Five R's Every Youth Leader Needs To Know

So you're working in youth ministry now, and you feel unequipped or inadequate? Welcome to the club! Just a few years ago I felt like I had so much to offer, but no idea how to do it! My idea of youth ministry was greatly impacted by the "youth group" I grew up in, which pretty much consisted of me, my best friend Matt, and the kids we filtered in for activities from the youth groups we wished we were part of. Our youth "leaders" were good at a few things: 1. Buying us food. 2. Telling us how immature and irresponsible we were. 3. Reminding us that they were the youth leaders. 4. Creating lame activities like "prim" that was little more than an amish alternative to "prom." 5. Regurgitating the stuff they had heard as teens..."back in my day."

Stepping into my first pastoral position with little more than 5 committed middle schoolers was scary, because I didn't know what to do! Stewarding their lives was of course a heavy weight of responsibility, but balancing that with engaging material and excitement seemed near impossible. But, as I opened the pages of Scripture, God walked me through some tough lessons in youth ministry that made those years some of the most rewarding and educational years to date. Here are a few tips that helped me grow a youth group from 5 to 60 and counting, but more than that - be an effective minister of the gospel.

1. Be Relatable
Paul said he was made all things to all men that he might be all means save some. So from the King James, let's translate this into "youthenese." To the nerd became I as the nerd. To the jock became I as the jock. To the musician became I as the musician...etc.

Stop talking about how youth ministry used to be; because it's not that way anymore. Culture shifts daily which requires study and discernment on your part in order to effectively relate to it. Don't misinterpret that as being "of" the world. But you must be like Jesus, and meet people where they are.

Minecraft parties. I never thought I'd be a gamer...and I'm still not. But I can build redstone railroad with the best of them! Why? Because I could fill a basement with 20 middle schoolers who came to hang with the youth pastor, and inadvertently get some unsolicited counsel, and even hear the gospel. Yes, even my Minecraft world had a church in it!

Football Games. Be there! That's where all the teens hang out...and even better, their parents! The cheer section has the jocks, and they're easy enough to win over. But behind the bleachers, next to the fence is where bands of 8-10 roam the grounds. Engage them! Soon, like me, you'll have 32 kids calling your cell phone from the front gate saying "Pastor, can you come be my chaperone into the game?!" Hook. Line. & Sinker! Guess who they'll tell their parents was at the game and helped them get in?

School Functions. Band Concerts. Plays. Lunch. Each of these are crazy worlds in which various species of teenagers live. Invade these territories and capture the hearts of the citizens. Make time for them. Be at all of them. You'll be amazed....

2. Be Rational
Here's a common situation: Kid gets a bad grade. They tell their parents who immediately freak out and ground them from something. Kid comes to youth pastor seeking comfort. You cannot be the devil's advocate, but you cannot be the freak-out parent either! Listen to what the teen has to say, and point them in the right direction. Many parents lose their teens because they won't LISTEN. If you'll listen, you will win their heart. Every time.

3. Be Real

As a youth pastor, I was a person too. I have a past. God works in my present. I struggle with sin. When I'm real about my journey with Christ, suddenly admitting humanity becomes OK. " If pastor Jon struggles, I can too!" No, you don't need to brag on your sin and bring all your skeletons out in the open. Just be real about what God has and is doing in your life.

4. Be Ready
This could mean so many things! Even after I felt pretty "seasoned" my small group of just high school guys made me realize just how unprepared I was at times! Teens have a way of throwing those awkward questions your way. Be ready. Teens are learning life the hard way many times. This might involve 3AM pick ups, or 5AM phone calls of panic. Be ready. Students are watching you, and processing things inside. At the most random time, they will be prepared to accept Christ and open up their heart to the gospel. Be ready. Expect the unexpected.

