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Youth Ministry Tenure: How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

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I remember my first year as a youth pastor. I was fresh out of Bible college, my wife and I just got married and we had moved over 500 miles away from any of our other family members. We moved into our first apartment, bought some furniture, and stood in line at the DMV to get our drivers’ licenses in this new state.

Yes, I had heard the statistics. The average youth pastor only lasts a year-and-a-half in a typical church ministry.

Looking back, I don’t believe that statistic was ever proven to be true[i]. But, that 18-month tenure number had taken on “urban legend” status even back then.

My “rookie year” as a youth pastor went great. I was almost the antithesis of my predecessor in the church where I was serving. His perceived weaknesses were my strengths. The kids seemed to relate well to us, and we worked hard to build positive relationships with the students. They loved youth group and responded with interest and even enthusiasm to my lessons and messages. Their parents seemed to appreciate us, and the senior pastor and other church leaders seemed to see me as the new “Pied Piper” of youth ministry success.

But, then year two rolled around.

It seemed then as if everything that was successful the first year was a total disaster the second year. It appeared as if the teenagers didn’t like any of the events that I planned and were quite disinterested during my talks. The parents began to complain about what I was trying to do – and then the senior pastor called me in for a meeting with the church board to confront me about the struggles in the youth ministry.

I was worried that I was about to become the poster child for that year-and-a-half statistic. Things were not going well in that second year; and it was time for a “gut check” of my commitment, resolve, and calling. I wondered if I had made a mistake when my wife and I moved so far away, and I began to doubt if a young youth pastor with only 18 months of experience would ever be able to find another ministry position.

Let me move to end of the story. That was over 40 years ago. I actually served in that church for about eight years before the Lord gave me the opportunity to begin teaching youth ministry in a Christian college. In one way or another my wife and I have been actively involved in youth ministry ever since. In fact, even though I hate to admit it, I am currently 66 years old and still serve as a vocational youth pastor.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but let me share with you some of the things God has been teaching me over the years about longevity in youth ministry.

How to Survive in Youth Ministry Over the Long Haul?

Here are a few questions every youth worker should ask themselves if they are interested in serving as a career youth pastor or as a volunteer youth worker for a long time.

  • What has God called you to do?

Friends, if the Lord has called you to serve Him as a youth worker, keep doing that as long as God provides you with the opportunity to do it. To relay more of my personal story, I sensed that the Lord called me to youth ministry the summer following my sophomore year in Bible college.

In one way or another, I have been actively working with young people in various aspects ever sense. God used His Word (I was studying 1 & 2 Timothy at the time), the life-changing experience of leading a young man to Christ, and the encouragement of influential, Godly adults as the catalysts for me to recognize His direct leading in my life. I began to recognize that He had wired and enabled me to work with teenagers – and I still believe that even now as a full-fledged senior citizen. I know that this is an adaptation of an old cliché, but if the Lord calls you to be a youth worker, don’t stoop to working with adults.

  • Do you have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish?

Humanly speaking, the most important contributing factor for long-term youth ministry effectiveness may be an uncompromising and unobstructed vision of your sense of mission and purpose. It is not nearly enough to just love kids – although I believe that is critically important! Youth workers, and especially youth pastors perhaps, must see their role as shepherding kids toward a lifetime of growing in Christ toward lasting spiritual maturity. And make sure to communicate what you are trying to do in every way possible. You will want to stick it out, and churches will want to keep you around, if your long-term objective is to see kids come to Christ and grow up to go on for God.

  • What significant relationships are you building?

Strong, genuine relationships may indeed be the key to long-term survival in youth ministry. Of course, this begins with building loving and caring relationships with young people. Almost everyone who has ever written anything about vocational youth ministry has mentioned the importance of relational youth ministry. But I’m talking here about developing strong relationships with the senior pastor and other church leaders, parents and family members of your students – and carving out time to network with your peers in youth ministry as well. My fellow youth workers don’t take this point lightly. Put some energy into building strong inter-personal relationships with others. Then if things start to “go south” you will have established and durable relationships to rely on for stability or comfort

  • How do you handle personal conflicts with others?

