15 Apr, 2015 INTRODUCTION TO YOUTH & YOUNG ADULT MINISTRY
What this book is about
Spiritual leadership is about love and faith! These are the greatest things any pastor or leader can offer their members. It is about love, because our example that will speak the loudest in our discipling of our members (often more-so than our teaching). It is about faith, because it is the sincerity of our belief that will ultimately impart the passion for the Lord to those we disciple in the way that we desire to. The things of faith are usually more caught than taught. Having stated this, however, this book is on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of youth and young adults ministry (and primarily in the context of Singapore). To lead in any area of ministry requires knowledge and skill. Gaining the skill sets takes time to learn.
There are two key ways we can learn: from our own mistakes or from the mistakes of others!
After more than 16 years of involvement with youth and young adults leadership, and having shared many of these things with fellow Youth and Young Adults Pastors along the way, I have finally found the motivation to type them down for those who might follow. A free ‘kick-start’ resource CD is also attached simply to bless newer pastors with some useful starter resources for their leadership. Please note that your Church context, group size, and group dynamics are likely to have differences to what the other authors and myself have experienced. As such, please do not look at any chapters herein as ‘the only way’ to do something, or as the ‘right way’. Any method described is merely an application of a principle in a given situation. Adapt what is written to suit your situation!
I pray these ‘know how’ tips will, in some way, be an aid to you in acquiring some perspectives and skills that will help you to be effective. But be reminded always that it is the genuineness of your love and faith that will count the most at the end of it all!
Establishing our Terminology (Age group demographics in Singapore):
For the purpose of understanding each other in our discussions in this book, we will define our youth and young adults into three broad categories: Secondary, Tertiary and Working, just as our education system defines them.
In today's world, any discipleship strategy for young people MUST involve both the youth and young adults ministries of the local Church.
We recognise that, with each of these groups, there are Churches who might;
- integrate Sunday School children into their youth ministries from ‘Primary five’ (eleven years old),
- have their secondary and tertiary young people in one larger group, or
- group all young adults aged nineteen through thirty five into one group, etc… Please understand that there are no rules in such things. This is merely an understanding for the purpose of our discussion. Thus…
Secondary: This refers to a Youth Ministry with members in the general range of ages twelve through eighteen (Secondary one through till Junior College 2, or the equivalent Polytechnic year group). Tertiary: This refers to a Tertiary Young Adults Ministry with members in the general range of ages eighteen through twenty five (covering the next six years of life) Working: This refers to Working Young Adults Ministry to those who are now in the work force, and dealing with work-place issues. They are potentially integrated into the wider adult congregation, and are preparing for new life phases of marriage and family.
Why I don’t believe in Youth Ministry
It might surprise you to hear it, but I do not really believe in youth ministry any more. By itself it is an inadequate goal. I, instead, believe in ‘youth and young adults’ ministry! Youth ministry is very important, because the majority of a person’s values in life are made in the teen years.
Additionally, a majority of people who come to faith do so in their teenage years (one recent statistic suggested that 90% of those coming to faith did so before the age of twenty, and an older statistic suggested that 90% of those who came to faith, but who did not come from Christian homes, did so specifically in their teenage years). Thus the most effective place any person passionate about discipleship can serve in is, in fact, a youth and tertiary young adults ministry.
Another recent study in the U.S. concluded that five of the seven major life decisions people make were made by the age of twenty. This is the season when life-long values are being formed. There is no place more fruitful or influential for a person passionate about discipleship to serve!
However, times have changed, and we need to keep up a little. The Jezuites (Catholic Missionaries) once said ‘Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.’ In today’s world, children have proven well that they can walk away from the values they were taught in their first seven years of life. This is because culturally things have changed in the world. This change, however, has continued further, for we now know well that young adults can also walk away from values they received in their youth days – and in their droves. This is a newer thing, and was not as it is today just one generation (forty years) ago. At the extreme, I can cite a denomination in a western nation that, through a survey in the 1990s, discovered it lost a staggering 90% of its young people when they turned eighteen years old.
In today’s world, any discipleship strategy for young people must therefore involve both the youth and young adults ministries of the local Church. The primary age where people walk away from the Christian faith is now after their secondary education. In Singapore, this is approximately the ages of eighteen years old through to maybe twenty two years old. Thus, even though the ‘drop off’ is not as dramatic in Singapore as in some western nations, any passionate discipler of young people does well to amend their goals and job descriptions to include this age group. Only after these years does the stable and sustained holding of the values we seek to disciple seem to exist.
