Discipling Teenagers In Your Home and Church: Three Paradigm Shifts

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Youth ministers and parents face a unique challenge: we’re dealing with human beings made in the image of God who are going through an incredibly tough and awkward transition from childhood to adulthood. Many youth ministry paradigms err by oversimplifying this complex transitional period, reducing student ministry down to an amped-up children’s ministry or a watered-down adult ministry experience. Consequently, the experts tell us, somewhere between 70%-80% of all youth ministry students will stop attending church within their freshman year in college.

When I became a youth pastor 16 years ago, I chased after the youth ministry paradigm designed to be as relevant as possible. I got students to love me and the church, but when they left our ministry for college, they were sadly unprepared and woefully ignorant of who Jesus is. When I checked on my first group of graduating seniors during their college years, they had all but stopped attending church. I knew that something had to change. By God’s grace, in my search for what brings about a lifelong faith, I re-discovered the goodness of the gospel of grace. You see, only when students truly taste the life-changing grace of Christ can they be confidently sent out from your youth ministry, ready to make an impact for the kingdom.

Whether you’re looking to start a gospel-centered youth ministry or are a parent looking for one for your kids, these 3 paradigm shifts are essential for evaluating whether or not a youth ministry is truly modeling a grace-filled, gospel-centered, Bible-saturated community that can disciple teenagers to a lifelong faith.

1. From gospel-presentation to gospel-centrality.

Many churches and youth ministries preach the gospel. After all, it’s the invitation to eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. But there’s a difference between a gospel that is preached, and a gospel that is central to everything the ministry does. Does the gospel truly inform the discipleship pathway of the youth ministry? Are students being trained in gospel principles and not just moralism? Is the culture of the youth ministry one of grace and humility or one of performance and just-do-better-isms?

2.From Bible-referenced to Bible-saturated.

Many churches and youth ministries believe the Bible to be God’s Word. But when it comes to how they practice ministry, God’s Word is peripheral to what is trendy and what appears to work. But a ministry built on pragmatism will simply teach our students that when the Christian faith stops “working”, then it’s time to abandon it. Only a Bible-saturated ministry can show teenagers the life-changing, authoritative power of God’s Word. We mustn’t buy into the ministry myth that students who are expected to understand physics and trigonometry at school cannot understand the Old and New Testaments at church.

3.From parent-distanced to parent-partnering.

Many churches will say that parents are crucial for discipling teenagers. But their youth ministry cultures end up communicating the opposite when other generations of the church are not involved in discipling the young church. Without a healthy plan in place for incorporating parent and grandparent volunteers, youth ministry will remain siloed apart from the church body. Most importantly, students will miss out on the most faith-shaping influences of their lives when their parents are cut out of the church discipleship process.

Where can student ministry leaders and parents learn how to make these paradigm shifts possible? For the last decade, Rooted Ministry has been guiding student ministers, volunteers, and parents through its blog, conferences, podcasts, and regional gatherings. You can also learn more at Rooted Reservoir, a new online youth ministry training and youth Bible study curriculum platform designed to help church leaders walk through these paradigms. Take advantage of a $20 discount by using promo code CHALLIES. Come to RootedMinistry.com to join a cohort of like-minded youth workers and parents across the country.