bits from bob....

Principles for Ministry to Youth

by Robert J. Young
©, 2003, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

According to a 2003 report from Barna Research Group (Barna Research Online,, July 8, 2003), about 1/2 of the teens in the research group attended church activities two or more times a month prior to age 13. While teens in the research group reported several positive outcomes, an outcome less commonly cited was a level of Bible understanding that allows one to make every decision based on the Bible. The results of the survey suggest we are teaching facts more than principles and truth without application. While such results may be used to sharpen our focus in children's ministry, the results also suggest what "holes" need to be stopped in ministry to teens. When a teen understands how to use the Bible to make decisions, Barna found "a fairly strong correlation" with an active spiritual life of prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance. Barna concludes, however, that less than 10% of today's churched teens has a biblical worldview. "In other words, the result of their involvement at a church is that they can recite some religious facts, they made some friends, and they had fun....most of them have neither accepted Christ as their Savior nor altered the basis on which they make their moral and ethical decisions in life."

These results suggests several principles for ministry to teens. There is no panacea in effective ministry. There are no quick fixes, no easy cures, no sure-fire methods. One can identify principles. While those principles may be applied generally to any type of ministry, in this article I identify five principles to guide ministry to teens. These principles will guide our teens only when they first guide those who minister to those teens.

1. Teach the Heart of God
Focus on Scripture; maintain a constant connection with the word of God. Communicate truth and application to life. This is a responsibility of every person who ministers to youth. This is a significant need in the lives of today's young people. Is there a word from God? Can I know that something will work as I deal with the challenges of this life?

2. Imitate the Heart of Christ
Focus on the discipleship aspect of following Jesus. Model and teach what it means to be a authentic follower of Jesus Christ. Maintain your own life near the heart of Christ, considering what it means to develop Christlikeness.

3. Hear the Heart of Teens
Focus on the lifestyle issues and concerns of today's teens, clearly understanding that biblical principles speak to those issues. This is not the place of beginning, this is the place of application. Only after the heart of God and the heart of Christ are in view can the process of integration begin. A great mistake in much youth work is believing that youth want to begin with the issues. The issues will never be a sufficient beginning place. No application is possible until Christ is in view. Our youth are searching for an understanding that makes a difference in their own heart development.

4. Honor the Heart of the Family
Focus on family connections and healthy differentiation. The family is never far away in effective youth ministry. It is not accidental that many churches have moved away from "youth ministry" to "family ministry." The terminology may seem insignificant, but the results are astounding. Christianity is not lived in a vacuum. Near to my Christian life must be those who are closest to me.

5. Connect to the Heart of the Church
Focus on shared spiritual realities. Any youth work that does not empower youth for future involvement in the church is missing the mark. Too many youth ministries tend to remove youth from the context of the church as frequently as possible in favor of interaction with other youth. A great need is to connect the various generations in the church--to connect our young people with the heart and rhythm of the church.

Effective youth ministry should consider how all five of these principles may be incorporated if our youth are to be effectively guided into Christian maturity.

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Last updated November 11, 2003.