Jun 15

Five steps to a faith-professing life

When I speak to different churches, the existence of their youth ministry is, more often than not, based on their history and evolution rather than on their vision and strategy for the future. We talk about why young people are drifting away from their church or are no longer interested. From my experience I don’t believe young people are less spiritually open than they used to be, but maybe our model of ministry might be a bit out-dated.

If we stop to think about it, the needs of each young person will be slightly different depending on where they are in their faith journey. We need to make sure that our youth ministry provides for each of these stages.

Stage one: First contact

We need to have opportunities for young people with no contact with the church, to come into contact. This might be a place where churched young people can bring friends along to, or it might be informal gatherings in the local park, playing sports. It could be cell groups going into town together, each bringing with them someone who is not yet connected to the church. Whatever it looks like, it needs to be simple, comfortable and easy to join in with. It also needs to be more than once per year!

Stage two: Community building

Young people are searching for a place to belong. Social media highlights the need to be included, to be significant, but can often exacerbate their loneliness. We need to provide an environment where young people feel safe, loved, significant and valued. Too often we can think that just by putting something on we answer these needs, but it does not necessarily follow. We need to think through purposefully what our activities look like for those on our fringe, who’ve not been before and for those who have been a while. Are they growing closer together? Laughter is often a sign of belonging so look out for this (not forgetting laughter is not the same as silliness).

Stage three: Gospel exploration

Where do you provide a place for young people to hear the gospel communicated clearly and are given a chance to respond? Where are they able to ask the questions they have, to explore whether the gospel is true, to discuss their questions of faith and of life? We can often miss this step out as we assume those who come from church families have already made a commitment, or those who aren’t, are so far away from exploring this we keep it ‘light’. It is essential that all young people are given a safe place to actually explore the challenge of the gospel and to accept Jesus’ offer of salvation for themselves.

Stage four: Discipleship building

For those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus, we need to make sure they are purposefully growing more like him. This will not come automatically. Attendance at church does not mean this stage has been achieved. For each young disciple, we need to ensure they are growing in their understanding of God, in their relationship with Jesus, in their dependence on the Holy Spirit and walking in the freedom that God offers. This might look like a more traditional Bible study. It may look like cell groups. It may look like each having an adult mentor to chat and pray with, or maybe a mix of all of these.

Stage five: Growing in calling

As a person grows in faith we need to helping them discover their purpose in life. We need to help them find out what plans God has for them, both in the immediate and in the future. Helping a teenager to grow in their talents and spiritual gifts is a privilege, don’t miss out on this exciting element of youth ministry!

Make sure you have a plan for how to help them discover their gifts, their talents, their passions. Help them to understand that they are part of God’s body, the Church, and help them to consider how they might be able to serve the church, sacrificially, not just doing ‘their bit’.

We have a problem as church at the moment where there seems to be a distinct lack of people resource – people are too busy or too tired. Let’s raise up a generation who are going to be getting their hands dirty in serving the church and their local community, whatever the cost. Helping young people grow in calling will enable this to happen.

As you look at what is on offer to the young people you lead and work with, are all these stages of faith development sufficiently met? The probability is that no one group or meeting will be able to cater for all five steps, so you may need to be creative in what your youth programme looks like. It doesn’t have to mean more activities or groups each week. Some could be seasonal, or could be done informally. Some can be done by the young people themselves.

At your next gathering of youth leaders, can I suggest that you take some time to look at this blog post together and to discuss which stages are you strongest at and which is the weakest stage? What can you do to strengthen this one? As you do this, remember to pray for God’s guidance and wisdom over all you do.