Let’s face it, conflicts with people are going to happen. Some of the teenagers might not like you. Some of their parents may not appreciate what you are trying to do – and the leadership team in your church may even want you to leave. No matter what, it is important to handle conflicts in a Biblical, loving, and respectful manner. It is probably true that if we handle conflicts in an adult-like manner with maturity, kindness, and wisdom, we are much more likely to win over the objections of others in the church. I admit that is not always the case, but people conflicts tend to be much more vocal and heated if we allow our personality traits and human insecurities to get involved in the disputes. Without a doubt, it is always best to not allow human conflicts to get heated and confrontational in nature. My years of experience in ministry have taught me that those who last over the long haul are usually the people who can avoid or manage conflicts with others in the church.

  • Are you committed to faithfulness?

In what must have been a moment of insanity, as a high schooler I decided to try out for my school’s cross country team. My one-year fiasco as a long-distance runner revealed that successful runners are those who are committed to finishing the race – no matter what. That observation undoubtedly applies to the tenure of youth pastors as well.  I have found that youth pastors who last are usually those who are committed to long term ministry. They are not continually searching for a position in a different church, nor are they looking to do something else. The ones who stick it out are they ones who are committed to sticking it out over the long haul. They realize that it takes time to build an effective youth ministry.

As someone who has spent a long time in ministry, I have also observed that most veteran youth workers who are leading profitable ministries with students, and who are reaching out into the households where their students are from, are usually also faithful in their own walk with God and in their personal relationships with their own spouse and family.

On a personal note, I’m not buying that 18-month tenure statistic. I do not believe it was true when I started in youth ministry and I’m positive that it is not the norm today. I know many youth pastors who have spent 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years in very profitable ministries.

By the way, I lived through that meeting with the senior pastor and the church board. In fact, they encouraged me in some very specific areas of my ministry, and they helped me focus on a long-term vision of what church youth ministry should accomplish. By God’s grace, our ministry turned the corner and we began to see Him do some amazing things in and through the lives of many of our students.

After all these years I still have that God-given focus on the lasting mission of youth ministry, to see young people grow up and go on for God.


[i] For example see: http://youthministryforum.blogspot.com/2005/10/18-month-myth.html.

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

in College Age/Going On For God/Parents/youth ministry by

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.

HOW SMALL CAN BE HUGE: The Great Potential of Small Youth Groups

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A recent report stated that the average church in America has about 80 people, 4 of whom are teenagers. I don’t know if that description fits your church, but the report shows that the typical church is nowhere near the size of a megachurch. Sure, mega churches get all the attention, but let’s face it; most churches do not have the facilities, budget, or number of people to garner a great deal of interest from anyone other than the regular members or attendees. Therefore, it’s quite easy for pastors and other leaders in smaller churches to get discouraged when some of their people seem to be attracted to the larger megachurches in their communities.

In my opinion, there seems to be a growing church insecurity about having a small congregation. A friend of mine has repeatedly stated, “Every small church is trying to get bigger, and every large church is trying to get smaller.” He is obviously talking about the trend today toward small-group ministries. I admit that I have some cautions about small groups, and I advise churches to implement some guidelines into the organization of their small groups; but for the most part, I am a fan of small groups in the local church. There’s a great deal of good that can come from a small-group ministry.

I grew up in a small town. My family attended a small church, and I was active in a small youth group. Over the years of my ministry, I have visited or preached in a variety of churches of all sizes. I have also talked to several volunteer youth workers in churches with very small youth groups or youth Sunday School classes. Those experiences have given me the following perspective of the advantages of small church youth ministry.

Make much of people, not programs.