5. Be Recruiting

- Recruit Students

If not utilized as the church of today, they will not be here tomorrow. Allow students the freedom to minister effectively by recruiting them to be leaders. Engage them with Scripture. Equip them with the tools. Empower them to lead. Encourage them along the way! Trust them! Stop trying to TELL them everything and start SHOWING them some things! Disciple students!

- Recruit Parents

Parents are the wonderful people that live with those teenagers every day of the week, apart from the few hours you are with them. Recruit parents for insight into those kids lives. Even if they don't have the best parenting style, you can disciple them without them ever realizing what you're doing! Make them a part of your team, and develop not just a teen exclusive ministry, but a family ministry. A Church. Let the parents know you have a united front, pointing kids to their authority.

- Recruit Pastors

In my first church I became all consumed with student ministry. I poured my heart and soul into it, and reaped the benefits. Unfortunately, I left my pastor behind, not knowing he had never been taught those things. As the youth group grew, the church continued to die, and at one time, over half of the Sunday attendance was teens! Parents started coming to Wednesday night FUEL for Bible teaching and counseling, because that is where they felt valued and utilized. --- Invest in your pastor! Involve your pastor! In my second church, I transitioned the culture of student ministry to that of a "connexus group" that liberated parents and pastors to invest in the lives of students. After all, they're part of the CHURCH! As pastors discipled students, it generated a "oneness" in the church that assisted in its growth. You need your pastor, and your pastor needs you.

I Would Rather Be An Entertainer

The battle rages from nearly every ministry across our country. The war is neither won nor lost, and the enemy often hard to identify as both sides march under seamingly the same banner. One group stands on the platform of ministry while other appears to cross the border into entertainment.

You have heard one opponent shout messages of “ministry.” “Well, OUR church or OUR music group is ALL about the ministry. We are NOT about entertainment;” Generally followed by a cheap shot at a church or group that seems to “entertain” more than they “minister.” Generally these shots are fired out of insecurity and jealousy, in an attempt to rationalize small numbers and disengagement.

Have the "entertainers" ever fired a shot across the “ministry border? Have you ever heard a group say they were all about entertainment and not about the ministry? Could it be that these entertainers truly believe they are ministering on behalf of Jesus? Could there really be some validity to these groups that seem to assemble the masses?

I think before we choose a side, we ought to evaluate the terminology.

Ministry is carrying out the acts of a minister. Ministry, then, is defined as an agent working on behalf of another. In our spiritual context we recognize that the ministry is about representing Jesus Christ, and sharing the message on His behalf.

Entertainment means “to hold the attention of, pleasantly or agreeably. To have as a guest. To admit into the mind. To hold the mind. To divert and amuse.

So, my question is, can a minister do his job apart from entertainment? Yes. Preachers can preach and singers can sing without entertaining an audience whatsoever. They can stand on platforms and speak with people and never engage a single mind or touch a single heart. Ministry apart from entertainment then becomes a noun, pointed solely at the minister rather than a verb that fulfills a commission. A message that does not entertain the mind will not allow the mind to entertain its message.
An effective minister realizes that the message will change people’s lives when they receive it. He will do everything he can to hold the people’s attention in a pleasant manner. Excellence only serves to better represent His Excellence, the King of Kings. An effective ministry seeks to invite outsiders to throne room of God, pointing their attention away from today’s struggles and holding it at eternity’s Savior.

I want to be an entertainer presenting a message people will entertain. I long to see people pause to entertain the thought that Jesus loves them more than I could ever explain. I hope worship in an environment where the musings of the world disappear as we direct our attention to One greater than I. Amused and amazed.

Yes, it is possible to separate ministry from entertainment. But should we?

Discerning the Will of God

It is within the heart of every believer to seek out the will of God., yet we often find ourselves baffled by its specifics. We counsel with ministers as if they possess the spiritual insight to know our future.  The purpose, or sovereign will for our life frustrates us as it seems to be a mystical mystery we much dig to discover. I believe this mindset comes from a generational miscommunication of what God’s will actually is.

