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Going On For God

What If “Big Church” Was More Like Youth Group?

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I just finished reading a new youth ministry book in which the author makes the case that if youth groups were more like “big church” it would mean that emerging generations would stay active in the church after high school graduation because they would be familiar with the church structure and programming.

I don’t buy it!

In fact, I believe it is the other way around.

I have been researching the young adult “drop out of church” phenomenon for a long time. I have written two books about it. (Inter-Generational Youth Ministry and Going On For God). Plus, I have met with hundreds of young adults over the years – some who have stayed active in church, and some who have walked away from God and the church.

I have concluded that the positive aspects of what most youth groups offer are exactly the things that should be implemented into the fabric of churches as a whole. For over 30 years, I visited approximately 30 churches a year in a variety of capacities and ministry opportunities. And, I have often wondered why so many church youth groups operate quite differently than the adult ministries do in the same church.

Maybe, just maybe, if our churches would adopt the things that youth ministry does well – more young people would stay involved in church ministries when they become adults. Maybe one of the reasons so many young adults leave the church after high school graduation is that they have grown to appreciate and value the positive aspects of youth ministry and would love to see those things incorporated into the adult ministries of the church.

Please understand that I am not condoning young adults walking away from church if they do not like the structure. Quite the contrary. My point here is that the church should do everything possible to keep emerging adults involved in youth ministry AND in adult ministry.

I have identified 13 key characteristics of effective youth ministries that could be (and probably should be) instituted in the overall life of the church:

  • A well-articulated Biblical and practical philosophy of ministry
  • A complete educational plan (teaching “scope and sequence”) which includes the life-related teaching of the Word of God
  • The development of spiritual disciplines
  • Collaboration with parents
  • An emphasis on God-honoring worship
  • Times to get-away from the daily routine
  • Fellowship with Christian peers
  • Outreach and evangelism
  • Service and ministry
  • Positive peer pressure
  • Discipleship of select leaders
  • Inter-generational connections

Of course, there are some churches out there that do some of these things very well. I do not want readers to think that I am making wide-ranging accusations or indictments of the adult ministries in every church. It’s just that I believe that most youth ministries that I have seen are doing things well – and are committed to reaching the next generation for eternity. We cannot just let another generation walk away from church. It’s time for churches to do whatever it takes to keep emerging generations involved as they become young adults.

I am currently working on a new book, which should be released in the next few months, with this working title, “Why Youth Ministry? 13 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Is Important, and Why ‘Big Church’ Should Adopt These Positive Characteristics.”

(Listen to my recent podcast on this subject at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-youth-ministry-questions-podcast/id1562519123.)

Family Ministry (As We Know It) MUST Change!

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The Bible is clear that there are two God-designed institutions that share the same God-ordained purpose. Both the local church and the Christian home are responsible to guide young people toward a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity. Once our kids come to Christ, because we are intentional about sharing the life-changing Good News with them (see Romans 10:17), it is the Biblical responsibility of both the church and the family to help the next generation grow in spiritual maturity. (See Ephesians 4:11-16 and Ephesians 6:1-4.)

Certainly, the Bible teaches that parents are the ones ultimately responsible to raise their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), but likewise the church is responsible to equip or train “the saints for the work of ministry” so that the next generation “are no longer children” and that they may “grow up in all things” in Christ.

Our kids’ spiritual growth is the imperative mission of both institutions.

Christian parents must raise their kids to follow Christ. Likewise, the basic mission of the church is to make disciples for a lifetime of growth toward spiritual maturity.

What is the ideal relationship between these two God-designed institutions?

Of course, the ideal scenario would be if most Christian parents loved the Lord and were committed and deliberate about raising their kids to grow up to go on for God. It would be fantastic if these Godly parents saw the importance of the local church in Scripture and were enthusiastic and loyal supporters of the church’s youth and children’s ministries.

But look around. Is that what we are seeing today?

If your community is anything like what is happening with national trends – that’s not the norm.

Is this happening today?

According to several sources (by the way, I will cite these sources in my upcoming webinar with the same title as this article – see the graphic above), here are 4 current trends that will definitely impact the way many churches handle their ministries to families:

  • Young adults are dropping out of church.

We have all heard the statistics. Almost 70% of young adults who were once actively involved in church youth ministry walk away from God and the church following high school graduation. That trend is troubling enough on face value, but that departure has been true now for at least 3 generations (Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z) – and the long-term ramification of this exodus from spiritual things is that both Generation X and Millennials are now parents, and many of them are raising their kids without consistent involvement in the church and the work of God in the world today.

  • No religious loyalty.

Recent church history has coined a new term, the “nones”, to describe the most prevalent religious trend in today’s American culture. Today’s pastors and other church leaders are seeing this firsthand. Long gone are the days when the typical household in this country made church attendance and participation a top priority in their lives and schedules. One leading Christian research organization recently reported that a large number of people who claim to be believers habitually go to church services only one weekend per month – and yet claim that they are “regular” attenders.

