Last week I read an article that resonated with my thoughts and experiences as a Youth Leader over the last 16 years. The article itself, written by American Youth Minister Jon Neilson, is a great read and I encourage you to read it for yourself (you can find it online at the link below). Here is the short version of what he says.
Neilson helpfully reminds us that our starting point and goal for all young people is conversion. He cautions against measuring our success against regular attendance, compliance and the 'goodness' of our youth. Instead, we 'preach, teach, and talk—all the while praying fervently for the miraculous work of regeneration to occur in the hearts and souls of our students by the power of the Holy Spirit' so that young people might be converted. Then, says Neilson, '[w]e will be ready to teach, disciple, and equip a generation of future church leaders'. It is these young people who don't leave the church: the converted.
Here Neilson picks up on Ephesians 4:11-12, which I like. A lot. Ephesians 4:1-16 is a passage that has shaped my own ministry over the years and is one that I pass on to others as outlining not only the basics of Christian ministry, but of living the Christian life. At SNAC, this is what we measure the content of our ministry against, whether it is one to one, small group or our Friday youth gathering. If we spend more of our time entertaining than equipping (of course our equipping should be engaging, but that's another matter) we are missing the point. We might have happy youth in our ministry. We might even have many many happy youth in our ministry. But we won't be converting them or equipping them through the gospel. Neilson applies Ephesians 4 in this way: 'If I have not equipped the students in my ministry to share the gospel, disciple a younger believer, and lead a Bible study, then I have not fulfilled my calling to them, no matter how good my sermons have been.' Amen! This is exactly what we are on about at SNAC. Glorifying God by proclaiming Christ, growing together and growing disciples (if this doesn't sound familiar to you, log onto www.snac.org.au and listen to Phil's recent Vision sermon series).
Neilson overstates his case a little here as I read him. At least in this article, he implies that unless someone comes from a Christian family they are unlikely to be converted and persevere in the faith. He backs up his claim with the observation that he doesn't know anyone in leadership who came from an unchurched background (or perhaps that if he did they'd be the exception). But I can think of plenty. I'm one myself! My job is to make more as I proclaim Christ to the lost! What I wish Neilson had said is that parents who do #1 and #2 above are doing their faithful best to convert and equip their youth. In this way, there is some truth to Neilson's claim. Christian children whose parents disciple them have a distinct advantage over those whose parents don't instruct them in the Lord (Christian or otherwise). This is something that we have been working hard at over the last 10 years at SNAC: encouraging and equipping parents to disciple their children and youth. We do it because it is a responsibility God gives to Christian parents [Dt 6:6,7; Eph 6:4]. We do it because it makes sense for the people who will have the most significant influence in a young persons' life discipling them and teaching them that loving Jesus is important. I'll let Neilson have the last word: 'Youth pastors [and leaders!], pray with all your might for true conversion; that is God’s work. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry; that is your work. Parents, preach the gospel and live the gospel for your children; our work depends on you.'