The biggest advantage of being in a small church is that we can emphasize people over programs. Somehow, we must learn that it doesn’t take an organized structure to do real ministry. Effective ministry can happen in our kitchens around a cup of coffee or in our living rooms with our feet propped up on the coffee table. I am becoming increasingly convinced that today’s students are much more impressed by adults who genuinely care about them than they are with overly organized and structured programs. Don’t get me wrong; I see value in organization and structure. However, smaller churches have a real advantage over bigger churches in the development of close relationships.

If you are a youth worker in a small church, you can have everyone over to your house for dinner or take the whole class out for McDonald’s milkshakes without taking out a second mortgage or robbing a bank. If you only have a handful of students in your group, you can probably get out to their high school football games or concerts. You can remember everybody’s birthdays, and you can pray for each one specifically each day. You can show them how to do their own personal devotions and you can answer specific life-related questions. You can become their friend and not just another acquaintance from church. See, there are huge advantages to being in a small church where you can make much of people instead of programs.

Stress relationships, not rooms.

It seems that the modern church is more interested in building buildings than building lives. That statement may be a bit sarcastic, but this view of most churches is wrong. A pastor friend of mine recently experienced a fire in his church building that practically destroyed the facility. Even though insurance paid for the reconstruction of their building, he said this to me during the process: “I’d almost like to do without our building permanently. [Without the building] our people were closer, the fellowship seemed to be more genuine, and church seemed to be real.” Perhaps he was right. Perhaps our fancy buildings and facilities sometimes get in the way of real ministry.

I’ve had many youth workers over the years ask me about their youth rooms or Sunday School classrooms. Ideal facilities would be nice, but most churches I know of do not have the money or budget to build “perfect” youth meeting rooms. In fact, I have had occasions where I taught teenagers in church busses, in gymnasiums, in basements where I couldn’t even stand up straight, and in broom closets under the stairs. I really don’t think that Christ would have been overly concerned with PowerPoint, smart boards, or sound systems. He may have utilized those things, but I’m sure that His focus would have been to develop strong interpersonal relationships with His students. Sure, He made use of visual aids. He wrote in the dirt on the ground and referenced objects in nature to visualize the truth He was teaching. But mostly He concentrated on people. That seems like a good idea for ministry with teenagers today.

Build trust instead of technology.

I certainly enjoy modern technology. I love my laptop and carry my iPhone and iPad religiously. My son wrote me a note recently that stated, “You are the only Dad who has cooler toys than his kids.” Yep, I admit that I am a collector of technological toys. But let’s all be careful not to let our electronic gadgets isolate us from people.

I am old enough remember the days when “Walkmans” were the great evil in youth ministry. Youth workers feared that kids on the bus who listened to walkmans would drown out conversations with other people. These workers made rules that wouldn’t let kids bring those old cassette tape players on youth trips. Remember those days? Now we are all hearing that modern technology actually helps kids connect with each other. One recent research organization reported that today’s teenagers would be willing to do without almost anything they owned – except for their cell phones. I’m sure that technology can help us stay connected to our students, but let’s be careful not to send text messages, e-mails, to kids when we should be spending time with them in person. I think we should utilize every means possible to stay in touch with teenagers, but let’s be sure to include spending time with them individually in person as well. You can do that very well in a smaller church.

Emphasize mentoring over methods.

Somehow it seems that contemporary youth ministry has become “method” crazy. “How to” has become the latest and greatest craze. It is imperative for all of us to work on our creativity and imagination. All of us should get better at implementing creative Bible learning and imaginative methods in our teaching. But we should never sacrifice Biblical truth at the altar of student involvement or interaction. It also seems like today’s youth workers are constantly looking for the next “what works” method for ministry. Countless conferences and seminars tout the latest and greatest technique for youth ministry. These methods are fine, but we must never forget that real, Biblical ministry should focus on the spiritual practices of basic discipleship and mentoring.

