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FIRST-PERSON: Iconoclastic principles of youth ministry

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In a previous column, I ventured to share my 10 iconoclastic rules of church planting, expecting that as a result I might not survive another day.

To my surprise, I have survived and received sufficient encouragement with regard to my insights on church planting that at length I decided to sally forth once more, this time with 17 iconoclastic principles of youth ministry.

I have an idea that these principles may do me in; but nevertheless, here they are for your consideration:

— Do not try to entertain young people all the time. You likely have neither the money nor the talent to compete with the world. Even more important, when young people begin to consider the things of God, they are not looking for entertainment, nor are they looking for the same diet they receive in the secular world. Concentrate your energies instead on what only the church can do.

— Call a man as your minister to youth or your pastor in charge of youth ministry. If possible, have an associate who is a woman. If money is in short supply, have the youth minister find a woman who will volunteer to serve in this capacity. It is imperative that the youth minister be both a minister and a man’s man whom the young men will respect. It is critically important that the associate be a woman who is godly, pure of heart and a model of what biblical womanhood is all about.

— Teach young people how to share their faith, and give them regular opportunities to witness for Christ.

— Teach young people basic theology. By the time a young person is in the first or second year in high school, he ought to be able to give you a good assessment of the basic doctrines of the faith, and he ought to understand how they relate to one another.

— Choir tours and social projects are worthy activities for young people, but do not make them an end within themselves. Every mission tour must gauge its effectiveness by whether or not the young people have seen people they are ministering to get saved, and perhaps even planted a church. During the five years I served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark., our young people, on their own, planted five churches in Canada and one in New York City. Obviously, the church planting efforts took a couple of weeks; but where the preparation has been made appropriately, these young people have the gifts and passions to do exactly that.

— Lead your young people to ask God about His will for their lives. If the youth minister and the pastor of the church are positive examples of godly men, the young people will respond quickly, and many of them affirmatively, to the possibility that God may want some of them to serve as pastors, missionaries or other Christian vocational leaders.

— Teach young people the whole biblical revelation. Too many ministers of youth are not good Bible teachers. As you are preparing for youth ministry in one of the educational ministry schools, take every class you possibly can in biblical studies, theology and philosophy. You are the one who will need to help the young people develop a Christian worldview and know the Scriptures thoroughly.

— Teach the young people what the Bible says about sex. It is critically important that they know the Bible says a great deal more about sexual intimacy than merely prohibitions. If they are taught the promised blessings of God derived from living life God’s way and reminded of the disasters that befall those who live life another way, they will be more likely to choose the right way.

— Teach the young people to love Jesus and God’s Word, the Bible. If they genuinely and profoundly love Jesus and cherish the Bible as God’s Word, they will be better able to withstand the temptations that inevitably will accost them in the present life.

— Make men out of the boys and women out of the girls. You may protest here that this goal is the natural end. Unfortunately, our society today is bent on trying to feminize boys and create as many masculine traits as possible in girls. This distortion leads not only to serious misinformation about gender but also to other disasters. Teaching boys the responsibilities that men must assume and teaching girls that true beauty before God is the “attitude of a gentle and quiet spirit” will immeasurably bless their lives, their homes and their churches.

— The pastor must spend time with the young people. Even if the pastor does not feel he has any particular gifts to enable him to interact with young people, it is critical that he learn to relate appropriately to junior high school, high school and college-age young people. He must be with them on some of the mission trips. He must have a good sense of humor and have a good time with them even while leading them in serious endeavors.

— Be sure to include parents in the youth ministry equation. They need to be informed thoroughly about what is happening, and they need to be frequent participants in what is taking place. Above all, young people need to be taught to respect mom and dad, honor and obey them in all things and even seek their approval of the ultimate decision of choosing a marriage partner and determining the timing of that marriage.

— Whatever you do about having some services just for the youth, be sure that most of the time the young people are in regular services with everyone else in the church. It is critically important that young people understand church as being all of God’s redeemed gathered together in one congregation in one place. They need to learn to relate to the various age groups.

— Teach young people the meaning of sacrifice. Begin with the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrificial ministries of others such as Paul, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, etc. Teach them the enormous benefits and joys that come from making sacrifices for the sake of Christ. They will catch on more quickly than will adults.

— Have a regular time for Q&A with your young people, and do not duck their questions. If you do not have an answer for them, admit it; but have one available to them the next time you meet so that they always know that whatever questions they raise will be considered.

— Keep your sense of humor and have a good time. If you take yourself too seriously, your young people will not take you seriously. If, on the other hand, you show that you see humor in just about everything in life and that you can “have a blast,” you will be amazed at how seriously they will take you and how far they will follow you.

— Finally, lead the young people in some great adventures. During my days as pastor and associate pastor of churches, I not only led students on mission tours in Canada and New York, as mentioned earlier, but I also took a group of high school students to Uganda shortly after the fall of Idi Amin. I have led college students on trips literally all over the world. I make it a point to take them into difficult situations that cause incredible adventures that they will never forget.

The value of these iconoclastic principles of student ministry was vividly brought home to me recently when I was invited to come back to the First Baptist Church of Fayetteville, where I had served as pastor many years ago. God had given us an unbelievable ministry among the high school young people of the city.

What I saw when I returned more than 30 years later was one of the greatest blessings that I could ever had. To my astonishment, there were the young people, now adults with children of their own, singing in the choir once again. I could not believe the large number of them that were back in town for the special event. On that occasion, I was very grateful that the guiding principles I have outlined here had been a part of my ministry to these young people.

I pray that God will bless you as you pursue this kind of ministry among young people.
Paige Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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  • Paige Patterson