  • A post-Christian mindset.

There is definitely a dominant post-Christian philosophy in our world. Christianity is no longer the majority religious position in this country. History has taught us that the United States was founded with a Judeo-Christian ethic with a basic belief in Jesus Christ. However, most of today’s youth workers and other church leaders are not seeing this to be true today. Post-modern secular thought is today’s most prevalent philosophic trend. Most Christian leaders will admit that they are not seeing a pro-Christian and pro-church attitude in today’s households. This mindset tends to govern how people look at the role of the church in contemporary culture. For example, many, many parents would rather their kids strive for a college degree that will lead to a well-paying job than they would have their kids sacrifice their schedules to attend church youth group functions.

  • A changing household structure.

The authors of “Generation Z: A Century in the Making” have observed the following in this country’s households: a rapidly decreasing number of children living with two married parents; an increasing number of single-parent homes; an increasing number of cohabiting, non-married parents; a growing number of households with single mothers; a growing number of same-sex households with children, and an increasing number of roommate households. In fact, some communities in this country are no longer to referring to families and parents, but are instead using the terms “households” and “guardians or care-givers.”

Pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders are seeing these four significant cultural trends and are realizing that many of the people in their communities are no longer making church, church functions, and church programming a priority. Parents pick sports and other extra-curricular activities over church attendance, and they push their kids to save money for college or other goals instead of encouraging them to commit to church or youth group.  

It would be great if most Christian parents were committed to discipling their own kids toward lasting spiritual maturity, and it would be amazing if the majority of Christian parents demonstrated a loyalty to the local church. But these are not the current trends – and the way churches reach out to today’s households must change as a result.

Please understand that I am not advocating a departure from the Scriptures in how church ministries should operate. Just the opposite. I believe the church must “be the church” to reach people in today’s post-Christian and post-church culture.

Can the church go it alone?

Yes, it is time for the church to be the church. It’s time for churches to recommit to God’s mission of reaching the world for Christ (Acts 1:8), of making disciples who live by God’s instruction (Matthew 28:19-20), and of equipping God’s people to serve Him (Ephesians 4:11-16).

God can and will continue to use His church to make a lasting difference in the world for eternity (Revelation 7:9). The church is God’s idea, and it is His plan (Matthew 16:18).

It’d be great if all Christian parents were absolutely committed to raising their kids in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4), and made the church and church functions a top priority for their kids. But most likely that is not what today’s youth pastors are seeing.

I’ll post some specific ideas soon of what churches can do about these trends. Plus, I will share some key thoughts about these trends and what the church can do about them in my webinar on, “Family Ministry (As We Know It) Must Change.”

May the Lord bless you as you seek to impact the next generation for eternity.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in School

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It has been over 30 years ago now that Robert Fulghum published his fabulous best-seller, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” which contained such sage life wisdom as:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

I was reminded of Fulghum’s classic work last week when the children in our community’s school system, including our own grandson, when back to in-person school following several months of either hybrid learning or online education during this country’s coronavirus lockdown.

I get it that there are both pros and cons to kids being a part of institutional education. Our grandson, Haddon is currently in second grade in the public school system – and I know there are very real benefits to him being at home with his Godly parents and other siblings. But I also see that there are some tangible advantages for kids being back in school as well.

Just the other day I stopped by Haddon’s school to watch for a minute or two when I noticed that his class was playing outside during what must have been a recess. I didn’t want to look like a creeper, so I jotted down a few observations and then made my way home to type up this post.

So, with my apologies to Fulghum, here is my “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in School” – which contains some of the basic observations I made that day just watching the little kids being back at school following months of being away.

  • It is a good thing to play and hang out with friends.
  • It is good to meet new friends.
  • A regular schedule is good for kids.
  • Go where you are supposed to go when you are supposed to go there.
  • Listen to your teachers and pay attention.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Study when it is time to study.
  • Do your homework.
  • Take the time to eat lunch.
  • Go outside for recess.

There might be something to this school thing after all!

Conversations with Young Adults Who Stayed in The Church: Why They Didn’t Walk Away

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Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of young adults who have not abandoned their faith and who have not walked away from church.

I have been one of those authors and speakers that has talked at length about the phenomenon of high school graduates who have left the church following their active years in youth ministry. To be clear, I am certainly not one to blame youth pastors for this departure. In fact, I champion church leaders who are trying to emulate the many positive aspects of youth ministry and who are trying to build those characteristics into the fabric of their churches as a whole. (For more on this topic, see my book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for The Church, Chapter 7 beginning on page 71.)

The statistics seem overwhelming. The majority of young adults who were once active participants in youth groups are leaving the church in droves once they become adults. Plus, the majority of today’s Millennial generation feel no loyalty for any particular church polity or denominational structure. Let’s face it – our kids are leaving the church and are expressing no real allegiance or commitment to church once they reach adulthood. These trends are real; but they don’t include everyone. Not every young adult has walked away from church. So, I intentionally spent some time over the past several months identifying and interviewing Christian young adults who remain active in church to try to pinpoint the common denominators of why they stayed.

