Young people understand the importance of mission and are engaged in service and evangelism.
But how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them? (Romans 10:14)
Central to the gospel message is the concept of mission. Jesus left His place of power and privilege to become one of us, serving those He met and giving His life as a ransom for all (Philippians 2:2-8, Mark 10:45). At His ascension He commissioned his followers, and by extension, us too, to continue His mission (Matthew 28:18-20).
In the book of Acts, we see the early church engaged in the four core activities of Bible study, fellowship, worship and prayer with the outcome being mission – 4,000 added to the church in one day (Acts 2:42-47).
Similarly, when a healthy youth ministry is functioning well in these four areas, mission should be the outcome and overflow. That’s not to say it occurs with no encouragement from the leaders but when a youth ministry is healthy the desire to be engaged in mission will take root among the young people as leaders promote its importance.
At this point, it is helpful here to clarify what we mean by mission. Generally, when we think of mission our minds go to overseas mission and that is certainly one aspect of a missions emphasis in a healthy youth ministry. But as we will see soon, missions encompasses so much more.
Perhaps the most powerful way to introduce young people to the importance of missions is for them to experience a cross-cultural mission trip. It can be a hugely valuable way of opening their eyes to needs abroad and may even be a catalyst in encouraging them to consider missions as a long term vocation.
While not all youth ministries will have the opportunity to go on an overseas mission trip but all are called to do what they can and to support and pray for those engaged in overseas missions.
One youth group I led held a weekly youth prayer meeting and there was one young man who took the responsibility to lead us in prayer for God’s mission in a different country every week. Quite aside from the direct impact of our prayers, this practice kept missions in focus for the young people attending.
A cross-cultural mission experience need not necessarily involve going overseas. I once took a van load of our young people from Palmerston North to Auckland for a week and we visited a range of places that took them outside of their own “culture”. They joined with groups who worked with the homeless, those addicted to drugs and alcohol and others who ministered to workers in the city’s red-light district. It had a huge impact on them.
Another mission trip we took saw us spending a week in a small town assisting the local church in reaching out to young people in their community. Again, this opportunity did so much to grow our own young people’s faith as they experienced God working through them to grow His kingdom.
Mission within youth ministry should also include encouragement to engage in evangelism without it becoming a chore or expectation we heap upon them. Like giving, it should be something they engage in with joy and enthusiasm. For this to occur, they need first be passionate about their faith, have an understanding of God’s heart for the lost and be devoted to praying for their unsaved friends.
What specifically evangelism entails may be varied. It can be verbally presenting an outline of the gospel to a friend or stranger, as well as responding to someone’s need and sharing God’s love through word and action.
For young people to do this well you will need to ensure they really understand the gospel and can share it simply. You will also want to teach them how to be good listeners and how to respond appropriately when opportunities to share present themselves.
Evangelism in youth ministry can also include planning appropriate events and encouraging young people to invite friends. Such “invite nights” can be stepping-stones into the life of a youth group. As those invited start to get to know the leaders and other young people some at least will be willing to take the next step and come to a youth Bible study night.
Another way of incorporating mission into your youth programme is to involve your young people in practical service projects that benefit members of the church or the wider community.
These projects challenge young people to adopt an other-centred mindset, where others’ needs take precedence over their own. They also impress upon them the concept of serving others as a way of serving Jesus (Matthew 25:40), expecting nothing in return.
We once ran a camp with the theme of “#Unselfie” during which young people were challenged to live counter-culturally to the prevailing self-centred approach common amongst their peers. From there we compiled a list of service projects from which small groups chose one they would focus on for a term.
We also set up a service team who planned a service project each term which we all worked on together, such as cleaning houses, gardening for people in the church, or fundraising for a charity. It was encouraging to see the enthusiasm with which the young people embraced these ideas and got involved.
The 40 hour famine weekend has always been a great opportunity for young people to sacrifice for the sake of others. Years ago, before the days of recycling, I took a group to the local rubbish dump where they experienced all the sights and smells of rotting garbage. That night we showed them a video of people living on an overseas rubbish dump and those who ministered to them. When the video finished there was silence as the reality of what they had just seen merged with the sights and smells they had experienced that day.
“How do you feel?” I asked them. One girl immediately gave a one-word answer that spoke for them all: “Sick!”
Another moving experience was collecting food for the local food bank. As our young people looked at the pile of non-perishables they had collected, one teenager commented, “That was soooo good what we did today!”
When you engage young people in mission through service they soon discover that doing something that benefits others is always more satisfying and fulfilling than doing something for themselves.
CHECKLIST: TEN CHARACTERISTICS OF A YOUTH MINISTRY WITH AN MISSIONAL FOCUS
- The youth leaders actively promote the importance of an outward focus.
- Young people are given opportunities to participate in a short-term cross-cultural mission experiences.
- Young people are made aware of the needs of those engaged in overseas missions and regularly pray for them.
- Young people engage in mission initiatives outside of their own youth group and even town, assisting other churches or youth groups in reaching out into their community.
- Young people are excited about their faith and willingly share it with others when the opportunity arises.
- Activities specifically designed to appeal to unbelievers with the intention of involving them in the life of the youth group are regularly held.
- Young people regularly pray for their friends and encourage them to attend youth activities.
- Young people receive instruction in peer evangelism including listening skills, asking good questions and knowing how to respond appropriately with Biblical truth.
- Young people undertake practical projects to serve others in the church and community.
- Young people raise money for charitable purposes.
CCCNZ Youth offers a coaching programme for key youth leaders and youth pastors who would like help in implementing these principles as well as learning leadership skills. Contact us if you are interested.