It was my seventh year in youth ministry when a dad walked into my office and changed everything. He pulled out a chair and asked if we could talk. He looked me right in the eyes and said something that I have never forgotten. He said, “As a father, I take the role of instilling Christ into the lives of my children very seriously. Because of that responsibility, I want to make sure that my kids are involved in a youth program that is Jesus focused. So tell me, why I should trust you and the program you run?” I was speechless, then a big smile came over my face, and I told him, “Thank You.” After about an hour of conversation, he left feeling comforted and assured that our ministry was a great fit for his daughters. I had only been at this church for a few weeks and never met his girls until the following week at our youth gathering. This man understood and valued the incredible influence a youth leader and his/her program can have on children. I was a veteran of youth ministry and have been a leader of hundreds of students. That was the first time a parent had ever taken a serious interest in my ability to lead.
The problem is, most parents make the assumption that when their child attends their church’s youth program they are going to be surrounded by Godly people, be equipped as a disciple of Christ, and be in a Christ-centered environment. Most youth leaders have a calling for ministry, and their programs are successful, but there are situations that are not so healthy. Parents need to take a serious interest in the youth ministry their child is involved with and take time to evaluate and examine four crucial components before making a family commitment to the program. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s spiritual development. This responsibility is so great, just assuming your child is in a great program isn’t enough, you need to be sure.
Four Components Your Current Youth Program Must Have
For many churches, when they are looking to hire a youth leader, the main focus is on education. While education is a great quality to look for in a youth leader, it is not the most essential. There are many youth directors with a wealth of education, but fail at being a positive impact in the lives of students, because they lack an essential ingredient. Passion! Your youth leaders need to have a passion for Christ and for students. Being passionate about something means it is pursued with great enthusiasm. If your youth leader is chasing after God’s own heart, they will be a tremendous asset, mentor, and example to the child that you are entrusting them with. As a result of their passion for Christ and students, they have a desire to make sure your child is being fed spiritual truth. They accomplish this by being in constant prayer about the direction the Spirit is guiding them. They will surrender their plans for the ministry for God’s much greater plans. They will fight for your child not only on a spiritual level, but a personal one as well. Most importantly, they will make sure that everything in the ministry God has handed over to them will be authentic. When a program has Godly leadership, is authentic, and seeks God’s wisdom, it will become spiritually healthy. When that happens, it will naturally grow and you will see spiritual fruit growing in your child.
2. Equipping Rather than Entertaining.
While having fun is important, it should not be the focus of the youth ministry. Introducing your child to Christ, developing your child as a disciple, and providing your child with tools that will allow him or her to grow into a Godly man or woman should be the top priority. Your leader needs to have an overwhelming understanding and dedication to fulfilling the five purposes of the church. These purposes are found in The Great Commandment and The Great Commission, which are passionately explained by Paul in Ephesians 4, and are part of Christ’s prayer in John 17. The five purposes are worship, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, and ministry. These should be the driving force behind everything your youth ministry does, because that is what scripture commands. In Acts 2:42-47 the five purposes of the church are mentioned: “They fellowshipped, discipled one another, worshipped, ministered, and evangelized.” As a result, verse 47 says, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
There is nothing more discouraging than when your child feels like they cannot relate with a youth leader or the other students. This happens more often than one would think, and the reason is the culture that is in place. The culture of your youth program should be one built on love, acceptance, accountability, encouragement, and transparency. When your child is enveloped into a safe and secure environment the walls they have built up begin to fall and they become more comfortable with who God created them to be, and as a result, your child will be more willing to share their life struggles, and spiritual journey with others. Creating and living out this culture in your youth ministry is also vital when new students attend. They feel like they are in a place that fully accepts them for who they are, regardless of where they are in their relationship with Jesus or the story they come from, and that is an incredible feeling for a young person to have. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 “so we cared for you, because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” This can only happen when a safe, secure, and healthy culture is in place.
4. A Partner With Parents
As a parent, you are the most important influence your child will ever have in his or her relationship with Jesus. However, many parents struggle with setting an example at home, not because they can’t or are unwilling, they just don’t know how. That’s why it is essential that your youth program has a partnership mentality. Your youth staff stresses the importance of working together with parents to set Godly examples in the church, but more importantly, in the home. This is accomplished by encouraging and equipping parents with tools that they can practice at home. Provide them with unlimited resources that best fit their family. Your child’s spiritual life will be much greater if he or she is influenced not only during youth gatherings, but also at home.
Your child faces incredible influences every day, many from earthly standards. It is time we rise up and take our children’s spiritual health and guidance seriously. As a youth ministry veteran and a parent, I cannot emphasize the importance of these qualities enough. Please take the time to sit down with the leader of your current youth program and investigate these components. If you feel like your child is in a great place after your meeting, that’s fantastic. But if you walk away with any doubt, seriously consider finding a new place for your child to spiritually thrive. Don’t assume, be sure.
by Jake Andrews