This article was written for Youthworks by Adrian Foxcroft who serves as the Youth Minister at Naremburn Cammeray Anglican Church. He has been involved in youth ministry for the last 15 years and loves teaching young people about Jesus and seeing lives changed.
A friend of mine once visited a stack of youth ministries across Sydney to learn from others and get a grasp of what God is doing among our young people. After his visits, one of his observations was that the best youth ministries are driven by godly and competent leadership teams.
This is probably not a surprise to you and it is certainly consistent with my experience of youth ministry. In this light, many churches give considerable attention to training and loving their youth leaders, and I try to do this every week in my role as a youth minister.
But the focus on leaders can lead to missing valuable opportunities. A youth ministry can become so leader focused that the leaders end up doing everything. The leaders plan the night. The leaders set up. The leaders organise games. The leaders play in the band. The leaders welcome. The leaders pray and give talks. The leaders do everything.
It is not surprising that youth come as consumers as there are precious few opportunities for them to be contributors.
This was the case at Naremburn Cammeray Anglican youth group, NCAYouth, for many years. But in recent years, thanks to God’s sovereignty, we had a talk series from Ephesians and 1 Corinthians 12-14. These passages have helped us to reshape our ‘leader-centered’ youth ministry.
For good reason, Ephesians 4 is a ‘go-to’ text to support every member ministry.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” - Ephesians 4:11-12
It is clear God’s people are to serve each other. But the big question is: What are the works of service? Is this the setting up of chairs, the vacuuming after youth group or the serving of supper? Possibly. This is certainly how I have often applied it. But these works of service are to help us build up, and the work that builds up is speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and clinging more tightly to Christ (Ephesians 4:16).
Jumping over to 1 Corinthians 12-14 and we again learn that every part of Christ’s body is given by the Spirit for each other’s good. The greatest good in these chapters is speaking words that build up.
While the acts of cleaning, PowerPoint pressing or whatever other rostered activity are acts of service, they are only of gospel worth when they seek to clear the way for Word ministry.
God’s Word teaches that youth ministry is not ‘leaders do everything’ ministry. It is every part of the body ministry—young and old, girls and boys, awkward and cool people are all included in this fruitful work of building each other up.
God’s Word teaches that ‘every part of the body ministry’ includes Word ministry and desires to speak the truth in love more and more.
So what might this look like for the youth ministry you are part of? At NCAYouth we have tried these two approaches:
Before youth on a Friday night, while the leaders meet and pray, we invite the youth to come and read the Bible with each other. The introduction of this club was slow and had a few false starts. But after running a seminar on our summer camp that showed its importance and gave the youth opportunity to have a go at reading the Bible with each other, the 540 Club finally took off. It is not huge group, but it is a beautiful group. Often Year 6s are reading the Bible with Year 12s.
Youth leading youth
Last term a group of 8-10 youth were invited to MC and lead the prayer part of all our nights. To my surprise, the invitation was met with enthusiasm. We met on the first Friday and we taught them the role of the MC and gave some tips on how to lead the group in prayer. Each week a teenager stood in front of the whole youth group and spoke the truth in love and encouraged everyone to hold tightly to Christ. At the end of the term, one of the boys asked ‘What’s next?’.
The youth leaders will always play a key role in fruitful youth ministry. They lead and young people will follow them. But where will we lead the young people to? Most certainly Jesus Christ. But also towards a body that loves to serve each other by speaking the truth in love. So, let’s farewell ‘leader do everything ministry’ and welcome ‘every part of the body’ ministry.