There is a sense of expectancy when the young people meet, as Christ is recognised as immanent and desiring intimacy.
Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Many of you will be all too familiar with the Great Commission. In the final verses of Matthew’s Gospel, before ascending into heaven, Jesus charged his followers with the imperative to “go make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Your familiarity with this important passage may rightly have led you to see disciple-making as the underlying purpose of your entire ministry.
Yet I wonder if you have ever paused to consider the words uttered by Jesus in the very next verse where He says “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Rather than a casual “sign off”, perhaps these words were the most important words uttered as part of the Great Commission Why? Because ministry is not something Jesus leaves us to do. It is something we do with a sense of His presence within us and working through us.
When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) the believers were filled with a profound sense of Christ’s presence within them. That same Jesus whom they had spent the last three years with now lived in them through His Spirit and not surprisingly, a new Christ-consciousness transformed them from a frightened band of believers to disciples who could not stop talking about Him even when threatened (Acts 4:19,20).
In the same way, a Christ-conscious youth ministry has the potential to profoundly transform your young people when they meet together. If they gather with a sense of expectancy believing that Christ is immanent (close) and that He desires intimacy (closeness) with them, then change will occur.
The first step in developing this Christ-consciousness is simply to believe He is present by faith. When you gather, acknowledge His presence either through prayer or by simply stating it as fact while you worship or lead your group.
Change occurs when young people meet with a conscious sense of Christ’s presence.
Don’t try to manufacture or manipulate a sense of His presence by doing anything designed to help young people “feel” him. His presence is a real and living reality whether it is evident to us or not.
I’ve heard of small groups that like to leave an empty chair in their circle as a reminder that Jesus is sitting with them as they read and reflect on Scripture and pray for each other. While that might sound a little odd the principle is important: Christ is present.
Every week before our youth meeting I would gather our leaders together for prayer and more often than not I would remind them that Jesus is going to be present in their small group and they must lead with this awareness, knowing that He desires to be more than a passive observer.
Of course, not every young person attending their group would be mindful of this, so it was up to them to cultivate an awareness of His presence and a sense of expectancy that He wanted to do as He promised: comforting (John 14:26), convicting (John 6:48) and leading people into an understanding of Truth (John 16:13).
Again, this is not hype or positive thinking; it is simple faith. When you convey this to your leaders, avoid the subtle and unspoken sense that “tonight is just another night”. Encourage them to look for evidence of God is at work and, by faith, act on the prompting of His Spirit. What they say and do as they respond to this prompting may have a powerful impact on their whole group.
One Sunday morning I was leading a group of 11 and 12-year-olds in a Bible study about Paul and the change that had come over his life when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. We read this passage while considering what changes might occur in their lives over the coming years as teenagers.
While engaged in a somewhat superficial conversation I felt a prompting from the Spirit to stop and ask if anyone would like us to pray for them. After an uncomfortably long pause one young girl spoke up and said, “Yes, I think I want to become a Christian.” What followed was a powerful God-moment as others shared their experiences and questions with real honesty and depth. Without the help of the ever-present Christ, the moment would have been lost.
I’ve learnt through experience that when someone shares a need that it is best to stop and pray immediately for that one person. Focussed prayer for one person at a time can be powerful.
One night when leading a group of 15-year-old boys I asked if any would like us to pray for them. A few shared needs and we prayed for them one by one. Suddenly a boy who was attending the group for the first time and whose arm was bandaged and in a sling spoke up and said, “Yes, pray for my arm!” There was no indication that he expected to be healed. In fact, it seemed more like his request was a dare: let’s see what this God you all seem to believe in can do!
Nevertheless, some boys in the group started to pray enthusiastically for God to heal their friend. I began to pray too and as I did a thought came to mind: “Don’t just pray for his arm.”
I began to thank God for this boy declaring God’s love for him and His knowledge of all that was happening in his life. Other boys joined in and when we said, “Amen” and looked up, the boy’s arm was not healed but there were tears in his eyes. Christ’s presence had touched him and for a moment the boys sat in awed silence.
It won’t always be obvious to everyone, or even to you, that God is at work, as you consistently seek to develop a Christ-consciousness among your young people. Over time though you will see answers to prayer, moments of deep insight, and times during which young people experience His presence and a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
As this happens, you will notice a dynamic develop that surpasses the young people’s enjoyment at being together. Your youth ministry will be a place where they encounter God’s presence whether they recognise and acknowledge this or not. Newcomers will sense there is “something different” when you meet together and they see peers share openly what God has been doing in their lives and take steps of faith in response to His presence within.
Similarly, young people who are tempted to look for meaning and joy in other places soon realise that nowhere and nothing satisfies them the way Christ does. Regular evidence of God at work in their own life and the lives of others becomes a powerful means of keeping them within the faith.
CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS OF A CHRIST-CONSCIOUS YOUTH MINISTRY
- There is a sense of energy, excitement and expectancy when the young people gather together to worship, pray and discuss Scripture.
- Leaders and young people believe in faith that Christ is present when they gather together.
- Leaders cultivate an awareness of Christ’s presence and communicate this truth and awareness to the young people.
- There is an expectancy that Christ will be actively at work in the lives of young people as they meet together.
- Leaders pray before coming to meetings and can articulate what they expect God to do in each person’s life.
- Leaders seek to discern God’s voice and alter what they do and say accordingly as He directs.
- When an individual need becomes evident, time is spent praying for that person, with an openness to what God might be saying and doing.
- Young people share openly with each other what God has been doing in their lives.
- Young people are making regular confessions of faith and are growing in love and intimacy with God.
- Through regular attendance, young people can identify evidence of God being at work in their own life and the lives of others.