Finally, before we delve into the various chapters I would like to paint a picture of where we might be going in this book. This book seeks to impart various needed skills, but also perspectives for strategic and intentional discipleship of young people through to a place of stability in their spiritual journey.
So, let’s strategically consider…
- A youth ministry may benefit from a higher corporate ‘volume’ and ‘momentum’. Fun, some games, and intentional motivating of members are well received by this age group.
- A tertiary young adults ministry seems to now benefit from a greater corporate momentum than was necessary a decade or more ago. I.e., the momentum of the group is quite important, but not as much as it is for the youth. However, the place of the small group still takes an increasing priority (as compared to youth days) due to the increasing desire and maturity tertiary young adults have for relational intimacy.
- A working young adults ministry has a new set of felt needs. Their maturity probably means they are comfortable with, and benefitting from, the Sunday services and messages. Compare this to many of today’s tertiary young adults who may not be as adaptive as a couple of decades ago in this area. Thus maintaining a sense of ‘identity’ for this group, separate from the adult congregation, is of lesser importance or benefit. Statistically, we know these working young adults are less likely to ‘fall away’, as, by this time, their values have settled more firmly as personal convictions through the learning and experiences of their youth and tertiary young adult years. Most will now relate confidently with, and feel a part of, the adult world.
Thus, the first two groups are the most important. These are where, in today’s world, their life values seem to be still in their formative stages.
What is discipled in each group can thus be thought through, as well as how that is communicated or ‘imparted’. How this is done with each different age group is likely to be different. In addition to this, there will need to be leadership development, ministry management, experiential ministry involvement, and also relevant and contextualised outreach efforts. All of these, again, will be approached slightly differently with the different groups.
…(as an example),
- while passion and faith for the Lord need to be communicated at all levels, content could strategically be given with increasing depth.
- Thought could be given to how discipling can be done most effectively from a list of topics (i.e., a curriculum of sorts), so as to intentionally inculcate an increasing depth in perspectives and conviction across time.
- Different specific topics, or issues, would likely need covering at different ages – and one could probably guess which issues most need addressing in each demographic.
- Further, because of increasing cognitive development, some areas could be intentionally delayed until the members are more readily able to comprehend them (consider the example of in-depth apologetic questions), or when their life experience gives them context to relate to issues (for example, dealing with troubles in boy-girl relationships, and how to break them off without hurting others). Delaying the discussion of these issues until the appropriate time leaves room to cover topics in other foundational areas with more depth and substance.
- At the same time, consideration can be given to the methodology of the discipleship. Jesus’ method of discipleship was not merely of teaching but also of modeling. It included various practical exercises, demonstrations, and mission exposure trips. We thus can consider at the different ages how we can utilise different platforms to accomplish the greater goals. Large group teaching, small group interaction, ministry team involvement in the Church, Christian education classes, outreach events, mission trips, ‘outreach mobilisation’ in schools, involvement with targeted conferences and speakers through which we bring needed strengths or balances to our ministries, etc.
These all help us disciple the different age groups broadly, passionately and holistically. There is certainly plenty to think on, and a lot to get passionate about in discipleship. Yours is a truly important role! So, with these basic thoughts on where we might be going, let’s now turn to the beginning and consider just what you might need to do.
Note: The need to contextualise this content
Please do note again that these notes are of the methodologies of some Youth Pastors in their given contexts. To understand my context, I (Dave Mann) have led a youth ministry averaging 120 per week at a youth service, followed by Cell Group (approximately fourteen cell groups in the youth), and a tertiary young adults ministry of about seventy attending a monthly ‘service’ (fellowship). These tertiary young adults formed about eight additional cell groups, and attended the weekly adult services. Over time the cell group attended more than the ‘monthly service’ – which was an interesting dynamic. Most of the following content comes from my experiences in this context, though I have led a smaller group in New Zealand for seven years also, and served as a volunteer in a yet smaller youth group for a couple of years prior to that. (Before that I was a youth).
Please contextualise all comments made to your own situation.
Something to reflect upon
Each chapter will have a few simple questions for you to reflect upon.
- For this first reflection, please do the Ministry Health Assessment found in Appendices i.
- This assessment will enable you to give yourself a score which will reflect the current health of your ministry.
- You can then ensure you read the content in this book that is most relevant to your needs.
In the remainder of this book you will find contents on vision casting, leadership development, planning, worship ministry, small group ministry, intentional discipleship, ministry teams, outreach efforts, and more.