One Shot Wonders
By: Various Authors
IF YOU COULD DO ONLY ONE THING TO HELP KIDS RADICALLY DEEPEN THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WE ASKED SOME OF THE SMARTEST, MOST EFFECTIVE YOUTH MINISTRY PEOPLE OF THE LAST THREE DECADES TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION.
Ever feel like you’re suffocating under a sea of shoulds in your life? It’s not just stressful to be overwhelmed by shoulds, it’s dangerous. It’s like fog rolling in when you’re driving 75 mph. Or, even more ominous, it’s like a slow-acting poison…
Remember that former KGB agent turned Kremlin critic, Alexander Litvinenko? Someone slipped a radioactive element—polonium-210–into Litvinenko’s food. It’s extremely hard to detect and is a radiation hazard if it’s ingested—it destroys the immune system. It killed Litvinenko in three weeks.
The polonium-210 of youth ministry is called Overwhelming Shoulds. We’re bombarded with so many shoulds that it’s hard to not ingest way too many. That’s exactly why we asked the “Deeper Learning” track leaders and keynote speakers at our upcoming National Youth Ministry Conference to weigh in on their one-shot “should” for youth ministry. Think of these “one shots” like fog lights…or the antidote to a poison.
THOM SCHULTZ—If we’re interested in helping kids grow closer to Christ, we need to change our perspective on faith. We’ve grown up believing that faith is a subject—akin to other subjects such as history or geography. So to pursue the subject of faith, we thought we needed to set up academic structures. We’ve relied on “teaching (lecturing), Bible “studies,” and so on. But, actually, faith is not an academic subject. It’s a relationship. And a relationship with Jesus grows much like a relationship with other people through person-to-person conversation, doing stuff together, and personal storytelling does the meat of your ministry look like a real relationship?
DAN WEBSTER—Give your teenagers a notebook or journal, and over the next week ask them to take the first 10 minutes of each day and reflect on the events of the previous day. What happened yesterday? Where did they see God? Who did they interact with? Where and how is God attempting to stretch their hearts and grow their faith? Helping students simply track the activity of God awakens them to his presence, and that’s a huge first step.
JEANNE MAYO-Of course, I think genuine biblical life-change happens best in the context of relationships. That’s why, in The Message version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14 this way: “The word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Wise youth leaders create a careful “SIP” (System in Place) that makes the strategic, purposeful cultivation of Christian friendships a primary focal point for their ministries. In my youth ministry in Atlanta, small groups are the core of that SIP. I’ve repeatedly tracked our stats on guest retention and progressive personal discipleship.
And my repeated conclusion is that if a teenager gets “Velcro-ed” to a small group, retention and spiritual growth automatic byproduct.
GREG STIER—What helps teenagers grow closer to Christ is Christ! Our teenagers need to learn that they can’t live the Christian life…only Jesus can do that (through them). As we help them under-stand what it means to live out their daily “declaration of dependence” on Jesus, our teenagers will learn to thrive more and more in his strength, in his presence, and in his joy. Spiritual maturity doesn’t come through a to-do list or through a sin-management program. It comes as our teenagers learn to die to themselves and allow the resurrected Christ to live through them.
UFFY ROBBIN- To me, it’s a no-brainer: My “one shot” at what helps teenagers grow closer to Christ is not a strategy, an idea, a talk, or a study. It’s all about relationships. I recognize this isn’t exactly a stunning insight, but I realty can’t imagine anything more fundamental. Copper is a conductor of electricity; relationships are the conductor of faith. All of these other elements of youth ministry are helpful, but it always comes back to someone who is willing to love that teenager, walk beside that teenager, believe in that
teenager, and believe in what God is doing (and will do!) in that teenager. When it’s all said and done, we’re right back at the Word become flesh. It’s all about incarnation—not just witness, but with-ness (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
JOANI SCHULTZ- A relational Jesus-centered experience makes growth in Christ irresistible. Last week a mom called and told us about her teenager’s weeklong workcamp experience. Before Amanda’s spiritual growth spurt, she walked with slumped shoulders and downcast eyes- she was uncertain and fearful. But after serving someone in desperate need, alongside Christian friends, Amanda changed. When her mom picked her up, she literally didn’t recognize her daughter. Amanda’s newfound assurance in Christ’s love glowed through her face. Amanda was a new creation. In the context of doing—showing what Jesus’ love looks, feels, and sounds like—Amanda “connected the dots.” She discovered faith in Jesus is real. And it wasn’t just serving (doing good) that made the difference, but the Christcentered conversations with friends and her that cemented the transformation.
SCOTT RUBIN- My “one shot” at what helps teenagers grow closer to Christ is relationships. There are two specific kinds of relationships that I think are crucial:
* At least one relationship with an adult who really knows them and gives a rip about them! This is someone who can help point them toward Jesus, help them understand the Bible, help them sift through their doubts, and help them find experiences that will challenge them.
* Relationships with other students who are also earnestly trying to work out their faith. How you work that out can depend on your situation, but I believe relationships are a huge catalyst for spiritual growth!
KENT JULIAN – helping kids develop confidence is a lost art in a youth ministry world that values authenticity, but often seems mired in the mud of a “stinkin’ humanity” approach. Yet nothing empowers teenagers like confidence! Not confidence in accomplishments, success, personality, or position—but true confidence based in who God is, what he’s done for us, and who we are in Christ. If kids base their esteem in these realities, they’ll be Christ followers for life—while the good news is for us, it’s all about Christ!
KURT JOHNSTON- The word that comes to my mind is patience. Because I work with junior highers and only have them in my ministry for a couple of years, I’ve grown to appreciate that spiritual growth is a long-term process. Adolescent spiritual growth is usually a “two steps forward, three steps back” experience. Youth workers need to be willing to patiently walk alongside their students on that journey, trusting God’s timetable for their kids instead of trusting the latest discipleship gimmick.
This article “One Shot Wonders” written by various authors is excerpted from “Group Magazines” a November/December 06 issue.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat, throw away the bones.”