We initially make that decision to accept Christ, but post-salvation there seems to be millions of other options.  Where should I work?  Who should I marry?  What college should I go to?  What classes should I take?  And as we peer through our flawed microscope at this mysterious object, God’s Will, we find the closer we look, the more it appears to be a kaleidoscope of confusion.  Ephesians 5:17 says, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”  The writer focuses in on a simple fact,  God wants us to know his will even more than I want to know it.

But before we can know the will of God, we must first understand what it is.  The big picture includes the WORKS of God, fulfilled by his sovereignty, outside of any man’s control. No committee.  No government.  When God speaks, it just happens.  Within those works are the WAYS of God.  God’s moral law, and instruction for day to day life.  As we examine the pages of Scripture we find God’s ways to be both clear and complete.  Then, yet another subcategory appears,  the one we desperately seek to know.  The WILL of God.  God’s will is the answer to the Who, What, When, and Where.

Knowing that the purpose of my life is to bring God glory,  it stands to reason that glorifying God is equivalent with being in His will. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do; do all to the glory of God.” Here is where great freedom is found!  When I walk in God’s WAYS, He will lead me in His WILL.  Knowing that the ways of God are perfect (2Samuel 33:22) I can rest assured that when I am walking in God’s perfect ways, I will always be in His will.

It does not matter what your past looks like, or where you find your present,  today you are free to step back into the will of God.  God’s will is very much a present focus more than a future tense.  I cannot know the future, so for this fact I am glad!  God’s will highlights the motive of the heart more than the appearance of outward action.  And as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,  God is glorified in the person you become, more than the specific placement of your body.  You cannot know the will of God for the future outside of the will of God for today.  So when you begin to fret over the future, open of the scripture, and take instruction for today.  For anything you do can become God’s will when you do it God’s way.  

An Open Letter To My Future Wife

Dear Future Love,

I'm writing this letter to tell you that I cherish you with my whole heart, even though we have never met.  I think about you more than I'm willing to admit,  and pray for you every single day.  It was almost 10 years ago when an evangelist spoke in my middle school chapel about relationships.   While many of the things he said went over my head at the time,  I began to apply all I possibly could.  I made a list of the qualities I was looking for, and began to pray over them as often as I thought of it.  Though that list has changed....drastically....since middle school, there are a few things that remain the same.

First, I admire your relationship with Jesus Christ.  The passion with which you pursue Him in every aspect of your life makes you the most incredible girl on the planet.  Thank you for seeking His face, and being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Your relationship with the Lord has enhanced my walk with Him, and our relationship has been strengthened as a result.

Thank you for not only supporting me in the ministry, but loving it yourself. Ministry was never something I had to excuse or explain, because you were already doing it even before we met.  The way you interact with  people, encourage, counsel, and motivate others is reflective of your selflessly driven heart, and for that you are my hero.

If my past has taught me anything, it is that trust is so much more than a word.  Honesty, forgiveness, and true love are all rooted in trust.  You have entrusted me with your heart, and all that comes with it.  I do not take that lightly.  As the spiritual leader of our home,  my responsibility to lead you and steward what God and you have entrusted to me is approached with great caution.  Thank you for willingly giving me your heart, and for holding mine even with its great imperfections.  The trust we share has made us indivisible.

I could go on for ages and never truly describe your beauty.  From the inside out you are the most beautiful person I have ever been privileged to know.  My heart skips a beat every time your eyes make contact with mine, as I can see exactly what they are saying.  I love your voice, and I'll never know just how God sent a match so perfect.  The class you communicate in every facet of your life is matched only by the humility by which it is magnified.  You are truly everything I could ever want, and more.

You are more than just a perfect match,  you are the ONLY match, and I hope to always communicate that.  I will love you, appreciate you, and cherish you for as long as I have breath.  Never stop seeking the Lord, for truly that is the most beautiful thing about you.  As one, let us pursue a relationship and identity rooted in Christ and who he has called us to be.  We may never be rich or famous, but so long as we can spend the rest of forever serving Christ together, I know I'll be satisfied.

