources as well. Proverbs talks much about the “multitude of counselors.” It is my experience that a church can make some crucial contacts for parents when they are going through difficult times with their kids.

 

It is very important for all youth workers to remember that they are not the parents of teenagers. Ultimately, parents are responsible for the spiritual maturity and well-being of their own teenagers. I am afraid that some youth workers inadvertently take on too much pressure by almost trying to be a parent to the majority of students in the youth group. This isn’t the best solution. Wise youth workers will work to add the above listed ingredients into the fiber of their youth ministries. This strategy will encourage parents and will help to get them on your side. We must not forget that the most effective youth ministry is undoubtedly a ministry that includes parents as a major focus.

May God bless you as you seek to minister to parents of teenagers.

 

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