By many measures, I am an unlikely candidate to be running a youth group. I am the pastor of a Reformed church that subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith and takes its theology very seriously. I am not a fan of the goofy, evangelical impulse to separate children away from the rest of the congregation whenever possible. I don’t swallow goldfish or do other stunts to try to impress the kids. I’m in my 50s, and any cool I may have had is long gone. So why am I in the midst of my ninth year running our church’s youth group? The simple answer is because I love the kids and I believe it is a valuable ministry that God is using.
When our congregation began talking about the advisability of starting a youth group over 10 years ago, the parents would get together and throw out ideas for what the group should be. We would come up with such a comprehensive list of things that no one in his right mind would ever take on the ministry. There was no way our congregation was ever going to hire a “professional” kid minister. This thing was going to have to be a labor of love. I decided that the only way we were going to launch the ministry was if I just picked a date and started. So I did. My plan was simple: let the kids get some time to fellowship together, play a game or do a fun activity, spend some time in serious Bible study, share a snack together, pray, and go home. We would meet every-other week for two hours. We’d throw in some extra activities from time-to-time, and we’d try to include some service opportunities as well. To make it work, I recruited four or five young adults to help me. Since we had students from age 12 to 18 in our group, we split into smaller groups – each led by a different adult – for our Bible study. This got the young people into a small-group Bible study where they could actively participate.
Last evening we had four adults and 19 young people at our meeting. We learned a new game, we prayed for each other, we studied Hebrews 10:1-18, and we gathered around the table together for a snack. Simple and yet profound. Over the years I’ve been blessed to see students come in at age 12 and mature through their high school years. I’ve worked with younger siblings of students I had when we first started. I’ve watched them grow and develop as young men and women of God. I’ve watched them encourage the younger children as they came along. I’ve seen the relationships that develop with the adult helpers in our group. I’ve seen more of the fruit of the Spirit and growth in the disciplines of grace.
Our youth group is not an appendage to the church; it is the church. The young people do not identify with the youth group or a youth pastor. They know the youth group is simply a ministry designed to encourage them in their service to Christ and His church. I’m thankful for the men and women who are a part of this ministry in our congregation. Their steadfast investment in the young people of the congregation is bearing fruit. I’m thankful that this ministry allows children who are home-schooled, children who attend public schools, and children who attend Christian schools to spend time together during the week. I’m thankful that kids with special needs have been welcomed into our group. I’m thankful that our students feel comfortable enough to invite their friends to join our group regularly.
While youth group is not for every church and while it is certainly possible to do youth group in a way that is counterproductive to the spiritual development of young people, youth group can be a tremendous blessing both to those who participate and to those who lead. May God give us discernment as we work with the young people in our congregations. And, by His grace, may we see our young men and women becoming faithful servants in His church. As the psalmist says, “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace” (Psalm 144:12, ESV).