I talked with scores of young adults, including my own 3 children, who are now actively involved in church ministries – and I asked them why they didn’t walk away. Here’s what I found:

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents demonstrated a genuine love for the Lord.

The majority of young adults I talked to described the consistent Christian testimony of their parents as the most important role model in their lives. If their parents’ faith is real, the kids know it, and they are much more likely to want a genuine faith of their own.

I did talk with some young adults that are now very active in church, but grew up in non-Christian or incredibly dysfunctional families. These individuals each spoke of a clear message of God’s grace that overcame human sinfulness and weaknesses.

The take-away here was 2-fold: Christian young adults are much more likely to remain plugged in to church themselves if their parents were genuine, Godly role models. Yes, there were exceptions to that general rule; but in those cases God’s matchless and amazing grace did something miraculous that overruled the missteps of the parents. 

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if their parents were consistent about their own personal and family commitment to the local church.

Again, the majority of emerging adults I spoke to mentioned the commitment their parents had made to the church during their own formative years. Several shared anecdotes of parents that “never missed a service” or who “made us go to Sunday School and youth group”. Some spoke about not being allowed to take part-time jobs or get involved in sports if that interfered with church activities. It was clear, if the parents made church a priority – the kids most often grew up making church a priority too.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have experienced the church working in collaboration with their parents for the spiritual growth of the young person.

Every one of the young adults I interviewed spoke highly about a significant adult, often several adults, who took a personal interest in them during their days growing up in church. My own personal interest in youth ministry was stirred when I heard so many speak about the youth pastors or lay youth workers who played an active role in their lives. They each identified various Godly adults who cared enough to build a personal relationship with them during their maturing years. My conclusion following these conversations was obvious – the positive relationships they had with Godly adults was a key factor in their long term spiritual growth.

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they have been actively involved in specific ministry and service initiatives throughout their lives as children and teenagers.

Another conclusion was also clear – if the church entertained kids, once they became adults they would most likely walk away. The converse is also true, if the church (and youth ministry) was intentional and missional about involving young people in specific ministry and service projects, the participants were more likely to stay involved in those things into adulthood.

Again, the take-away here was clear: youth programs don’t work – youth ministry does work, and it lasts!

  • Young adults are less likely to drop out of church if they see the relevance and importance of Biblical truth and if they can vividly see how God’s Word applies to their current lives.

My final observation seemed to jump out of every single conversation. Young adults who see God’s Word as relevant and life related are the ones who also see The Church as vitally important. They realize that The Church has been designed by God to help people come to Christ and grow in Him into spiritual maturity. These young adults participate in church to worship Him and to hear God’s Word taught.

I absolutely loved talking to these young adults. They each craved the opportunity to be a part of an inter-generational community of Christ-followers who gathered together often to open the Scriptures together because they knew they needed to grow closer to Him.

Children IN Church: The Value of Keeping Our Kids in Church Worship Services

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My wife and I made the decision to keep our kids with us during our church’s worship services very early on in our ministry.

(For the record, Peggy and I have 3 children – all of whom were born during my first full-time ministry as a youth pastor. It’s also important to note that I am a big fan of peer ministry. I absolutely believe in “kids’ min” and youth ministry, but I also see the incredible value of balancing age-segregated ministries with inter-generational ministries. In fact, I wrote a book about that. See Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church. I believe that churches need to intentionally balance ministries where younger generations learn at their own levels of understanding and do so in a peer environment. Simply put, kids need other kids.

By the way, now that I am “old and gray-headed” – to quote the Psalmist in Ps. 71:18 – our kids are now all grown, and all three of them serve in full-time vocational ministry. We now have 9 grandchildren – and currently I serve as a youth pastor in a church where our oldest son is the lead pastor. Plus, six of our grandchildren are a part of our church as well. And, due to COVID-19, our church does not offer children’s church at the present time.)

Now back to my point. I believe it is greatly beneficial for parents to keep their kids with them during the church’s worship service.

I understand the issues. Kids can be disruptive (yep, even my kids). My wife often carried this burden on her own because, as a pastor I was actively involved in the programming of our services. Other parents sometimes confronted us about our practice of keeping our kids in the service – and I was sometimes accused of not supporting the church’s children’s ministry because our kids didn’t go to Children’s Church – although they did regularly attend and participate in our church’s age-appropriate Sunday School classes.

The reasons for parents keeping their kids in the church worship services are different today due to our practicing of social distancing. Many churches are not offering child care right now, so parents are left with the choices of keeping their kids with them, taking them to another location in the church building and staying with them there, or not attending church services with your children.

