Often times in youth ministry, particularly evangelically-minded youth ministry, we pride ourselves on “conversions”, on those who have “accepted Christ”, as well we should.  Teenagers, like any age person, need to know Jesus, or more appropriately, need to know how much Jesus wants to know THEM.  

Teenagers definitely need to be presented with the Gospel.  As our Lord states, “the harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.” Too many people today focus on the mistakes of the Church, and hardly ever on the compelling beauty, grace, and love of Jesus.  There is an increasing number of youth today who have no idea who Jesus is or what He taught.  I know because when presenting the Gospel over the past 10 years, I’ve had youth personally tell me, “I’ve never heard that before.”  Its really unprecedented in American history, and we are remiss as a Church to ignore this important reality.

But as I progress into my 15th year of youth ministry, I want to encourage other youth workers in this fact: the harvest is not the only thing.  Much of my time in youth ministry has been seed planting over harvesting: saying that extra prayer for a young person, seeing a student’s eye light up when they get a new understanding about Scripture, visiting a teenager at their sporting event or play, connecting with a student over a meal, or texting an encouraging word.  

In many ways, seed planting IS the harvest for youth ministry, or at least, can lead to a harvest in the future.  To be honest, some teenagers just aren’t ready to be “harvested”.

As Mike Yaconelli so famously (or infamously) said, 

Young people are too…well…young to be disciples. Apprentices? Of course. Beginners? Sure. Trainees? Interns? Absolutely.

But not disciples. We’ve convinced adults and parents that we have a program that can produce disciples. We perpetuate the illusion that we can take 13-year-olds and make disciples out of them. We actually act as though we can transform a group of inconsistent, uncommitted adolescents into mature, committed disciples by spending an extra hour or two a week with them. Not possible. Are students capable of heroic acts? Absolutely! Can a 13-year-old be committed to Jesus? Yes, as long as we understand what we mean by committed. Can young people make a difference in the world? Of course they can, but we’re still not talking about disciples.

I base this also on my own faith development, at least, as best as I can recall my high school years. Like many teenagers, my adolescent years were tumultuous at times, highly emotionally charged, wrought with confusion, and driven by a desire for social acceptance at any cost. I loved church and my youth group, but I felt this pressure to experience something HUGE for God, but now I see it was actually something I wasn’t exactly ready for.  When I would attend mission trips or heavy worship services, I wanted so deeply to have a conversion experience or an emotional “moment” with God, the same experiences it seemed other people were having.  I was coveting others in worship!  That’s a 10 Commandment I broke! That sure doesn’t work! 

In hindsight, my faith was being formed in and through these times, and it was the small, seemingly innocuous moments that God was revealing Himself to me, slowly opening the eyes of my heart though God’s prevenient grace until I was ready.  God did hear my hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those early prayers were eventually answered.  I’m not saying to not have audacious faith or hunger for God at all!  

At the age of 20, I did indeed receive the Holy Spirit, felt completely reborn and was set on a completely different life trajectory than what I was on. God is the potter, we are the clay, and it can be hard to remember that.

Until then, I was not a mature disciple of Jesus Christ because I was not emotionally mature yet, and that was ok.  God knew that.  God did not love me any less.  God was patient with me then at that stage, and God is patient with me now.  

Some youth just aren’t ready to be harvested, but all are ready to be tended to, watered, seeded, and more.  I pray that the Lord of the harvest will lead us all in wisdom as we tend to our individual “fields”.  

Clark Chilton {{cta(‘e1a2fd2c-5feb-424d-876a-6fbad365f7e9′,’justifycenter’)}}