In one sense, what we do as youth ministers is unique in the world of church ministry. Our job definitely includes some of the most fun - and perhaps, also, the most heartbreak.
But in another sense, our calling isn’t intrinsically different than that of any other minister. We are all called to shepherd the flock...it’s just that our flock is going through puberty and will eventually leave the confines of our specified fold when they graduate from junior high or senior high.
And perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but whatever our age, what all sheep need most is to be pointed to their True Shepherd, Christ Jesus the Lord. He is the one in whom we are filled, and he’s the one in whom the fullness of God is found (Col 2:9-10).
Not surprisingly then, according to Paul’s plea in Colossians 2:6-7, all Christians are called to “walk in [Jesus], rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
The the assumption Paul makes in this verse is that all Christians are being taught to walk in Jesus. The means by which we do this with the youth (as others have writtenmore extensively about, such as Brian Cosby) are nothing less than the means God gave all Christians: Scripture, true Christian fellowship, the sacraments, and prayer.
By faith the Spirit uses these means to graciously expose our sin, confirm our dependence on Jesus, and to remind us of our hope in forgiveness, redemption, and new creation.
Youth group provides one context within which to employ the means of grace in a targeted way to the youth. But the means of grace remain the practices that are to define our worship as the local church - both young and old, men and women together. As such, corporate worship remains an essential part--perhaps even the most important part--of our discipleship with the youth.
The beauty of corporate worship in the local congregation is that it provides the opportunity to weave together all the means of grace into one full-bodied experience in all our local diversity. In fellowship together we read, meditate on, and preach from Scripture; we pray together in thanksgiving, with confession, and for one another; and we celebrate the sacraments as members of God’s family.
To segregate our youth from corporate worship or somehow treat them as if they need something different than the rest of the congregation seems to deny the sufficiency of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the means He’s given to feed and protect his sheep.
Moreover, it implies that the youth are not yet full members of the family of God and must wait until they are older to fully participate in the ministries of the church. Yet the reality is that any who are in Christ--whatever the age--remain a full member in the family of God.
So may we, as youth ministers, continue to encourage, equip and enable our youth to fully join in the corporate worship of the local churches in which we serve. After all, the reality is that what the youth need is what we all need: more of Jesus.
Mark Howard is the Youth Director and Assistant to Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Covington, GA. Mark has a Masters in Theology from Wheaton College Graduate School.