A few years back, we noticed that our youth ministry was growing pretty rapidly, and it was so exciting. We were reaching new students weekly and getting them in our doors for our youth worship service. What we soon realized was even though our “pool” was getting wider, it had stopped getting deeper. In other words, we had a large youth ministry that was full of students and leaders who were pretty shallow in their spiritual life. It wasn’t until we had two of our student leaders ask if they could start participating in adult discipleship classes because they felt as if they had “outgrown the youth ministry” that we decided something must change. That year, we began a ministry called “The Journey.” The Journey is a self-paced discipleship challenge that is unique to each grade and focuses on the 5 Biblical Principles (Evangelism, Discipleship, Worship, Service and Fellowship) along with scripture reading, a daily devotional and a good Christian book. The first thing we did was emphasize that The Journey is NOT for everyone. The Journey is focused on those core students in the ministry who are ready to start growing on their own. This ministry challenged students to pursue a well-roundedness to their spiritual growth. So often in our churches, we are good at equipping our student leaders to be good at tasks but shallow in their faith. Let me ask you if this situation sounds familiar to your church.
The students in the youth praise band get up in front of the group and do an awesome job leading their peers in worship, then they walk off the stage and don’t come back in for the sermon. They are great at worship, but how are they in discipleship, missions, evangelism, etc.?
The first year, we had around thirty students sign up for The Journey, and it quickly changed the complexion of our youth ministry. Suddenly, we had our student leaders attending youth ministry functions to encourage others in their faith and to serve behind the scenes at worship. Some students helped lead Bible study small groups and went on mission trips and even helped to lead and plan mission trips. In our ministry, The Journey challenged our core students to move out of the thinking that every program should be geared towards them, and to truly understand what it means to serve the church and grow in their faith. Since we implemented The Journey seven years ago, we see how our graduates can move off to college and enter any church setting and be confident in getting plugged in to a new church.
When I was in 7th grade, Shannon was my hero. Shannon was an 11th grader, a great baseball player, a student leader in my youth group and most of all, he was my mentor. Our friendship started with him just talking to me at youth group, inviting me to shoot pool and introducing me to some of the other high school students. As the year went on, Shannon talked to me about his relationship with God and even asked me about mine. Shannon prayed for me and prayed with me, spent time with me outside of youth group and encouraged me during those difficult middle school years.
Mentoring relationships in ministry can be some of the most important and impactful ministry you can offer. I looked up to Shannon because he was a stage of life ahead of me. I think there is something innate within us to look up to the people who are the stage of life just ahead of us. Elementary students look up to middle schoolers, middle schoolers look up to high schoolers, high school students look up to college kids, college kids look up to young professionals, and so on. This happens all the way to older folks who are about to retire who look up to those who have already retired. You see, just by being in the stage of life ahead of someone else gives you credibility and information that younger people are looking for and need. With that in mind, a few years back, we created a mentor ministry called Mentor-ed. We have young adults mentoring high school students and some of our strongest high school students mentoring middle school students, and the results have been incredible.
The leaders of the early church gave us a basic principle for ministry: Disciple someone and be a disciple of someone. In other words, everyone should find someone who is a little ahead of them (in age or in spiritual maturity) and listen and learn. Learn from their mistakes, from their successes and ask for their advice. Shannon was that person for me in middle school. He cared about me, he listened and valued my opinion, and because he did, I wanted to be just like him. Lucky for me, Shannon was a amazing man of God who helped me grow in my faith and always pointed me to God.
Next, I believe it should be our goal to mentor someone younger. Don’t worry – everyone knows you don’t have all the answers. That is okay and honestly even better. Finding someone who you can pour into, affirm and help hold accountable will be one of the greatest gifts that you can give.
Finally, I want to encourage you to think about starting a mentoring ministry for your youth group. I think that Mentor-ed is a great place to start, and this program gives you and your students a guidebook on how to begin a mentor ministry in your church. When students and leaders realize the impact they can have by praying, spending time, serving and sharing their faith with a person younger then them, the effects can be amazing and long lasting.
Davis Thompson is a DYM author and to check out the resources he mentions, click HERE!