Youth Ministry With a 20/15 Vision
By Jay Mooney
I am Dreaming 2015. Dreaming 2015 is a vision to touch 10 to 15 million students with the gospel, raise up 5,000 new youth leaders, and eclipse the 1 million AG youth census mark in the U.S. by the year 2015. We intend to win them, build them, and send them to fulfill the Great Commission. Dreaming 2015 is more than a growth call to this great Pentecostal church. The Holy Spirit is moving upon His church. We believe God has an inheritance for you. At 44 years of age, I no longer have 20/20 vision; I see youth ministry with 20/15 vision (that is, the year 2015).
My belief in youth ministry is fueled by a spiritual vision I will never escape. It has taken me a full decade to understand this vision that has become indelibly seared on my heart and mind. Simply put, I saw multitudes of underdogs becoming champions for Jesus Christ, and all were young people.
When I fast-forward one decade, I better understand what I saw. The vision was not about my ministry; it was about God choosing a generation in answer to the prayers of many people who had prayed for a long time. Today, I see many student believers who reflect the characteristics of the dream.
- Their passion is larger than their fears.
- What they lack in objective understanding they achieve in subjective daring.
- Their worship leads to action.
- They are eager to anchor their beliefs.
I believe Assemblies of God youth ministries will see a growth explosion in the next decade through this generation’s ministry in the church. As church leaders it is our responsibility to arm student believers with the weapons of spiritual victory. Prayer and the Word will once again characterize another generation of champions for Jesus Christ.
To this end, I ask: What do these underdogs who become champions for Jesus Christ look like? How many of these rising champions will be from your youth ministry? Do you have a clear plan concerning how to raise them up as an Assemblies of God church?
The Assemblies of God has a great philosophy of youth ministry, but an old cliché — “familiarity breeds ignorance” — wars against youth pastors recognizing the greatness of this philosophy of youth ministry. When something becomes too familiar, it is often hard to recognize its value. Furthermore, what is familiar to some can be foreign to others, especially if it has not been clearly explained.
Churches need a clear biblical plan for winning, building, and sending students to fulfill the Great Commission. This primer on youth ministry needs to be characterized by mission, culture, and metrics.
Jesus’ keynote address to the core disciples is foundational to healthy and fruitful youth ministry. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ ” (Matthew 28:18–20). The Great Commission includes the six components my English composition teachers believed were needed to develop a great story: who, what, when, where, how, and why.
- Who — “you”
- What — “make disciples”
- When — “always, to the very end of the age”
- Where — “all nations”
- How — “baptizing them” and “teaching them”
- Why — “to obey every thing I have commanded”
The modern emphasis of the church in obeying the Great Commission has been to “go.” However, the central imperative is to “make disciples.” “Go(ing)” is part of normal life. “Go” is an aorist passive deponent participle in the original Greek text. A literal translation could be “in your going.” “Go(ing)” was the natural order of Jesus’ day as it is now. People would go to the synagogue, the market, or even to the Sea of Galilee to fish. When one becomes a believer, he immediately begins a journey called the Great Commission. Jesus said, “in going, make disciples.” In going to work, make disciples; in going to church, make disciples; in all going, make disciples.
The ultimate challenge in every generation of the church is to make disciples. While every culture has its obstacles, the imperative remains to win, build, and send disciples — disciplined followers of Jesus Christ.
The goal of national Youth Ministries is to equip the church to make disciples using the three-fold philosophy of “Win, Build, Send.” Every healthy youth ministry has a balance of these principles. Every ministry has some of these elements. (See diagram.)
Win, build, and send is grounded in Matthew 28:19,20. Yet, Jesus spoke of this earlier: “ ‘Come, follow me,’ … ‘and I will make you fishers of men’ ” (Matthew 4:19). Pastors and leaders are called to win, build, and send.
At national Youth Ministries, our organizational structure is built around this mission.
- Student Outreach focuses on establishing relationships that win people to Jesus Christ. Student Outreach is also the home of proven Youth Alive ministries, like Prayer Zone Partners, Campus Missions, Campus Clubs, and the Seven Project.
- Student Discipleship serves to build biblical life and truth in youth ministry. Student Discipleship is also the home of Bible Quiz and Fine Arts. These ministries do not only develop a student’s talent, but also his mind and spirit. Remember, building is key to both winning and sending. Discipleship is woven throughout our ministries.
