What would youth ministry look like if we helped youth and young adults identify and use their gifts?
I love working with young people. Prior to becoming a pastor, every job I’ve had from the time I was 16 was working with or for young people. Serving youth is a passion and one of the main ways I have participated in the work of Jesus Christ. The seed of this passion was planted in the fourth grade by an extraordinary educator. My teacher, Mr. Peters, made learning fun. He put his all into his lessons and made every student feel known. He was the first teacher to show an interest in me, and he placed me in the Gifted and Talented Program (as an adult, I have concerns about the equity of Gifted and Talented Programs, but I am thankful for my experience). It was the first time I believed I could achieve at high levels academically.
Mr. Peters was also the coach of the middle school basketball team. He would allow me, an elementary school kid, to practice with the middle school students, which greatly accelerated my development. Prior to Mr. Peters, I was neither a standout student or basketball player, but he saw something in me and he took the time to cultivate it. Even as a child, I could see what he did for me and I decided I wanted to do that for other people.
Mr. Peters saw my gifts, and intentionally helped me cultivate them. Is this what comes to mind when we think about the discipleship of children and youth? Often, we think youth ministry is about teaching young people about the foundations of our faith, and instruction is certainly a part of child and youth discipleship. However, helping young people identify and use their gifts is also a vital part of discipling young people.
Recently, I had the pleasure to meet with a team of college students who were planning activities for teens at the GCI Denominational Celebration. The three young adults grew up in church and had valuable insight on youth discipleship. In my role of championing youth discipleship for our denomination, I asked them what my focus should be. They unanimously shared that I should help young people to find kingdom work they love. They advised me to help create spaces where young people can try lots of things in order to find their passion. Their message was heard and received.
The paradigm for youth discipleship is the Sunday school format. Perhaps it is time to incorporate mentorship and apprenticeship strategies based on the young people’s gifts into that paradigm. Notice what Paul says:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)
For most of my life, I only applied this passage to adults. But what if we applied it to children and youth? What would youth discipleship look like? What if all Christians discovered and operated in their gifting before adulthood? What would the church be like?
Starting down this exciting discipleship path begins by simply initiating a conversation with your young people. Ask them, “What helps you feel close to God? Is there anything our congregation does that you want to learn more about?” Let their answers help guide your discipleship work with them. Pray with them for discernment — for God to reveal the gifts he placed in them. Create space for them to use their gifts to participate in the work of Jesus Christ. Invite church members with similar gifts to mentor your young people so they can develop.
Young people are not just the church of the future, they are the church of the now. As adults who care about them, let’s help them be the church.
Generations Ministry Director