With My Whole Heart,

Jon Leighton Groves

Reel-Time Review: Frozen

There have been numerous blog posts, and countless updates regarding Disney's latest success, Frozen.  Christians from both sides of the fence have been at war throwing darts at the movie or selling it as a  gospel derivative.  Some have laid claim that the relationship between a man and his pet companion was pro-homosexual, and that this is Disney's attempt to directly promote the catholic church and universal values of "acceptance."  Then there are those who have said Anna is a picture of Jesus Christ, and the storyline majorly follows a Christian theme.

Dear both sides,  CAN WE PLEASE JUST ENJOY A MOVIE?!  I get it, some people are paid to be critics.  But when it comes to Frozen, I don't believe there was an agenda overtly righteous or evil.  I believe the Disney machine was doing what it should,  generating family-friendly entertainment.  I'm a sucker for a good musical, and this definitely was.  And for the Christian,  there were a few valuable tips we can take from this storyline.  Here are a few:

-Sometimes the most effective acts of love come from the person who has been wronged.
In a flood of rage, resulting from a sisterly squabble,  Queen Elsa's suppressed powers break loose and bury the entire kingdom under snow and ice.  In a self-righteous manner, Queen Elsa "lets it go," abandons her post, and sets out to live free from life's pressures.  Though wronged and placed in great danger, Princess Anna sets out to restore her sister to their once tightly-knit relationship.  Those who have sinned cannot restore themselves.  Galatians 6:1 tells us that if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one...  The reason most people will never see restoration, is because most Christians aren't spiritual.

-There is a major difference between attractional love and true, sacrificial love.
You have to hand it to Queen Elsa.  I mean, she was right!  How can you marry a man you just met?  I find this to be a painfully accurate picture of today's society.  People desperate for love are willing to jump at the first sign of acceptance.  When those who should be loving shut people out, they will unwittingly cast themselves into the arms of evil.  Anna finds out that real love is putting someone else's needs before your own.  When she discovers the TRUE meaning of love,  she is able to identify he who truly loves.

-"A frozen head can be persuaded, but a frozen heart only melts with an act of true love."
Princess Anna is initially placed in grave danger when she takes a blast of magical ice to the head.  The elder troll is able to remove memories from the mind, but warns that a cold heart is not so easy.  He foreshadows to when Anna will take a icy blast to the heart, which only an act of true love can restore.  Unlike the typical Disney flick, we find that true love isn't defined by a kiss, but when the "cold heart" loves another with reckless abandon.  The same is true for us!  Memories can be suppressed,  but a hardened heart can only be unfrozen when we choose to love Jesus and even our offenders more than we love ourselves. As Olaf said, "some people are worth melting for."

- Your greatest fear can be your greatest asset. 
Elsa, the possessor of "the gift accursed"  lives in fear of others discovering her secret.  Wise counsel advises that this ability can bring both great joy or great destruction.  Fear will be her enemy.  Once Elsa realizes she does not have to live in fear,  but rather own her gift, it becomes just that.  A beautiful blessing to those around.  The insecurity you hide will continue to haunt you and plague you until you identify with it.  When you accept your "thorn in the flesh"  God can use it to produce great beauty.  But only when you turn it over to him.  The haunting from hiding will hinder your healing.

- Even cold people need warm hugs.
OK,  who didn't love Olaf the snowman?  Should I ever come across a stuffed version of him, I will not resist the urge to purchase several.  This snowman was peculiar, because cold as he was, he liked warm hugs. Never have I seen a snowman that yearned for the warmth of summer. Let this serve as a reminder that even the "coldest" of people will melt with a little warmth. In fact, like Olaf they yearn for the warmth of summer that would forever change the structure of their being.  When the fire of God's love is kindled in our heart, our desire will always be to spread it.

* This article was originally posted to Venn Magazine as seen here.