After reading Kirsten Black’s article “Prioritize Church, Even When There’s No Childcare”, (see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/prioritize-worship-no-childcare/), here are some of my thoughts and ideas on this subject:

  • We utilized the church nursery when they were babies. Frankly, my wife appreciated the break and our nursery workers were loving and trained caregivers. But when our kids got old enough to “shut up and sit down” we kept them with us in the church services.
  • There is a great burden on the parents (maybe especially moms) to practice discipline and to “control” their kids during the service. This is not easy; I get that. But, let’s get rid of our pride and embarrassment and realize that everyone needs to discipline their kids – and to help our children grow up learning the value of participating in church services.
  • As a pastor, but also as an itinerant speaker, I knew how important it was for our kids to learn the practice of sitting “still” during the services – especially when I was speaking. (“Smirk.”) In fact, as they got older, I would often take one of our kids with me when I traveled to camps, youth events, and conferences. I loved this one-on-one time with my kids. Now our kids are basically all in their forties – and all serve the Lord in church ministries as communicators of God’s Word. They learned the value of church worship services and the life-changing importance of the preaching of God’s Word.
  • We brought stuff for our kids to “do” during the services. Sometimes that included Cheerios or other simple snacks, but mostly this meant crayons, then pencils or pens and paper so that they could learn the practice of writing on paper. When our kids got older, it was a “rule” in our house that we all had to take notes during the services – even simple sentences or words were fine. It’s really interesting that now that our kids are all adults, they still take notes during the services. It became a habit.
  • It’s really good for our kids to worship with us – and to worship alongside of other Godly adults. This practice helped me gain an appreciation for inter-generational worship too. I know that different ages have different musical tastes, but there is something powerful about church services when people of all ages worship the Lord together.
  • I am not advocating that churches do away with Children’s Church for the long haul. More and more, our churches must realize the importance of reaching and ministering to people from broken, hurting, and dysfunctional households and offering a ministry for children, where kids can learn at their own level, and where they can learn the importance of fellowship with peers. It will also be imperative for churches to be intentional about equipping parents and other older adults to “adopt” the growing number of “spiritual orphans” (those kids your church reaches for Christ who have no Godly adults in their lives) who come to your church.
  • I absolutely agree with how Kirsten Black ended her article. “Parents, it can be done… It’s hard. It’s arduous. It’s tedious. And yes, it’s often distracting. But it can be done, and it’s worth it. Don’t let the absence of the church nursery, and the added inconvenience of meeting during a pandemic, keep you from gathering safely with your church family to worship the Lord. Church services may not look and sound the way they used to, but that’s okay. There’s so much grace. Bring the little children. Raise them up to worship Jesus.”

5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children to Go On for God

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The books are flying off the presses in seemingly endless numbers; and frankly, I’m sick of hearing the statistics about the young adults who are dropping out of church. (I know, I know – I listed some of these stats in my own books and posts!) But, please keep reading.

I want to read about the kids who stayed in church. I want to hear the stories of Christian kids who grow up to go on for God. I want to hear about the successes of Godly, Christian parents who are proactively working with the church’s youth leaders to develop strong, stable, and mature Christ-followers who as young adults decide to stay engaged in the church.

(One excellent resource on this very topic is, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon, by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, published by Baker Books in 2019.)

I know many of these young adults who are absolutely committed to Christ and His claims on their lives. Some of them are currently in college, others are in the military or work force, and many of them are currently living productive live as God-honoring adults.

So, what can Christian parents do to help their children to grow up and go on for God? I am convinced that we must look to the Scriptures for the answers! In the pages of the New Testament we are told the stories of some young people who grew up before our eyes (so to speak) in the Biblical narrative and who continued to live for God long into their adult lives. One of those young men was Timothy. We meet him in Acts 16 as a young man growing up in church and we read his story throughout the Epistles, including Paul’s last letter to him in 2 Timothy. There are many things in the Bible that we can learn about Timothy, but for the sake of this quick post let’s talk a look at some of the things his parents (especially his mother, Eunice – see 2 Timothy 1:5) did right.

It is important to note that parenting is never a formula or a recipe. It doesn’t work to frivolously think that a few quick ideas lead to spiritual success with our kids. However, if we look at the sweeping principles that seemed to guide this family, we can take away some very practical advice for raising our own kids for God today.

A Consistent Lifestyle – 2 Timothy 1:5

Probably the most obvious thing that this family did right was Eunice’s and Lois’ consistent or genuine walk with God. The Bible calls theirs an “unfeigned” (KJV) or un-faked faith! Timothy’s mom and grandmother demonstrated a genuine relationship with God – and it impacted Timothy. Notice in verse 5 that Timothy also demonstrated a genuine faith. He grew up and went on for God – and that’s what we want from our kids, too.

Communication of God’s Word – 2 Timothy 3:15

The second thing this family did right was that they made it a priority to communicate Biblical truth. Notice that from his earliest days, Timothy learned the Scriptures. The next two verses (2 Timothy 3:16 & 17) reveal that this strategy was much more than a rote memorization of the Text. He also learned that Biblical principles are “profitable” for life and that these principles lead to true spiritual maturity.