- Student Missions moves people to discover the God who sends and provides in life. Whether it is through giving to Speed the Light or going through Ambassadors in Mission or Global Youth Leaders Network, Student Missions serves to advance the Great Commission in every generation.
National Youth Ministries is about igniting and synchronizing leadership development. Leadership development is not only what we do, but also who we are.
What is “win, build, and send”? It is Outreach (Win), Discipleship (Build), and Missions (Send). It is the process of the Christian life. It does not always have a perfect starting point, but if it did, it might go like this:
- Come and See
- Come, See, and Be
- Come, See, Be, and Do
“Win, Build, Send” is more than a motto for ministry — it is a strategy for victory.
God records the cultural matrix of this mission in the Book of Acts. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42–47). These six verses describe a culture that fosters disciple making. The culture was characterized by worship, fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism.
Modern youth ministry is just coming of age in the church. Only in the last 40 years have churches universally accepted the idea of employing youth specialists. This idea emerged from the effectiveness of parachurch venture ministries such as Christian Endeavor, YMCA, and Youth For Christ. In many cases, these organizations served as the quasi youth ministry for multiple churches in a community. As churches witnessed the effectiveness of this method of ministry, they decided to employ it closer to local fellowships. Thus, churches have youth pastors today. The culture produced a need and the church met it with varied results.
About the time youth ministry emerged in the church, a monumental shift in American culture took place. This shift was from community life (calendars, economics, politics, and morality) built around the church to community life built around educational structures. Events once organized and planned to accommodate church culture were now arranged to accommodate the educational system.
Sunday was seen as “the Lord’s day” in America. America stopped work on Sunday because most people went to church. Most businesses closed. Youth sports events were not scheduled on Wednesday nights because participants might forego church attendance. Culture protected religious expression and practice in our nation and communities.
However, America’s shift to a more education-centered focus means Sunday is open for business since many no longer attend church. City councils structure community calendars around the school year rather than the church year. Youth sports events are scheduled on any day of the week.
For many leaders born before 1970, this can be a tricky shift. People do not come to the church looking for help like they once did via American culture in the 200 years prior to 1970. The church is once again looking for people lost in the culture. Thus, Jesus’ statement to “go” in the Great Commission makes better sense translated “in your going.” Youth pastors cannot be fooled into thinking youth ministry will come to them. American culture has shifted. Youth pastors must take youth ministry to the youth of their communities.
The greatest mission field in America is the educational system. The latest national census shows that more than 98 percent of America’s population will attend public and private schools. Each of those students has a family. If the church wants to influence the larger community with the gospel, it must focus on where the people are. This approach to ministry is similar to fishing in a stocked pond where one can make a great catch every time.
William James, the father of modern psychology, said, “There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough.” For too long the church has been duped into believing the modern establishment clause interpretation of the United States Constitution. This clause teaches separation of church and state. In other words, do not talk about Jesus in public. While separation of church and state is not in the U.S. Constitution, the concept has been repeated enough to make many people in the church believe that on-campus ministry is off limits.
Thank God for the courageous champions of the free speech entitlements found in the U.S. Constitution who have overcome the twisted establishment clause interpretation made up by a few members of the Supreme Court in 1947 in People versus Everson. The truth is: on-campus ministry is on target. It is not only legal because of students’ free speech rights, but it also is the natural progression of fulfilling Jesus’ call to make disciples as people go about their lives. The gospel is relevant for every culture. That is something worth repeating in the community and from the pulpit.
The truth is the culture shift in the church toward youth was the leading of the Holy Spirit. Youth ministry in the church has preserved biblical culture — worship, fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism — for teens. Youth pastors need to pay more attention to building this biblical culture in the hearts of students than trying to adjust to the shifting culture of the world. As youth specialist Duffy Robbins said, “I’m concerned that in our efforts to make the gospel more relevant we’re in danger of dressing up and dumbing down a message that Paul described as inherently foolish to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). I suspect that what’s sometimes labeled in the youth ministry world as ‘edgy’ might more accurately be described as an attempt to round off the jagged edges of a gospel that is scandalous.”1 Youth pastors must stop focusing on addressing the external culture of youth. They must give their first attention to the culture of the heart, which is the focus of the New Testament.
