YC Newfoundland just finished here in the province and I couldn’t be more excited for what God has done and is doing in the lives of so many young people across the province. The stories that have come back from just our group here in Carter’s Cove have been overwhelming.
When Carrie and I started our ministry adventure, we were the youth pastors of the most amazing youth group at Bethel Pentecostal Church in Ottawa. We had the privilege of taking our students to many events just like YC Newfoundland during our time there and saw the Lord do some amazing things in the lives of our students that are still affecting them to this day.
I remember the spiritual highs our students would experience during those big events. The energy, the passion and the desire for Jesus in those church sanctuaries packed with 1500 + students was electric and so encouraging. Students and leaders alike would be buzzing from the spiritual momentum that was produced and it took everyone at least a week of rest to recover from all the fun, shenanigans and late nights that were had. These were incredible times where our group grew closer and where many decisions were make, not only to follow Jesus, but to also live lives dedicated to bringing glory to His great name. As a youth pastor, I left those events convinced that those students would literally turn the world upside down.
The tension came the next week at youth group when the same students that were passionately worshipping Jesus, digging into the preaching and dedicating their lives to changing the world at the big event, stepped back into their church’s youth room where 50-60 junior high or 40-50 high school students would gather. We always encouraged student led ministry, so many times it was developing musicians who would be leading worship. I had been pastoring for a year or two, so the preaching was terrible and honestly…It just wasn’t the same. I remember leaving those youth nights discouraged and frustrated. More tension would arise when I would hear from parents and other leaders about the things students who had made huge promises to quit drugs, break up with their girlfriend/boyfriend and save their entire school for Jesus fall back into old patterns. That also was very discouraging, as well as defeating.
HOWEVER…It was in those times I learned some 4 invaluable keys to discipling students after the spiritual highs of the big events…
1) Don’t Just Please Them, Pastor Them : Reproducing the big event week after week is not your job. Listen, I have nothing against youth ministries that have killer budgets and can pull off the “Young & Free” type worship experiences, if that is how the Lord has blessed you and your ministry, nail it with excellence. But more than likely you’re a youth pastor caring for a youth group of 10-60 kids on a weekly basis. Your primary, biblical responsibility is to help your students mature in their relationship with Christ and get them equipped with the tools they’ll need to be on mission for Christ in their everyday lives (Ephesians 4:9-16). Pastor, you have the awesome privilege of investing in a way that is deeper and wider than any big event speaker or big event worship team ever could in the lives of your students. Your dedication to leading your youth to Jesus week after week will make the difference. Those conference bands and speakers have been used by God to ignite your students, you’ve been called by the Lord to help the flame grow. Your job isn’t to reproduce big events on a smaller scale at your local church, your job is shepherd and disciple your students to becoming radical misfits for Jesus. Give your students what you KNOW they need, not what they THINK they want.
2) Experience Doesn’t Always Translate to Lordship: In Luke 17:11-19 we are presented with the familiar of the 10 lepers. In this story all 10 had an experience with Jesus, they were all healed. I mean c’mon!!! That’ll preach all day won’t it “When you step into the presence of Jesus you won’t leave the same!!!” Pull out your white hanky and start shaking it!!! The only problem is with the rest of the story. Only 1…Just 1of the lepers came back to thank Jesus and bow his knee to the Messiah. Jesus ends the account by saying “…Your faith has healed and saved you” (MSG). One of the amazing distinctives of being Pentecostal/Charismatic is that we put a huge value on having an experience with God. I love that now more than ever, many youth ministries are trying to develop weekly environments that make it comfortable and easy for students to experience the Holy Spirit. Just don’t make the assumption that because students are experiencing the Spirit that that will automatically translate to full life Lordship. As much as you should push your students to experience Jesus, you should put an equal importance on challenging them weekly to make Christ the Lord of everything in their lives, as well as teaching them HOW to do that.
3) Don’t Sit…Serve: Having students that live from big event to big event produces what I like to call… “selfish sitters.” These are Christians whose faith is dependant on whether a church service/ event meets their personal preferences to a T, if not, Jesus himself would never approve of it. What this demonstrates is a very shallow and selfish faith and unfortunately many Millennials and Generation Z students have this entitled attitude. Part of your job in helping to mature and equip these students is to give them opportunities to serve people in your church and in your community selflessly. When you put flesh and bone onto someone who is “the least of these” or give them a chance to speak into the life of the whole congregation by serving, it moves a student’s faith from theoretical to tangible. It solidifies the things they may have heard at a big event. The big event can’t provide regular opportunities like this, only a local church pastor/leader can. Move your students from sitting in a pew to serving their church and their community like their Saviour so faithfully served them.
4) Patience, Patience, Patience: As awesome as what God has done in the lives of your students during your big event is, remember that your students are still human and the likelihood is that they will struggle, be tempted and sometimes even fall back into the junk they so passionately gave up and renounced. Be realistic, absolutely be hopeful…but be realistic. This is where your role as a local church youth pastor is unique. You have the privilege of keeping your students accountable to the commitments they made to Jesus at the big event. You have the privilege of helping your students fulfill their commitments to Jesus. Just make sure that you stay focused and stay patient with them. One word that should permeate your pastoral DNA is grace. Journey with your students, be vulnerable and honest with them and above all show them HUGE HUGE HUGE amounts of grace.
Youth Conference and big events are awesome. They provide you as a youth pastor/ leader with so many things you alone could never give your students. They are incredible catalysts but that is really all they are. Now that you’re home, it’s now up to you to pastor your students through all their commitments, emotions and dreams. It’s a big task, but by His grace and by His Spirit, you can do it. Youth Pastor/ leader, you’re my hero. I am so thankful that God has called you to this particular ministry in His church and your work is invaluable. Thanks for all you do.