Collaboration with the Church

There is another key element to their strategy that is worth identifying and that is their cooperation with the church to help develop Timothy’s faith. Acts 16 identifies him as a “disciple”, who as a young man already had a good testimony with the other believers. He also was personally selected by the Apostle Paul to go along on this missionary journey. The text expounds on the purpose of their ministry, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (NIV)” Obviously, the church was a priority to young Timothy. He grew up in church and committed himself to a church-based ministry.

Concern for People and Culture

The Acts 16 passage also presents an interesting scenario of Timothy’s circumcision even though his was a Greek (see verse 1). He perhaps was willing to submit to this cultural ritual due to the cross-cultural background in his own family. This somewhat dysfunctional family environment undoubtedly produced a heart-felt concern for other people and a genuine sensitivity for others.

Commitment to Ministry

The final positive thing I’d like to identify from this family was their dedication to God’s work. They were willing to allow their son to follow Paul along on this journey. Without any visible hesitation on anyone’s part Timothy joined the missionary team and set off on what was the beginning of his call to vocational ministry.

Timothy was a young man who grew up and went on for God. The narrative of Scripture points out some identifiable things that helped in this process. Perhaps there is practical wisdom here for today’s Christian families to implement into the fabric of raising their own kids.

NOW WHAT? Practical Thoughts for Aging Youth Workers

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I am a 66-year-old-youth pastor. My hair and beard have been gray for several decades now – and I can’t play the guitar. I don’t have a TikTok account and I’ve never played Fortnite. I’m too old to play tackle football with kids (or with anyone for that matter), and I hate staying up all night. I am enrolled in Medicare and I have my AARP membership card.

However, I can say emphatically that I love kids – and can’t see myself doing anything else except working with emerging generations in a local church setting – for absolutely as long as I can.

I know that I am way too old to play tackle football, but we should never get too old to minister to kids.

Believe me, I get it. My games in youth group can be lame, and my illustrations are sometimes old. I’m not the guy to lead worship for today’s teenagers, and I am certainly not the person to lead all-nighters.

But, since most of the kids in our church are from dysfunctional, hurting, and broken households, they look at me almost as a grandpa. My wife and I minister to kids who may not have positive relationships with their parents, but they love their grandparents and respect them. Their grandparents are the ones who provide for them, who take care of them, and who encourage them.

So, maybe working with today’s younger generations (like Gen Z and Generation Alpha) makes sense for older youth workers. Maybe it’s time for older youth workers to refocus our ministries, renew our sense of calling, and allow kids (middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even young adults) to reinvigorate our ministries with today’s young people.

Older youth workers can have amazingly effective ministries. Here are some things to think through:

  • Reaffirm your call as you get older.

Has God called you to work with youth? If so, keep on doing it no matter how old you are. I don’t think the call of God is age related.

  • Stay relevant. Do your research. Stay connected.

How can you stay up on today’s students? Maybe older people are inherently out-of-touch, and we’ll have to work harder to learn all we can about today’s youth and youth culture. The best way to learn about kids, by the way, is to spend time with kids!

  • Concentrate on your strengths. You’re not good at everything. Use what God is blessing.

Older youth workers probably are not the best game leaders, and most likely shouldn’t be worship leaders at this stage of life. But they are really good at building inter-personal relationships and they are probably ideal storytellers of what God has done over the years in their lives. And, they probably know the Scriptures and can successfully teach God’s Word to others.

  • Recruit others to help you (and find people to do what is now hard for you to do). Build a team around you.

Yeah, since we’re not all good at everything – why not make a conscious effort to recruit other Godly adults in your church to work alongside of you. Teams built with diversity are probably best suited to connect with the variety of kids in your group.

  • Make much of relationships… with individual kids, with parents, and with others in the church.

Older youth workers should be really good at developing healthy and positive relationships with individual kids. (Of course, churches will need to develop and enforce child protection policies for all adult workers!) Older youth workers also have the credibility to work with parents of teens too. Plus, they are likely to have the respect of other people in the church as well.

Friends, I can’t tell you how thankful I am to still have the opportunity to work kids and their families at this stage of my life. Our youth group doesn’t play crazy games and we don’t entertain kids with the energetic music or creative videos that I have produced, but we love the Lord and we love kids – and we want to see our students grow up to go on for God.  

How Youth Ministry Can Impact “Big Church”

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The apostle Paul had it right when he challenged his student, Timothy, to “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

 The context of this verse gives clear indication that this great missionary leader was encouraging young Timothy to make sure that his private life substantiated his public message. In other words, he was telling us that young people can and should be examples to older people. From reading this passage, one can conclude that others in the Ephesus church were older (maybe significantly so) than Timothy. Yet, he was instructed to be an example to them. This same principle can be a clear mandate for teenagers today.

