During my teen years I attended a great church that had a visionary Pastoral team. My youth pastor was an exceptional guy. Principle driven. Compassionate. No nonsense. Fun. Almost all of the kids in our youth group liked Bill, but everyone at least respected him. He wasn’t afraid to take a stand for what he believed to be right, and he had a humble approach in his leadership. He wasn’t perfect – but that was ok – because we often times saw in Bill the good, the bad and the downright ugly. In other words, he was just like us – just a much more mature version of us.
Much greater than his personality was his commitment to making an impact on youth. When Pastor Bill came to our church our youth group was not huge, it was somewhat organized and it had some great adult leadership. But Pastor Bill saw our group not for what it was, but for what it could become. Within a few years, our youth ministry doubled in size, it was developing student leadership, and it was making a difference in student’s lives.
As I’ve thought about it over the years, I think I can see at least 5 things that made our youth group special:
- Adult Leader and Youth Leader Development.We had a caring core team of adults who demonstrated love to the teens and a willingness to serve. They weren’t spiritual rock stars, (cause that’s not what we as teens needed), but they were consistent.But there was also systematic training and development of the student leaders. Pastor Bill told our group that if there were a handful of us that wanted to be a part of a student leadership team we could come talk to him about it. He would interview us to see if we were up for the responsibility. Some were ready, and some weren’t. But the opportunities afforded to us within the group prepared a few of us for full-time ministry, without us even knowing it.
- An Engaging Pastor with ConvictionsYes, Pastor Bill had weird convictions on music…and a few other things. Stuff that we as teens sometimes had to say “What planet was he born on?” Say what you want about Pastor Bill and his refusal to let us play ‘Petra’ on youth night – but the man had convictions. He knew what he believed and why. He knew why certain things were permissible and other things were anathema. A youth group without leaders with conviction will never know where’s it’s going, let alone if it even got there.
- Regular Evangelistic Opportunities.We had regular opportunities to invite our friends to evangelistic events our group was putting on. And some of these events were just down right nuts. Like our ‘Winter Olympics’ event where we built a ramp down the church stairs, covered it in gel and and made a luge. How we prevented spinal injuries in those days I’ll never know. But you could guarantee that at some point each quarter there would be an opportunity to invite your friends out to youth group where they could hear about Christ. That’s an easy way for a group to double in size.
- Solid Teaching for the BelieversPastor Bill: solid Bible teacher. Not ‘wishy-washy-feed-you-with-a-spoon’ type garbage. Bill knew that there were kids in our youth group that were taking high school subjects such as advanced calculus, biology, finite math, etc. If we could handle the differences between micro and macro evolution in our schools, we could handle things like intensive Bible study. We as students grew in the Lord under Bill’s ministry. 23 years later I still remember some of the lessons that he gave us.
- ExcellenceIf you’re going to do it – do it well. Nothing half way. If you’re going to go to a retreat, it better be at a nice place. If you’re going to have a banquet (Pastor Bill would call these ‘Dating Events’), then it better be kick-butt. And boy, could we put on a banquet. Entire basement of the church transformed. Lights, music, a stage, incredible food, entertainment. You were never ashamed to bring a friend to an event like this because you knew it was going to be done well.
I really don’t think these things are complicated – and most of these don’t hinge on having thousands in your youth ministry budget. It takes careful planning, prayer, church buy-in, prayer, a vision and prayer.
Well, that’s my list – what things would you add?