This is the story of how youth ministry has taken over my life.
It’s been six years since my mom first forced me to go to summer camp. This isn’t new, I think moms all over the world have agreed to all force their kids to go to summer camp at a certain age.
I think the weird thing though is, I’ve been to a total of 16 summer camps ever since. Is that normal?
At some point you’re supposed to have a fallout with the youth ministry right
because at some point, you’ll realise the girl you liked who was the real reason why you were going in the first place was never going to like you back, right?
Well, I don’t know what happened with me.
But the past few years have been the most amazing and most fruitful years of my life.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the 5th anniversary of Youth High! That’s the movement of our youth ministry to bring Jesus to young people like you and me.
And man, has it been a ride. The life lessons I learned from the past few years in youth ministry are immeasurable. But if you’re interested, here are some of the most important ones to me:
YOUTH MINISTRY IS A SERIOUS BUSINESS
When you think of youth ministry, it’s easy to think of the loud screaming and the endless energy, among other things. But beyond all the fun and games, youth ministry is really something serious.
Jesus has always wanted the young ones to come to Him. In Matthew 19:14, “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I believe that youth ministry is not just a phase, not just a past-time, or a “just a preparation period”, it’s a calling.
I was talking to a friend who was sharing to me about a time when her teacher did a survey in her classroom. Over half of the 40 students raised their hand when their teacher asked them if they came from a broken family.
It’s so easy to get complacent thinking that youth ministry is just a bunch of young people hanging out together . . . no, this might well be the only opportunity for some people to experience family.
This might be the only opportunity these young people will get to experience the kind of love Jesus meant for them.
I know young people can tend to be overdramatic and complain about this and that, but at the heart of it, many young people are simply unloved.
So beyond all the drama, the camp crushes and the silly activities, there are real people in need of love. And I truly believe that if Jesus was physically around, He would have not batted twice before reaching out to these young people.
Therefore, a calling to the youth ministry is not just a simple calling: it’s a calling to love like Jesus loves.
And can I just say IT IS NOT EASY.
Have you TRIED loving a young person?
When you realise that this means spending time, forgiving, correcting, supporting, sacrificing, and much more for that person, many times, the WWJD attitude jumps right out of the window.
I really believe that the call of each youth ministry is to love young people like Jesus would (through their respective giftings and particular area of calling of course).
And to me, that’s very serious.
IT’S EASY NOT TO BE FOCUSED ON JESUS
We always use the word “realign” in our youth ministry. And many times, that’s because we’ve strayed from our path.
Don’t be afraid though: that’s normal.
You would think that a bunch of crazy, broken, young people, leading other crazy, broken, young people is probably a bad idea.
And it would be, if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit.
In the same way the Holy Spirit is pushing the Church at the edge of her seat, I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in youth ministries all over the world.
Thing is, it takes a lot of humility to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us.
In my experience, there’s a tendency to cling to familiar ways, preventing the Holy Spirit to show us where really need to go.
On the other hand, there’s also a tendency to give up too easily when the Holy Spirit is encouraging us through a difficult situation.
In either case, the secret to a powerful, healthy youth ministry is a “less of me, more of You” attitude.
Anything else is not being focused on Jesus.
So always, always, always, realign. If there’s something that needs to change, it’s not what God is telling you, it’s how you’re listening.
Ask yourself, are we doing this thing just for fun, for ourselves, for fame, for more attendees, or for God?
If not, realign. The moment you stop realigning, that’s the time you start dying as a youth ministry.
Making mistakes is inevitable. But it’s a bigger mistake to not realign.
Let God continuously do a new thing in your youth ministry: realign with His ways.
YOUTH MINISTRY INCLUDES YOU
This is a reminder to all youth leaders out there:
If you’re leading a youth ministry in any way, that means you’re part of it.
That means Jesus is concerned with you too!
When we say Jesus wants to have a personal relationship with you, that includes you as well.
Just because you’re a youth leader doesn’t mean you should skip talks, forego reading the bible, miss out on the Mass, etc.
And as silly as that sounds, I have met many young leaders like that, and sadly— that includes myself.
When you’re so busy trying to grow your youth ministry, it’s easy to forget to grow in your relationship with God.
This is my constant struggle. It’s actually really hard for me to realise how much Jesus loves me.
But you can’t love like Jesus if you don’t experience His love first.
We can only when He loves us first.
And I don’t know if this is going to help you, but this really helped me:
Jesus doesn’t want more from you, He wants more of you.
In other words, He’s not so much concerned at the destination as He is with the journey He wants to take with you.
If you’re doing all these great things for Him, but not doing it with Him, you will always feel tired and empty.
My advice is to simply spend time with God. You can be so busy preparing for your Sunday lineup that you forget to pray.
When was the last time you said, “Hey God, we need to spend time with each other”?