Our students can have a church-wide impact. I’ve seen it happen and probably so have you. Students come back from a conference, camp, or missions trip fired up to do something great for God. The Lord has been at work in their hearts, and they come home totally on fire and completely dedicated to the cause of Christ. The adults hear their testimonies and sense their passion to do something great for God. This genuine enthusiasm is contagious and infectious to people of all generations.

I’ve seen this phenomenon lead to a spirit of true revival that has effectively spread throughout the entire church. Let me tell you quickly about one such occasion in a church I know. It started when the Lord used one of the volunteer youth workers to lead a teenage girl to Christ. This 16-year-old new believer then led her best friend to Christ. These two baby Christians quickly became motivated to start a Bible study to reach other friends for Christ in their local public school. Almost at the same time, some of our regular attendees had recently returned from a major youth conference and were eager to see God continue to use that event to change lives back home. One young man prayed accept Christ and another made a public decision to be more vocal about his faith. On one particular Sunday almost twenty teenagers made public decisions to commit their lives to Christ. Soon several of their parents followed them, and other adults soon followed. Without any exaggeration, this sense of revival very quickly spread throughout the entire church. God used two new Christians and a handful of other students returning from a youth conference to impact that whole church body.

I don’t want to presume that I can identify here in this short article all of the factors that the Lord can use to bring this kind of church-wide revival, but I do believe Paul’s instruction to young Timothy that he could be an example to other believers. I find it interesting that 2 Timothy 4:12 identifies some specific areas in which young people can be an example to older Christians. (“…in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”) Students can indeed impact others through their words, their manner of life, their love, their enthusiasm, their dedication to God, and through their moral purity.

The key is that the youth ministry should have personal, public, and positive exposure to other ages within the church. Let me explain.

1. Make sure that your students have personal exposure to other age groups in your church.

Students need to get to know the adults, and the adults need to get to know the students. It’s that simple. We must build significant interpersonal and inter-generational relationships in our churches. I believe that this process starts when godly adults are willing to take the initiative to develop these nurturing and mutually beneficial relationships with kids. Don’t expect most kids to go out of their way to get to know adults. That’s probably not going to happen. (Just make sure that your church’s child protection policies are known and enforced.)

The adults in your church will probably need to be taught to be proactive and seek out individual students to mentor. It’s a well-reported fact that over 90% of today’s teenagers are interested in positive and growing relationships with adults. But, remember that the obligation is on the adults to make these relationships happen.

This exposure can happen in several very effective ways. I am a firm believer in making sure your students are welcome to actively participate in all areas of your church ministry. Also, youth workers need to plan creative and well-organized events for the adults and teenagers to interact together. You will undoubtedly find that you need to motivate both adults and teenagers to be involved; but once you hold these positive events on a regular basis, the existing walls of aloofness and intimidation will break down.

I also believe that one of the most important and effective ways to nurture these inter-generational relationships is for the groups to spend significant time in prayer together for specific and strategic needs. Acts 12:1–17 sets a Biblical precedent of various generations who prayed together. Praying together shows other people your heart, your burden for the lost, and your desire to see God work.

Don’t forget that this process works both ways. The adults in your church will impact students as they demonstrate their vitality and genuineness in prayer, but the teens will also reveal those same qualities to the adults. It is powerful for teens to hear adults pray, but it is also beneficial for adults when they hear kids pray.

I encourage all youth workers to brainstorm and then implement other ways to help the different generations in your church develop intentional and growing interpersonal relationships between members of the various generations.

2. Give your students public exposure to other age groups in your church.

It is also important to give students public exposure to your church. I admit that I am a long-time fan of “youth services” and other ways for the teens to interact with other generations in a public way. The first time I ever preached was during a youth night service where the teenagers took over our church’s entire evening service. But please recognize that I do not believe that these periodic services should be the only way for teenagers to get involved in your church. If these youth services are the only public exposure the students have, it can lead to the feeling that the teenagers are actually “on show” every so often and not really a vital part of the church.

Why not let your teenagers take an active role in the regular ministries of your church? I think that some talented teenagers chould participate in the worship team during regularly scheduled church services for example. I like to encourage and train other teenagers to serve as ushers or greeters. I also think students should be encouraged and taught to tithe and to participate in church business meetings. After all, this is their church too. They should be involved.

Young people should also be given the opportunity to serve with adults in your church’s kid’s ministry, or other key areas of service. The key here is the part about serving alongside of adults. This team ministry can be an amazingly effective way of training future leaders and servants for ongoing church involvement. When adults and teenagers work alongside each other, they see each other’s heart for God and for other people. This, too, will break down the walls of suspicion and negativity between the generations. This principle should work both ways. Make sure your students have exposure to adults as well.

3. Give godly students positive exposure to other age groups.

Another thought that I want to emphasize concerning exposing teenagers to the other generations in church is that the exposure should be positive exposure. You want the adults to see kids who love the Lord and are passionate about serving Him. It is contagious to see godly kids who are genuinely enthusiastic about the Lord. That cannot be ignored! Therefore, make sure you give this exposure to students who are not fleshly or carnal. I am not saying that external things are the most important characteristic. Please do not hold your teenagers to higher external standards than you require of the adults who serve. But I am saying that the students who participate in other organized church ministries should be living for the Lord. (I also believe that this standard should be expected of adults, by the way.)

