7 Keys to Effective Youth Ministry

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I’ve just returned from a week’s youth work at the Keswick Convention. It was great to see God at work through a great team, and I thought I’d write down (for my own benefit as much as anything) my reflections on what makes a good ministry among young people. Some of these are so obvious they hardly need listing, but for the sake of completeness (and so you don’t think I’ve gone mad) here they are:

  1. Bible. Young (and old) people don’t need my opinion; they need Jesus’ word. 2 Tim 3:16 tells us that all of Scripture is God breathed. We need to keep Scripture, well handled and well applied, in the driving seat.
  2. Prayer. One of the things I love about the Keswick teams is the amount of time devoted to praying for young people. E.M.Bounds said ‘It is a great thing to speak to people for God; it is an even greater thing to speak to God for people.’
  3. Worship. Teaching young people to worship is crucial to discipleship. I don’t mean teaching them to put their hands in the air or harmonize in the chorus. I do mean that teaching them to praise the beauty of Jesus in song, word, thought and action is critical if the encounter with God’s word is to end in the right place. Listening to God’s voice, as given in Scripture, is not an exercise that terminates in comprehension; it’s an encounter that should lead to worship.
  4. Mission. Relationship with God is not just for intimacy but for fruitfulness. There is a reason we’re still sucking air and we need to teach young people that they have a role to play in the mission of God. They don’t have to be ‘grown ups’ before God takes interest in how they witness to him in their studies, work, home-life, community involvement, and evangelism. If you don’t help them to work this out now don’t be surprised if their not missional as adults.
  5. Context. Good youth ministry is not confined to conferences and conventions (surprise surprise!). The best youth ministry happens in a localized context, in particular, the family and the local church. Youth ministries exist to support, equip, aide, and empower families and churches to help children and young people grow in grace.
  6. Culture. An awareness of cultural influences and narratives is an important part of equipping young saints to apply God’s word to their own situations. Burying our heads in the sand with ‘just teach them the Bible’ is naive and unaware of the ways in which culture deeply affects and influences all of us. Critical thinking and engagement are something of a lost art – an art to be recovered in training the next generation.
  7. Communication. All of this stuff needs to communicated in accessible and engaging ways. Teaching the Bible does not stop with ‘getting it right’; we have to get it across. Sometimes I hear people express suspicion about good communication as if the truth is being necessarily compromised or watered down. Yet we need to work on communicating in ways that get truth into heads, hearts, and hands.

No doubt I’ve missed some things. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. What would you add in to this?

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