When I was young (and dinosaurs still walked the Earth according to my kids), our youth group planned and carried out our weekend retreats and all of our youth events. For several years we built and entered floats in the local parade to reach out to the community. Another youth group in our area put on a music festival with bands like the Newsboys coming. As I look back on that, I think, “Wow, that was kind of crazy that we did all of that!” Yes, our youth leaders helped with the legal and “adult” side of things that we couldn’t do, but they gave us a lot of responsibility. As a result, five of us are in full-time missions today
Fast forward to today, and it is difficult to get teenagers to show up for youth on Sunday mornings. As we consider today’s youth, how do we get them involved in God’s great mission to see every nation, tribe and tongue hear of His great love? It is an overwhelming task and we must seek God’s guidance to coach our youth to be then next generation of leaders. I don’t have the answers, but as I look back on things, there are a few things that stand out in my mind (I am sure there are many more):
Our youth leader never allowed us to refer to ourselves as teenagers. He told us that when we turn thirteen, we become adults. We may not always act like it or have the privileges of an adult, but we were adults. If we expect youth to act like immature kids, they will live up to that expectation all the time. Young adults are simply youth in preparation for adulthood.
At the beginning of each year, our youth leader would ask us, “What do you want to do this year?” We would suggest an activity and he would ask, “What day are you going? How will you get there? How much will it cost?” For each event, we decided where we would go, how we would get there, what we would do when we got there, etc.
My eldest daughter was sharing how the kids at her school were not motivated to participate in the plays, or fundraisers for their trips, etc. I asked her why she thought it was that way. She replied that if they could actually choose what play they did, or had a choice in what fundraisers they did, they would be more motivated to participate.
Our youth leader told us that if we are going to be leaders, we must learn how to think. We would have Bible debates on things like Christian rock, dancing, and capital punishment. If we want teenagers to be leaders, we have to train them to have a civil discourse as they think through the issues.
Not only do we need to teach teenagers to think about the issues, we must teach them to identify the primary assumptions that those issues are based upon. Every idea or belief is based on an assumption. What are those assumptions? Are they valid? They will certainly not be taught to think and evaluate assumptions in school, not even Christian school.
I remember having planning meetings and our youth leaders were not there. One of the parents of one of our members was shocked that it was just us youth there to plan. Our youth leader said,” If I can’t trust you to plan something on your own, how can you be the leaders of the future?”
If we are going to give our teenagers responsibility, we also need let them fail. I had my young daughter breaking eggs for me this morning, and I was getting frustrated because she was making a mess all over the counter. The Lord smote my heart on that- if I do not let her make a mess, she will never learn how to break an egg. If we do not give enough responsibility to fail, they will never learn how to lead. Scary, I know.
If we want to raise up the next generation of leaders for the mission field, we have to consider changing how we are coaching them to be leaders today. As the CEO of Chic-fil-a said, “Good workers are not found, they are trained.” We do not need to go looking for today’s leader youth, we must allow God to use us to train them.