God’s Word is very clear on this idea, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10). However, unless there are habits of unconfessed, public sin, all Christians should be actively involved in church ministry (Ephesians 4:11–16.)

What a powerful visual aid to see students who love the Lord and want to serve Him! Adults can’t resist the excitement and eagerness from teenagers who are truly motivated about living for the Lord. In fact, when adults see the passion and enthusiasm of teenagers who really want to live for God, the external things will become almost non-issues.

I also want to emphasize that the ministry experience should be positive. In other words, you want students to enjoy serving the Lord and to do so without being coerced or made to feel guilty for not serving. Ministry should be fun and exciting. It is a blast to serve the Lord. Yes, it is difficult at times, but look at all the Lord did for us. We should want to serve Him and live for Him because of our desire to be obedient to Him. That’s what we want from our students as well.

Yes, I believe that Paul had it right. Students can be an example to “big church”!

WHAT SHOULD YOUTH MINISTRY LOOK LIKE AFTER THE PANDEMIC?

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What should our youth ministries look like after our students can return to our church buildings for youth groups? I am wondering if there will be a “new normal”; and if so, what should change from the way we did ministry before COVID-19?

Here are a few of my thoughts about some key categories of what SHOULD change when we can meet physically again with our teenagers:

  • Safety

Youth workers and other church leaders will need to think this through right away. What must we change about our physical buildings, our meeting set-ups, the way we take attendance, and the way we play games during our youth ministry gatherings?

It probably makes sense to ask everyone to wear face masks and to arrange our seating setup to ensure the 6’ distancing guidelines. We probably need to consider if and how we should serve food and drinks for our attendees. Even the way we distribute sheets of paper or ask kids to check-in on a computer kiosk will need to be reconsidered.

Parents of some teenagers may not be too worried about these things, but other families will be! All they have heard for the last several weeks has been to follow the rules of social distancing. So it doesn’t make sense for churches to not heed those directives when our groups can meet again.

We will all need to be careful. It is important to strategize and plan now for our ministries to open again. Things will not be business as normal – especially in the minds and hearts of some of our church people. So, it is very important right now to begin the planning process of what your ministry is going to do when you can open the doors.

Some states will require attendance limits, and I know that some churches are considering offering multiple meetings times to accommodate those limited numbers. (For instance, some states are still discouraging groups of more than 25 people to gather in the same location.) Some churches are also planning to continue using Zoom as well, knowing that some kids will not attend our youth groups in person. That way they will still be able to be involved in some way in our programs.

Making sure that your people are safe will need to be a top priority. Plus, you will need to clearly communicate to all possible attendees what your church has done (like thoroughly clean and disinfect your building’s entry way and meeting rooms) and what you will keep doing from now on for people to feel safe in your building.

You will need to develop a comprehensive checklist of safety items to accomplish before kids show up in your building. Then it is very important to let your people know what you have done to protect the kids.

  • Teaching

Your kids will undoubtedly crave in-person, human connections with their friends and mentors that are a part of your church’s youth ministry. When they can return to your building, the tendency will be to “party”, to have fun, and to renew friendships and to rebuild relationships. Those things are especially important (we’ll talk more about that below), but it may be even more important to make much of God and His Word upon their return to church youth group. Your kids will need to hear you talk about God’s purpose for this crisis, that His work in the world is not thwarted, and that their role in His mission is still in effect. They may crave fellowship, but they will need Biblical answers taught by Godly leaders – and our Lord has put youth leaders in an ideal position right now to direct kids’ minds toward His Word.

  • Fellowship and Human Connections

Several weeks of isolation away from others (friends and classmates, teachers and mentors, youth groups) in a stay-in-place world will probably motivate your teens to crave time with additional people. As I mentioned above, they will certainly want time to reconnect and hang out with their friends in informal, unstructured conversations. I am not saying that doing that is NOT important. It is very important, and wise youth workers will need to plan time when their buildings are open for teenagers to do just that. But, don’t forget – they’ll want to party, but they need to hear from God – so let’s be sure to balance our programming to allow for both to happen.

There is another matter that I need to highlight. There are likely to be many kids that will need some type of emotional, social, or even physical support from the church once this pandemic is over. Being out of school and having extra time at home will not be positive for everyone. There are many dysfunctional, broken, and hurting households out there. Church leaders must be sensitive toward these hurting households and need to have a plan to provide helpful resources for troubled kids and parents.

  • A Break from “Screen Time”

More than ever, today’s kids are living in an online world. The church and many youth groups have moved online, but our kids are already there. They live in a “Fortnite”, contrived-reality world. Their lives are dominated by social media personas, where “likes” carry way too much weight.

