Feature

It’s All about Him

Practice what you preach

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A few months ago I asked several of the parents of our youth group kids to list their expectations of me. The following is a sample of what I received:

“Teach my child how to read the Bible.
”“Teach them about the Holy Spirit.”
“Be there for my son.”
“Encourage them in their walk with the Lord.”

None of their responses were unrealistic or unreasonable and no different from the expectations I would have for the youth worker for my own future children. What struck me was how they all seemed to be making the same request: “Lead my child into a deeper relationship with God.”

Deep and Wide

As a youth pastor I face many challenges: helping teens cope with peer pressure, suicidal thoughts or family/relationship problems. However, the most difficult challenge is figuring out how to lead teenagers into a deeper walk with God.

How do I make the mystical things of God relevant to today’s teens? How do I get kids raised in an obese culture to value fasting? How do I get the iPod generation, which never seems to be without music, to be silent in order to hear the still small voice of God? How do I teach someone who knows three computer languages to understand the language of the Bible? (And I don’t even mean Greek—the NIV is hard enough!)

Although I still have much to learn, I’ve found several principles that have been helpful in getting our youth group to delve into the deeper things of God. I realize I can only lead young people only as far as I have gone.

When I speak to the kids about what it’s like to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice, they can tell whether I am regurgitating something I read in a book or if I am speaking from experience. I can’t really expect them to spend time in the Word if I am not committed to that practice. To call youth into the deeper life when I am not committed to it is hypocrisy, and God will not honor it.

Also, this postmodern generation loves to participate, so I have to provide hands-on experiences. I will never forget the night I spoke to our youth group about the prayer ministry of laying on of hands and then leading them to do this for each other. The room was full of teary eyes and choked-up voices. That night has burned into their minds that God does in fact show up when we pray and minister to each other.

Additionally, kids know when you are being real and when you are being fake. If you are only speaking moral platitudes and clichés, conveniently omitting the defeats that you have experienced in walking with Christ, they know your words are not authentic. When I am honest, the response from the kids is usually great. They love hearing about my struggles and victories, because it’s something to which they can relate.

I also have found that when I rely on God to “show up,” He always does. This is more of a stretch for my faith than it is for the kids’ faith, because as I plan my agenda, I have to be willing to abandon it and to leave room for the Holy Spirit to do something different from what I planned. I have found that when I “get out of His way,” He brings the most powerful times for our ministry.

It is true that kids hear from God. “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions” (Acts 2:17). Often, when I ask the kids to be silent and listen for God’s voice, they hear amazing things. When they share them with the group, my heart and spirit resonate, Yes, that is God and He is speaking to you! When you affirm that to a young person, several things come to his or her mind: There is a God, He still speaks today and I can have a relationship with Him. Experiences like these put kids on the path to be led by God’s voice for the rest of their lives.

True Worship

I try to put all of these principles into practice every week. I confess that sometimes I fall short. Even when I’ve done my best, there are no guarantees that the responses from the kids will be great.

Our group still struggles with common sins and petty immaturities—inattentiveness, gossip, cliques, etc. But alongside these, we have experienced the presence and power of God. We have had some amazing times of corporate worship. We have seen healings and conversions. We have seen both spiritual and numerical growth.

Each experience builds upon the other, and the belief that God is working among us often comes through a snow-ball effect! I believe such things are possible only if we create an environment that is friendly to the Holy Spirit.

One night during worship the kids were distracted. After we sang four songs, our usual practice was to go to the message. However, the Holy Spirit convicted me with this realization: although we had sung our songs, He had not been worshiped. He asked me what our youth group would value—punctuality or His presence? I shared this “word” with the kids and to my amazement, they agreed that we were just going through the motions.

We went back into worship, singing the same songs, and this time the kids worshiped the Lord loudly and passionately! They were also more attentive to the delayed message. In a memorable way, they got to see our purpose in meeting is not to fill out an evening, but to interact with God.

I challenge Alliance youth pastors across the country to join me in the journey of leading kids into the deeper life in Christ. It means taking that journey yourself and keeping the kids close behind you.

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