A couple of years ago I received an email from a teenager who had “graduated” from our youth ministry and was now on a long term missions trip. He told me he was so grateful for the opportunities I had given him to minister and use his gifts. He said that no one else on his missions team, when asked to teach the Word of God to an unreached people group, felt able to do so. He, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do, and stepped up to the plate!
I tell this story because after almost 20 years of youth ministry, I am, now more than ever, convinced that creating opportunities in which teens can experience the power of the Holy Spirit working through them produces perhaps the longest lasting effects in their lives. What do you remember from your teen years? Do you remember every lesson? Every small group? Every game? Probably not. I know what I remember: the first time I saw God heal someone through my hands; the first time I prayed for someone and they fell over in the Spirit (what!?!?); the time God gave me a word of knowledge for someone that was so accurate it changed their life; the time I taught from a word God gave me, and a teen decided not to commit suicide because of my teaching!
These testimonies of God’s power working through me are what made me who I am today as a Christian. Of course everything else—the teachings, small groups, devotions, trips, games, etc—is important too. But what is at the center of my philosophy of youth ministry (if you will) is a commitment to continually creating opportunities for my teens to experience the power of God working through them. I love the story in Luke 10 when the disciples return from their first ministry trip overjoyed. What were they so pumped about? The power of God, the Kingdom of God, coming through them! They couldn’t believe it!
So that has become my mission as a youth pastor—to create a culture where this is the norm. To create countless and varied opportunities for my teens to experience this. Experience, experience, experience. Not just hear my stories. Not just read the Bible’s stories. I want every teen to leave my youth ministry with their own powerful Kingdom of God stories.
What does this look like practically? Here are some strategies I have stolen, adapted, and learned on accident:
Train Early and Often
It’s never too early to start training. And by training I mean, teach; then show; then practice. I have a twelve year old in my group right now who just came in from children’s ministry three months ago and she is already praying over people every youth group meeting. Train your teens to hear God’s voice. That’s a great beginning. Then train in the 5 step prayer model; the Kingdom of God theology (basically!); healing prayer; prophecy; worship; deliverance; preaching; and so on!
Create Opportunities in Every Meeting
I won’t say that this happens in every single meeting, but it is my goal. I try to create a chance in every meeting for my teens to hear God’s voice, or to prophecy over each other, or to pray for each other, or to pray for healing. I also create special opportunities like being on a prayer minsitry team at a retreat, or at the Sunday morning adult meeting, or on the street doing evangelism.
I want the teens who are around me on a regular basis to know that I am led by the Spirit, that I pray for healing, that I listen to God’s voice. More than that, I will take them with me to pray for people. Just last month during an adult church meeting, I grabbed two teens to go up front and pray for healing for someone. They prayed, and she was instantly healed. Bam! They experienced the power of God working through them! Nothing can compare to that feeling.
Single People Out
Be looking for the gifts that your individual teens have, and nurture them—call them out. I see preaching in one of my teens, so I keep pushing him to preach. I have trained him and released him, and I keep creating opportunities for him. I see worship leading in another, so I am pushing her to refine her gift. I see prophecy in yet another, and so on.
Be Willing to Coach
What I think is maybe the most exciting aspect of youth ministry, is that all of this is on such a huge learning curve. What I mean is that teens will struggle with all this stuff, just like adults. And this is where I get really excited. I love coming alongside a teen (kind of like Jesus in Luke 10) who has just done some great ministry, and speaking into their lives both encouragement and refinement. Just recently one of my teens called me with leadership questions. The issues she was facing were so authentic and great. The advice I gave her was nothing I could have taught her in a class. She had to experience it for herself, before the advice would make any sense! And now she has been refined, and is ready to lead greater things!
So be encouraged, every opportunity that you create for your teens to experience the power of God, the Kingdom of God, working through them, will pay off huge dividends. These are the stories that will be the bedrock for a life of faith. These are the testimonies that will secure them against the pain and disappointment that the world is sure to bring their way. This, as best I know, is how we make disciples of teens.