My wife and I have 9 grandchildren, with the oldest being only 14 years old. Each of them has had access to an iPad since they were very young. It is not all that strange to them to have school online. Their schools have utilized internet-based educational systems already.

However, the current COVID-19 situation has led to an ever-greater amount of screen time for our kids. This may be difficult to pull-off, but I believe that kids will need a break from their devices. I am not saying that we need to make new youth group rules to limit their use of cell phones. I am saying that meeting in person may take on an even greater significance once the stay-at-home directives are released. Let’s prepare now for how important our youth group meetings will be once we can gather in person.

  • Help for Fear and Anxiety

Younger generations are already struggling with fear and anxiety – and the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate these feelings even more. Everyday they are being told to stay 6 feet away from other people, that they can’t see their friends and relatives, that they have to wear facemasks, and that everyone they meet might be a potential carrier of the virus. We are running out of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and now meat. To make matters worse, almost every news program rehearses the number of casualties of COVID-19. Today’s young people are likely to emerge from this pandemic with even greater levels of debilitating anxiety.

Church youth groups will need to be beacons of hope and comfort to these needy young people and their families. We can offer the Truth of God’s Word to a hurting generation. Caring adult youth workers can have an incredible impact by demonstrating Christ’s unconditional love to parents and kids alike. That is another reason why church leaders, maybe especially youth workers, should plan now to actively consider what their ministries will look like once people can return to church buildings.

Mel’s Manifesto: The Day I Experienced “Holy Ground” – and Why I Do What I Do

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It was a summer day following my sophomore year in college, and I was sitting up in my hospital bed after waking up from surgery from an athletic injury. I admit that I was feeling sorry for myself that day. I was in a “poor Mel” and “my life is terrible” mood. My right arm was bandaged to my chest because of my shoulder surgery and my left hand was also bandaged due to the intravenous fluids’ hookup after the surgery.

On the hospital tray in front of me was a plastic cup filled with ice chips – and my open Bible. It’s a long story that I won’t go in to here, but my Bible was turned to Hebrews 12, and here’s what I read, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens…

That day, sitting alone in a hospital room, God used His Word to literally change the complete direction of my life. I had been living completely for myself, only prioritizing my own goals and plans. Even though I had put my faith in Christ as a child, my life up until that moment was quite focused on me and what I wanted out of life.

God spoke to me that day! No, not in an audible voice – but, His Words were loud and clear. God loved me enough to have something better in store for me than a life for myself. I was discouraged because I didn’t see God’s hand in this. That day it all changed. God loved me enough to work in my life. This surgery was not what I wanted, but it became the catalyst for real change in where I was headed.

I began to sob, not because I was “discouraged” by my life’s circumstances, but because I saw that God loved me enough to “chasten” me and that He had something better for me. That day I confessed my selfishness and admitted to Him that I had been wasting my life. That hospital room became “holy ground” for me as I dedicated my life to Christ and committed myself to follow His will.

Friends, I get it that my life’s story is no big deal when it is compared to the stories of many others, but it is what happened, and this was what God used to help me commit my life to Him and to do His will. My decision that day was to quit wasting my life and to use the rest of my life to make a difference for eternity instead of living focused on myself. And, I’ve tried to do that ever since.

It’s Thanksgiving season, and I can’t begin to express my thankfulness for my wife and family – and for the many years of satisfying and meaningful ministry that He has given us. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs along the way. Everyone does. But we’ve lived our life trying to see God’s hand in what He wants us to be and to do.

As we’ve sought to do God’s will, we realized that God had wanted to use me to impact the next generation – and to do whatever I could do to utilize my gifts and abilities for that purpose. That’s why I’ve spent the last 45 years of my life actively involved in various aspects of ministry to students – and that’s why I began to focus my writing and speaking ministry to help motivate and encourage as many young people as possible in their walk with God. My ministry has been one of challenging them from the Scriptures not to waste their lives, but instead trying to help them to commit to doing the will of God.

In my personal bio on Twitter, I wrote that I am an “observer of cultural trends”. I have a compelling desire to be someone that makes the biggest difference that I can for eternity. I can’t do everything, but I want to do what I can to impact lives of the next generation. So, I became a youth pastor, a college instructor and administrator, a leader of a youth ministry organization, and a writer and speaker to do just that. My motive has been to observe where cultural influences are headed and to use my God-given gifts to do whatever I can to impact the lives of young people through those trends for eternity.

That is exactly why I’ve written my books, Inter-Generational Youth Ministry and Going On For God. I noticed cultural trends and wanted to do what I could to help people with those things. I wrote books on mentoring and discipleship because I wanted to help others also impact the next generation; and my kids and I put together a booklet on helping young people make Biblical decisions for the same reason.

That summer day in the hospital room was indeed a “holy ground” experience for me. Every now and then I drive by that hospital and tear up a little bit again because God used that place to change everything about Mel Walker’s life. I know this story is no big deal, but now you know why I do what I do. Thanks for reading.

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