Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


I just got back from teaching a couple of seminars at the National Youth Workers Convention this last week in Los Angeles. It is always so much fun to talk about this kind of stuff with my youth ministry peers. I’m really not sure there’s much I love more about my job than helping fellow leaders in the trenches think through how we can do a better job of leading students.

One of the seminars I taught was called, “Creating a Teenage Owned Ministry: Developing a High Level of Ownership Among Your Teenagers“. It was all about trying to rethink what it means to help students own their faith. I didn’t do so from an “expert” position, but rather from the trenches of one who is trying to do this daily and flush out what it means in my own ministry context.

If you were wondering what it was about, I’ll reproduce the basic premise and ideas here. They are essentially my introductory thoughts on the 90 minute seminar.

I proposed that there are at least 4 basic problems in youth ministry today regarding ownership and 4 values that I think we have to champion if we’re going to see those problems become a thing of the past:

PROBLEM #1: Students follow Jesus for a season.
  • As much as we’d like to not admit it, most of the students that come into our programs will not spend a lifetime serving Jesus. Even the most involved, the most influential, or even the most invested in our youth ministry can end up leaving it all behind in the wake of early adulthood.
LEADERSHIP VALUE: We’re trying to raise up life long disciples of Jesus, not youth group champions. (Mark 8:34-36, Matt 28:19-20)
  • This is an issue of OWNERSHIP, not INVOLVEMENT. Our goal should not be to increase student’s involvement in church, but rather their ownership of the core values that our faith/church is built on in the first place.

PROBLEM #2: As student’s exposure to other world views expands, their “Christian” values diminish.
  • Far too many ministries think that we need to build a ministry with big bunker walls to keep the evil out. But my experience says that this works about as well as putting a wild animal in the safety of the zoo and then expecting it to be able to survive again in the wild. Bunker mindsets don’t produce owned values, they produce immature and naive children.

LEADERSHIP VALUE: The learning process is more important than the end product. (Matt 7:21-23)

  • In other words, the ends don’t justify the means, but rather the means determine the ends. If we want students to OWN their faith as theirs, we need to go through the messy process of helping them interact with true faith in real world experiences. Faking it does no one any good.

PROBLEM #3: Students don’t know how to interact with opposing view points.
  • Many ditch their faith because they simply assume they were intentionally taught only half the story. They leave the church, find out that not everyone believes what they believe, and start to think that this must be because they were brain washed.
LEADERSHIP VALUE: We are trying to teach students how to think, not what to think. (Isa 29:13, Acts 17:11)
  • I have ZERO interest in teaching students how to repeat the “right answers”. I am looking for ways to teach students HOW to think. This means we must expose them to opposing views in our ministries and give students a chance to wrestle with those views. The Bible doesn’t hide other opposing views from it’s readers, neither should we.

PROBLEM #4: Students are underestimated and under utilized… in our own youth ministry.
  • Youth pastors are notorious for complaining that their jobs are nothing more than glorified baby sitting. My push back is not that this is untrue, but rather that many of us have created ministries where this is precisely the case. Before we complain that the rest of the church treats them like children, maybe we need to ask ourselves if we do.
LEADERSHIP VALUE: Students are not only becoming ministers, they are ministers. (1 tim 4:12, Prov 1:1-6)
  • Henry Blackaby: “When you believe that nothing significant can happen through you, you’ve said more about your belief in God than you have about yourself.” Maybe this is true of our how we treat students. When we don’t give them significant responsibilities in our own ministries, maybe we are saying more about our own doubts than theirs.
  • Doug Fields: “They are not the future of the church, they are the church” I’ve heard Doug say this a thousand times. I have no idea who said it first, but I’ll say it again. I need to remind myself of this all the time if I’m going to see ownership, and not just involvement increase in my ministry.

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