Since I was a Freshman Christian education student at Taylor University I knew that I never wanted to be “that guy”. I never wanted to be the guy that made ministry all about himself. I never felt the pressure to be the BEST speaker or the COOLEST guy in the room. I never wanted a student’s faith to be based on merely the attention I was giving him or her. From the beginning I have wanted so much more for students. I always wanted them to know two things: Jesus loves you, and the Church loves you. To be sure, I love them too, but that is far less important than the first two points.
Youth ministry as we’ve known it can be dangerous and damaging to youth. We’ve set up a culture where one person (other than Jesus) is the focal point of teenagers’ faith. Teenagers are made to believe they can (and should) get everything they need from one person. Then, they get out of high school and realize they’re alone. Their youth director has dozens, or even hundreds, of other teenagers to connect with and by pure necessity leaves the new college student abandoned and stranded in their faith. There is a better way…
Recently we held our annual Phao Student Ministries Adult Leaders Retreat. A weekend where we both celebrate the things God has done within student ministries and the church, as well as look to the future and where God is taking us.
This year we had almost 30 adult leaders and potential leaders (pictured above) join us for a day of training, reflection, planning and vision (and a handful that couldn’t make it). These people are small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, P58 leaders, special event crews, parents, friends and interested newcomers. All with a passion to see Jesus made known in the lives of teenagers.
That, to me, is the ministry I was called to; equipping adults to pour into the lives of teenagers. Helping them to know that each one of them has God given gifts to impact students’ lives eternally for Jesus. You see, it is these adults that will make a lifelong impact on students’ lives. It is these adults that will be there for them in 5, 10, and 20 years. It will be these adults that coach them through college, encourage them as they enter the “real world”, and advise them as they start families and raise their own children.
I believe in the importance of youth directors. I believe that significant growth within student ministries relies on leadership that can equip adults within the church to come alongside teenagers and live life with them. I believe, however, that the days of the “rock star youth director” are gone. I believe that the days of youth directors “equipping the saints” for the work of ministry in the lives of teens is here. That makes me excited! Paid youth staff are important, but if we’re not equipping the adults of our church to live life alongside teenagers I believe we’re doing it wrong.
Special note: Thanks to all of our Phao Student Ministries adult leaders for sacrificing all that you have, and will, to be that lifelong influence in the lives of our teens. Thank you for leading small groups, showing up to events, leading sunday schools, and living a life that is worthy to be an example of Jesus to teenagers. You are the ones that make ministry and growth possible.