The world’s culture will shift again. The culture of making disciples is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Youth pastors must provide for worship, fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism. This is the culture of making champions for Jesus Christ.
The metrics philosophy of youth ministry is somewhat measurable. What does an underdog who becomes a champion for Jesus Christ look like? It is not easy to describe what a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like, but the following five indicators provide an effective measuring tool. These indicators do not guarantee a person will be like Jesus. However, a person who practices these will be walking in the way of Jesus. In Jesus’ command “teaching them,” foundations can be found in Scripture.
- Pray daily. Jesus prayed regularly. The Bible records many of His prayers. Jesus’ followers recognized how important prayer was to Him and asked Him to teach them how to pray. So Jesus taught them a model prayer (Luke 11:1–4; Matthew 6:9–13).
- Live by the Word of God. Early in the Gospels we learn that Scripture was foundational to Jesus’ every thought, emotion, and action. In the most trying moments, Jesus recited Scripture. On one occasion, He even reminded the devil that the Word of God is food for life (Matthew 4:4).
- Tell others about Jesus. When Jesus calls people to be His disciples, He is calling them to be with Him so they can join Him in His mission for people (Mark 1:17, 3:14).
- Serve people in love. Jesus clearly announced that He did not come to be served, but to serve others (Matthew 20:20–28). Serving others is implied in Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
- Give generously. Jesus gave His life to accomplish the will of God and to be a sacrifice for the sins of others. Those who followed Him learned that giving was part of the provision of life (Luke 6:38). Jesus taught that giving blessed the giver more than the receiver, and He gave generously (Acts 20:35).
Jesus explained life using two simple ideas: Love God the most; love others as much as yourself. This is characteristic of these five indicators.
I hope whenever youth pastors are asked about a student in their ministry, they can describe the student’s characteristics using these foundations.
Youth pastors can measure more than individuals with this youth ministry philosophy. According to the metric of Win, Build, and Send, how healthy is your youth ministry? The following exercise may help you measure the health and effectiveness of the youth ministry you lead. It may also help you identify your strengths and weakness. Remember, do not limit your leadership influence in disciple making to only those things you like to do.
Draw a triangle on a piece of paper. Label the corners Win, Build, and Send. Take last year’s calendar (or this year’s calendar) and chart each activity in the appropriate area or areas that best represent the purpose of that activity. After charting the entire year’s schedule, place the paper on an imaginary axis from the center of the page. Which way does it tilt? This represents your strength. Consider which side needs balancing and make plans accordingly. The result may be a more healthy youth ministry and better disciple making.
God preserves two component gifts for every generation. These gifts — prayer and the Word of God — ultimately make believers into lifelong followers of Jesus Christ. Every youth ministry philosophy rises and falls on communication between God and man.
A youth pastor needs to establish a mission of winning, building, and sending students founded on the Word of God and prayer. His goal is to foster lifelong followers of Jesus who pray, live, tell, serve, and give in a culture where worship, fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism thrive.
Ultimately, there is one, single measuring stick of leadership success in youth ministry — make disciples.
Youth pastors need to tool out the culture components and programmatic ministry in their local church. Youth pastors in Assemblies of God churches are encouraged to pastor their students beyond their own influence. One day youth pastors will no longer be the chief influencers of the students under their care. Either the pastor will move or the students will grow up. Be challenged to establish a youth ministry upon which another Assemblies of God youth pastor can successfully build.
The programs that are unique and familiar to Assemblies of God youth ministry are not the destination or part of any one youth ministry philosophy. Rather, these programs are long-standing, recognizable vehicles to that destination. Youth pastors have the responsibility to take youth toward that destination of “champions for Jesus Christ.” Assemblies of God youth ministry programs are vehicles that have successfully journeyed thousands of youth to this destination. It is up to youth leaders to make these programs fresh and fruitful. A church with a successful youth ministry throughout a succession of youth leaders is blessed. The result brings strength and health that can greatly impact a community for generations.
The Assemblies of God in the United States can impact 10 million students in the next 10 to 15 years. We can reach 1 million youth adherents annually by 2015.
How many of those students will be yours?
- Duffy Robbins, “Youth Ministry in Adolescence: A Look at the Culture of Youth Ministry,” YouthWorker, November/December 2003, 29.