Mentoring is a concept that must be intentionally implemented into the fabric of our ministries. It can be an effective way to connect the various generations with each other in our churches. The fundamental idea of mentoring is that caring, godly adults should take the initiative to develop intentional growing relationships with young people. In other words, we must teach adults to do what they normally do, just to do it with students. For instance, my mom is a very talented quilt maker. She has had a very effective ministry showing young ladies in her church how to quilt. My mother-in-law loves music. She has taken some of the young girls in her church to piano recitals and concerts. One national youth ministry organization recently reported that 90 percent of today’s teenagers stated that they would love to have an adult mentor. That’s the concept so aptly described in Titus 2. Older men and older women can have an incredible mentoring ministry by spending time with teenagers.

Train, don’t just “teach.”

My last suggestion may seem strange, but I believe in teaching and have spent the majority of life involved in various teaching endeavors. We must emphasize training or equipping, not just the verbal presentation of fact. Our ministries must feature training , not just lectures. I also believe in the importance of preaching. However, my focus is on the significance of true education: making sure that our students learn. Christianity must impact the lifestyles of our students. That’s why the truth of James 1:22 is so critical for today’s culture. Our students need to see how Biblical principles relate to life today. I love the account in Luke 24 of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to some of His disciples. Verse 32 presents this interesting question, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” Christ taught them the Bible while He walked with them through their journey. Perhaps that is an apt description of what real ministry is all about: showing students that God’s Word relates to life!

May God bless you as you minister to today’s students, even in small churches.

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

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

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.”

What is Your Plan for Youth Ministry Parent Meetings this Fall?

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It was my goal to make my book, Going On For God: Encouraging the Next Generation to Grow Up and Go On For God, both Biblically-based and as practical and life-related as possible.

My prayer is that it can be utilized in your church as a catalyst for a conversation between Christian parents and church leaders (pastors, youth pastors, volunteer youth leaders, teachers, and children’s workers), to help them discuss together the critically-important topic of encouraging the next generation to grow up and go on for God. Isn’t that what both groups want for our kids?

Instead of being frustrated with each other (busy parents seeing the church as too rigid and out of touch; and church leaders seeing parents as too busy and with the wrong priorities), why not get the two groups together to begin a conversation on how to make the premise of this book a reality?

Certainly, both groups will come with predetermined issues and concerns, and each group will probably have strong personal opinions about how to accomplish this purpose. But it is definitely worth the effort to begin an intentional conversation with the goal of getting both groups on the same page.

I am convinced that the vast majority of pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders want emerging generations in their churches to come to Christ and to grow spiritually through childhood, into adolescence, and ultimately to go on for God as adults. But to be honest with you, my own personal observations after visiting scores of different churches confirm that many churches have not developed a comprehensive and complete plan for an entire, church-wide disciple-making process.

If your church has established a life-long equipping strategy that is helping all age groups grow toward becoming fully-devoted followers of Christ, then praise the Lord! I designed the workbook that accompanies this book can help you get the parents in your church to buy into that plan.

I also believe that many Christian parents want the exact same thing. Their goal in raising their children is for their kids to grow up to love the Lord and to live faithfully for Him. However, as I stated in my book, I’m not convinced that they know how to work alongside of the church to adequately accomplish that objective. Some Christian parents believe that they are the only ones who can truly impact their own kids. Other parents seem to entrust church youth workers with their kids’ spiritual growth.

Besides that, current trends in America are not demonstrating the development of strong, healthy families. It is my contention that more and more people today will need the church to be a family. Working through this study guide together will help both God-given institutions (the church and the family) to understand and appreciate the Biblical roles and responsibilities of each.

So please work through the conversations and principles in this book together. Seeing the next generation grow up to be mature and Godly adults is too important not to make this a top priority in our church and in our homes. Thanks!

Order your copies at: www.GoingOnForGod.com. Some group discounts are also available. Contact me for details at: Mel@visionforyouth.com.

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

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

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”!

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