Roller coasters or Prayer meetings? As a Youth Leader, what Is Your Lean? Program-based or Presence-based Youth Ministry? Which is most important at this time for the North American Church? And Can We Have Both?
We are in the middle of The Teen Decade. The 7 teen years from 2013-2019. And it only happens once in a century. Over the past 3 years I have been calling for an emphasis upon revival in the Millennials and this younger teen generation. Why?
Because American teenagers are the only generation living in our country who haven't seen a spiritual awakening in their lifetime. The last significant spiritual movement took place in 1995 in Brownsville, Florida. But, that was 20 years ago, and teens today may not have even heard about it. America has seen probably three and maybe four spiritual shifts in her history. The 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, the Azusa Street Outpouring, and the Jesus Movement. And we are poised for another spiritual renewal soon.
But, if the Lord tarries in the coming ten years, is Youth Ministry ready to lead the Church and culture in this next spiritual shift?
Preparing A Generation To Lead The Next Great Awakening
We must prepare this generation to lead The Next Great Awakening in modern America.
The American Youth culture is in desperate need of a spiritual renewal. This should be one of the most exciting times for the Youth Leaders and the Youth of the Church in our country. At a time when the hearts of young people are failing, it is a great time for spiritual Youth Leadership. Here are 2 principles we must understand if we are going to prepare teens in the American Church to lead The Next Great Awakening.
1. It is not time to major on Programming and Events
The central catalyst for an Awakening is not Programming and events. Of course, those things are important to a holistic Youth Ministry. And Youth Ministry across the country should not stop with an organizational emphasis. I know that teens need programming and systems and structure in their spiritual lives. Whether that is accomplished in the Youth service or small groups or personal mentoring, we need systems. But, programming alone is not the central catalyst for an Awakening of national proportion. That kind of lasting cultural shift takes something additional.
The culture of a Youth Ministry is sensed immediately. In a Youth Ministry that is Program-based, there is an emphasis placed upon presentation and structure. Again, I am not advocating to stop this kind of administration. But, you can see healthy or unhealthy emphasis by how time is spent. When leaders center their time and planning on video work, graphics, personal and team leadership development, and precision event planning, there can be a loss of the value of spiritual transformation in the lives of students. It is important in the process that we celebrate the spiritual power and the precisioned planning in Youth Ministry equally.
Here's a simple test. Do not lose the emphasis of presence in these things. The balance of time that a Youth Leader spends planning Youth programming must be secondary to the time that a Youth Leader spends planning for the Presence of God upon these things. Our students may have a blast because of the slick programming of a Youth service or weekend event, but, have these things brought them closer to God? Have they grown spiritually? Are they bringing their friends to Youth Ministry? Are they sharing their faith story with their peers? Or, did they simply have a great time?
Our satisfaction should not be that we built an AMUSEMENT park. A place where students are in awe of us. That everything went as planned and let's prepare for next week. If all we are doing is trying to build a bigger and better roller coaster in Youth Ministry, at some point we are going to run out of money, and, the students will run out of interest.
2. It is time to major on Presence and Spiritual Disciplines
The central catalyst for an Awakening is the Presence of God and the spiritual disciplines. The healthiest Youth Ministries are Presence-based and not only Program-based. Teenagers don't have to be taught how to PLAY. They have to be taught how to PRAY. Youth Ministry is unlike the public school, the YMCA, or the nearby Amusement Park. As necessary as these organizations are, the Church must model to teens something different. A Youth Ministry is the one place a teen should be able to sense the Presence of God.
This culture in a Youth Ministry is also immediately sensed. In a Youth Ministry that is Presence-based, you see the emphasis placed upon scripture and relationship. No loss of planning, but, a symbiotic joint effort with spiritual disciplines. In the early days of Youth Ministry, we did not have presentation tools such as Powerpoint or video capabilities like today. We were the Powerpoint! It can be easy today for Youth Leaders to spend more time preparing the presentation tools and the structure of a Youth Ministry event than spending time in prayer and preparation of the message we are trying to communicate.
Don't forget the simple test. Do not lose the emphasis of presence in these things. The balance of time that a Youth Leader spends planning Youth programming must be secondary to the time that a Youth Leader spends planning for the Presence of God upon these things. I would rather have our students walking out of a Youth service or event and being transformed spiritually by the Lord because they sensed His Presence and were convicted to walk more closely to God. That they were going to bring their friends back next week. And that they were respectful to their parents or authority in their life at school or work. Not merely that they had a good time.
Our satisfaction should be that we built an AMAZEMENT park. A place where students are in awe of God. That is much less expensive and their interest will never subside. We cannot lose the scriptural emphasis upon humility, repentance, fasting, prayer, worship, giving, or evangelism. While at the same time gaining the cultural emphasis upon humor, music, illustrations, creativity, relevance, or numbers.
Presence In The Planning: Can We Have Both?
What is your lean while reading this article? Were you defending one of these areas more than the other? I believe that if we are going to see The Next Great Awakening upon America, it will take both a Program-based and a Presence-based Youth Ministry. With a lean or an emphasis on 'Presence In The Planning'
In the coming Teen Decade, pray for your own personal spiritual development as a Youth Leader. Our personal spiritual formation as Youth Leaders is the most attractive trait that teens are looking for. You will be able to balance these 2 important areas of leadership when you see them in a symbiotic relationship. We will not see an American renewal without these 2 disciplines. When we place 'Presence In The Planning' we will raise childlike students and not childish students.
If the Lord tarries, and the Church is in the hands of the young people in your Youth Ministry, what will the Church look like in 10 years? Asking this question might help you decide your lean.
1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”