Are You Called To Youth Ministry?
I remember the day that the Lord caused me to notice teenagers through new eyes. Before this day, I knew them to be loud and intimidating (at least to me). It was at a summer church activity, several years ago, an event called Street Reach that my older two boys were attending. They spent five nights at a school campus, giving Bible clubs (similar to VBS) Monday through Friday. Graham and Drew were the second day in, and Drew was involved in a wreck. I don’t remember all the details, but I knew I had a nervous son, and he needed his mom. Two days afterwards, they had a share-night, and he invited me to come; my friend’s daughter invited her to come as well.
We drove down to Street Reach, and attended their church service that night. After the service, they had another sharing, this time just with the students in our own youth group. (There were several youth groups there from around the United States.) As I sat and listened to all that God had done that week through them, how they had been stretched thin and forced out of their comfort zones so they could depend upon God, I remember thinking to myself, “I want to be a part of leading youth.”
The next week was kids camp, where I was a camp counselor. I had a sweet teenage girl as a co-counselor, and her friend was on the other side of our cabin. Through them, God was calling me more to this new thought that He planted in my mind. Later that week, while still at camp, a friend of mine approached me about helping in the youth department starting in August, which was a little less than a month away. I told her I would pray about it, and I did, but the answer was already clear: the Lord was leading me to this.
I remember thinking to myself for a long time, before all this happened, that I would never want to work with teenagers. I have, however, also learned never to say never, especially to God. That summer was the beginning of about six glorious years spent volunteering in the youth department at our church. I started out with one group, saw them graduate, and then moved on to a freshman group of girls. I walked with them their four years in high school, either helping lead in Bible fellowship classes, or, what was then, our Sunday night community group.
I no longer volunteer with teenagers, but I still know a lot of them in the youth area. Just today, at lunch after church, I said hello to them all by name as they walked by my table; later, one came and sat in my living room for an hour. After catching up I sent her home with her graduation gift. These wonderful young people made the biggest impact upon my life, and after working with them over the years, I have some thoughts about leading, with diligence, these amazing, influential people. I am in no way an expert, but the Lord has shown me things over these years spent with teenagers which I would like to share with you.
Guard Your Heart
The first and most important thing I have learned is that my heart must be fully involved and prepared.
Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.
To guard my heart means that I need to protect it from the world around me. I can guard it by spending time with God every single day in prayer, and in reading His word. When we read His word, we are changed. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” We are transformed when we read the word of God. If I don’t know that word, if I don’t study, memorize, write, and meditate on it, then I am not capable of leading a group of young disciples and teaching them how to do the same thing.
The second thing the Lord has shown me is that I need to extend mercy to others. This world is sinful, and time and again, people are going to let us down. Jesus was the only perfect One who ever walked on this earth. Knowing this, it shouldn’t be all that surprising when people mess up and do or say things they shouldn’t. Luke 6:36 reminds us to “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” James also addressed this in his book: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13) The Lord worked in my heart regarding this when I would start to feel frustrated with this age group.
Lead with Integrity
The last thing the Lord revealed to me in these years was that I needed to lead with integrity and diligence. If my own kids at home were running wild, then I would never have signed on for this type of volunteering. That wasn’t the case, thank the Lord, and all my own boys had good relationships with the Lord individually. My integrity was also crucial to leading. I love what Psalm 78:72 says about this.
He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands.
I knew that whatever persona I put forth to teenage girls needed to be truth. In other words, I needed not only to talk the talk, but I needed to walk the walk. That meant on Monday through Saturday, I needed to be same woman of God I was every Sunday. I learned quickly that when teenage girls look up to you, they harshly judge every area of your life. I knew that I would need to really be who I professed to be when I was with them.
My husband totally supported me in this, and pushed me to follow through and to be with them whenever I was able to be, provided I didn’t neglect our own sons. I feel fortunate in that, because without his support, I wouldn’t have been able to be as fully invested in this ministry as I wanted to be. I wasn’t always a perfect leader for these girls, but I gave it my best effort.
Most of the girls I led have now graduated and moved on, and I no longer see them. There are a few that I still see and talk with occasionally. One was just here today, in my home. I tried to keep the faith that whatever I talked with them about would be a seed planted in their heart. Even today, I pray that God would continue to put women in their lives who would disciple them along the way. That is all discipleship really is; you walk alongside them in their life. Listen to them, teach them whatever the Lord has shown you, and then give them applicable ways to go forward.
My most earnest prayer for all of them, and for my own sons is taken out of Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with your soul, and with all your strength.” I always pray this over any of the influential young ones the Lord gives me, and if you are one of them, know that I pray that for you.
My church pastor, Pastor Chuck says it simply: Love God, love people.
Dear Lord, thank You for Your Holy Word. Thank you for the things You have taught me in Your Word, and thank You for the privilege I have of sharing it with others. I pray that every young woman reading this would love You and serve You in whatever area you call them to serve. Thank You for loving us, and thank You for using us in ministry. When we feel that tug from the Holy Spirit, help us to walk forth in obedience to what You’re calling us to. I love You, Lord, and I ask that You would use these words to encourage, challenge, and inspire others to serve You in whatever capacity You call them. In Your precious and holy Name I pray, amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Goodwin is a wife, and mom to four (almost) grown sons. The Lord has called her to serving in several different ministries within her church home, some of which are Bible study and leading younger women, and helping lead worship on Sundays. During the week you can find her writing on her blog, Overflowing With Thanksgiving and encouraging others through her favorite social media outlet: Instagram. Follow along with her and be encouraged @jenlloydgoodwin.