In any ministry, but especially in youth ministry, there is a tendency towards discouragement. We set biblical goals and we work hard, expecting that God will bless our ministries and at times we see our work as basically fruitless. I think what we need is a new perspective—a biblical one. Patricia from Baja Mexico writes in with the following concerns:
I work with 5 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. It has been hard to get them going because, though all of them say they believe in God, none of them want to read the Bible by themselves. We have tried games and activities to motivate them. My goal is to encourage them to read the Bible. I believe that I have a good relationship with them. When they attend, they learn and they enjoy. However, it is a problem for the parents to get them out of bed and none of them are motivated. They worked well when we made a play about the birth of Jesus, but, that has been the only time they had initiative. Do you have any advice? I pray and do my best but still worry that I’m not accomplishing my goal.
What she is experiencing is very typical. She has a desire to see her five teens grow in their walk with the Lord, but cannot get them motivated. James had a way of dealing with this. He writes, “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2.17). As people profess Christ, but do not exhibit the fruits of service, James deduces that their faith is, in fact, dead. These are not simply immature Christians, which need nurtured, but they are not really Christians at all if they have no desire to serve Jesus Christ as Lord.
What is needed is a return to the essentials of the faith. Instead of pursuing maturity, pursue salvation. I recommend studying exegetically through one of the gospels—that is passage by passage or verse by verse. Teach the teens about the depravity of the people in the story. Teach them about the righteousness of Christ. Teach repeatedly how His sacrifice provides atonement for sins. And most of all teach that salvation (escaping from punishment of hell) is by grace (Jesus’ death on the cross) through faith (faith which results in a servant’s heart towards Christ) (Ephesians 2.8).
Certainly there are many lessons in the gospels which are not directly related to salvation, but I like the gospels for this sort of study because the main character is Jesus. As a note: teach the full breadth of the passage, not just the message of salvation, but realize that there is always an implicit reference to salvation in the gospels because Jesus came to save. So you can teach the edifying message and make it evangelistic at the same time. You can look at my ‘Walk with Christ’ study to see how I do this.
I mentioned earlier a perspective change. Often times we are concerned with our own goals for ministry. We need to realize that our goals are not necessarily God’s goals. Many times we teach and our message falls on deaf ears. But, we must remember that God is the Lord of the Harvest (Matthew 9.38) and He alone will bring fruit where He desires. We cannot make our teens react to God’s word; it is the Spirit that moves within them to bring them to repentance and to sanctify them. So, the reaction of our youth is not a direct reflection of our efforts. In fact, it appears that Patricia is doing exactly what she needs to be doing with her teens.
At the end of the day we keep praying as Patricia does, thanking God for the work that He is going to do in His timing and we keep doing what He has called us to do, faithfully teaching the Word. My prayer for Patricia and for all of you leading youth ministries is that you will be encouraged by God’s word, that you will remain zealous for His truth and that your ministries will be affected in God’s timing by your efforts.