Start at the Beginning

After a brief interruption, we’re back to the discussion on student-led youth ministry.

The hardest part about building an effective student-led ministry is figuring out where to start. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches. Some have been successful, some not so much. There seems to be a common theme among the successful ones, and I’ll defer to Lewis Carroll for the explanation.

In his novel, Alice in Wonderland, there’s a particular quote in Chapter 12 that, for all of it’s simplicity is quite profound. The White Rabbit is preparing to enter a piece of evidence into a trial against the Knave. The evidence is a letter. He asks the King, “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” The King replies, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

It is very easy when starting down the path of building a student-led ministry to begin to look for those young people that are the most talented, or the ones with the most magnetic personality. It’s important to involve them. God gave them those talents for a reason (more on that in a later post). It’s not bad to use talented people. But if you build your student-led ministry around talent, you’ll soon find that you have a top-notch production that doesn’t yield much spiritually.

Instead, when building a student-led youth ministry, try the King’s approach: Start at the beginning. Start by establishing solid, concrete principles in the lives of your students, and work with them to make these principles a consistent part of their lives. Now, fair warning…this takes much more time than grabbing a handful of talented students and throwing them up on a stage. But if it takes you a while, you’re in good company. Keep in mind it took Jesus 3 years to go from “start” to “world-changers” with His group. That’s a good barometer.

So what is the “Beginning?” It’s the common building blocks your students will need regardless of what ministry the Lord draws them toward. This includes:

Prayer. The very first thing I did as Youth Pastor was establish a culture of prayer in our youth group. I actually taught on prayer for 6 months in our youth services. Before we ever started doing music, before we ever worried about ice breakers, we concentrated on teaching students to pray. We started at the basic level and worked our way up to the point where we began to see students entering the realm of deep intercession in their prayer lives. If you don’t get anything else, get this: If we don’t teach our students to connect to God in prayer, than nothing else we teach them will be successful. All of the talent in the world cannot substitute for prayer.

Studying the Scripture. It isn’t just for Bible Quizzers! Students must have a love for the Word of God. They must be taught to mine the beautiful truths from its pages. They must know what they believe and be able to defend it competently. This ought to include scripture memorization. It’s good to fill in the blanks for them sometimes, but there’s immeasurable value in directing students to make their own discoveries in the BIble.

A lifestyle of worship. For whatever reason, and I sincerely don’t know why this is true, but I’ve discovered that a student’s level of worship is a good indicator of what he/she will be like as a leader. I’m not necessarily talking about running the isles every service (although there’s much to be said for that), but rather a student’s willingness to push through the dry periods that come to every congregation and connect to God in worship anyway.

Holiness. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the minute a student steps onto the platform, he/she will be judged by your other students. Anything permitted on the platform, therefore, is assumed to be condoned by the Youth Pastor. Much damage has been done when a youth leader has used a student in the wrong context who may have a desire to be used, but has not come to a place where he/she is committed to a lifestyle of holiness. Notice I said “lifestyle,” not just “dress-style.” How a student dresses is important, but even more important is where that student’s heart is. I have students (and I’m sure you do, too) who, being young in the Lord, don’t quite have an outward appearance of holiness yet, but are infinitely more holy (and usable, come to think of it) than students who have been around for years. They have the “rules” down, but they haven’t committed themselves to a separated lifestyle. Watch your students carefully. Don’t wait until they’re perfect to use them, and don’t beat them up over every mistake, but watch their heart. If it’s toward God, you have a teachable young person. If it’s toward the world, you may need to reconsider if that is someone you want to involve in leading his/her fellow students.

Obedience to ministry. This is kind of a “duh,” but for the sake of stating it, this one is crucial. A student critical of the Pastor and ministry staff isn’t fit to lead his/her peers. You have way too many students who love and cherish the man of God to use someone on the fringe.

Those are ones we’ve concentrated on. Maybe you can think of more. If so, plug them into the comments below.

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