Hey, God is going has great plans for your youth ministry. Believe me. But His great plans also include you. Don’t wiggle out.
DREAM BIG, DO SMALL
I believe success to life is hard work, and smart work.
So plan. Plan and prepare. Plan for the year. Heck, even if you only have 10 attendees that go to your weekly meetings, that’s okay. Plan for the whole year what you want to do and where you want to go.
In fact, plan for the next 10 years.
Again, the moment you stop thinking youth is just a stepping stone to your relationship with God and realise that youth is your relationship with God happening right now, that’s when the fun kicks in.
Have a written-down vision. I think the biggest struggle any youth ministry will have is finding their identity. So once you know the specific mission God has for your youth ministry, things will get a lot easier.
You see, the Good News, is not just a cute coupon found at the back of a newspaper. The Good News is groundbreaking headliner material that will change your life forever. So if you think about the gravity of the Message your youth ministry is tasked to spread . . . this is some world-changing stuff.
What you do is not just for yourselves but really change for churches, families, schools, communities, cities, countries— the world really.
But this only will happen if you start dreaming BIG.
Once you have the right perspective and mindset, work at it everyday by doing small.
If you want to have a youth ministry that changes their school, equip them with the power of the small group. If they can learn how to build relationships and gather young people to talk about God in a small group, they can change their schools one lunch table at a time.
If you want a youth ministry that has strong leadership, set an example. Lead the way you want them to lead. Sit with them. Talk to them. Be available.
If you want a biblically-literate youth ministry . . . HAVE YOU BEEN READING YOUR OWN BIBLE? (I’m sorry I typed that in allcaps) Start with yourself and share it (in a non-condescending way) slowly.
To practically apply your big dreams actually consists of doing a lot of menial tasks; calling their parents, letting that guy with a terrible voice audition for music, etc. But it can change your youth ministry forever.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP FOR IT
I saved the best for last.
Jesus is not asking for perfection from you. He really isn’t. He never did.
Jesus never asked you to be crucified . . . He did that for you.
But He did say to carry your cross.
And sometimes, that means surrendering your youth ministry to Him.
Your weekly meetings won’t always be perfect. Your young people won’t always be as clean as a whistle. Your leaders won’t always make the right decisions.
But at the end of the day, it’s not Your Ministry, it’s the Youth Ministry, and God is behind it all.
My biggest piece of advice for you is to not waste your time striving for perfection when you can strive to do your part.
Don’t be afraid for things to go awry. Don’t be afraid of the mess.
My team can tell you hundreds of horror stories of me getting so worked up about how the sound system wasn’t working, me shouting at everyone for no good reason, me walking out, me doing stupid thing after stupid thing after stupid thing.
At the core of it, it was because I was placing my identity in my service, when I should have been putting my identity in my Saviour.
There have been countless times I felt so bad because things didn’t go my way . . . which shouldn’t have a been a big deal if I wasn’t so insecure.
My way was how I was going to prove to the world that I’m awesome. That I’m cool. That I’m admirable.
It was really terrible because I would hurt people along the way just to get my way. That’s not awesome at all.
But you know what? In each time, Jesus was showing me I didn’t need to prove myself.
Because to Him, I am awesome. I am cool. And He loves me very, very, very, much.
He doesn’t want more from me, just more of me.
And so when you do mess up, just wipe your brow, thank God, say sorry, and wipe it off.
After all, that’s how I learned all these 5 lessons, and pretty much every single lesson in the first place.
To wrap up, I want to end with a disclaimer. This is not a definite guide for how to run your youth ministry. There are many more people who are more experienced at this and I truly have so much to learn. So really, this is more like a short part of a longer narrative . . .
And hang in there because:
Looking back, I’ve always wondered why they never included stories about Jesus’ youth in the Bible. But maybe, just maybe, to Jesus, youth is really not just a certain age group. His message, His calling, and His love, is for everyone to live and do. And maybe He left that part blank on purpose, so we could write our own stories about who Jesus is to us.
And as a young person to another young person, I encourage you: write your story.
PS. I wrote this article for people in, serving, leading, and/or interested in youth ministry. But if you’ve never heard or experienced what youth ministry is, come and see for yourself! Youth High is open to any young person, high school or college, every Sunday, at Meeting Room 2, PICC. You’re very welcome to see what this is all about. I hope to meet you there in person! See you.
PPS. Over the years, another movement called the MXSFTS has come out from our youth ministry. We write songs about Jesus, and to celebrate the 5th year of Youth High, we decided to release a little EP. You can check it out on Spotify here!
PPPS. How did I go to 16 summer camps in the past 6 years? Here’s the math if you were interested: From 2012 to 2017, 1 camp + 1 camp + 2 camps + 5 camps +4 camps + 3 camps. Phew. That was a lot of camp.