By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
Today, Christians know how important it is to instill biblical values and principles into the lives of their children, especially the youth. But with each generation, it gets more and more difficult to develop committed Christians, let alone mature disciples. Pastors have had to deal with many challenges over the years.
Make Spiritual Formation a Priority
With the addition of the pandemic and financial woes, pastors have had an even more difficult time making disciples. Each generation views the world in its own way, and pastors discipling Generation Z have a unique set of challenges. Despite these hardships, however, the mandate to make disciples remains the same. In order to share the Gospel with the next generation, teens must make church and spiritual growth a priority. But with so many other circumstances vying for their time and attention, how can youth ministers do an effective job of making disciples? Here are six hardships of youth ministry and how to overcome them:
1. Biblical Illiteracy
one of the greatest challenges is a general lack of bible knowledge. Despite all the Sunday school lessons, kids don’t know their Bible—even the ones who were raised in the church. They may know the basic Bible stories like Noah’s Ark and Joseph and his coat, but do they know the contexts in which they were written? Do they see God’s promises and grace through those stories? Do they know the emotions expressed in the laments of David’s Psalms or see the wisdom in Proverbs? Kids don’t have adequate bible literacy because they are not taking the time to read—or better yet study—the Word for themselves. We can only learn so much by hearing a story. It is better for them to read and apply it to their own unique situations.
Here’s a way to combat this. Create a small group with three youth members. Meet each week and study the Word together. This will provide accountability for the kids to read the Word each week and also give them some peer pressure to keep up with their peers. Make it fun by meeting in a coffee shop or favorite restaurant. Soon it will become less of a chore. Soon it will be the highlight of their week!
2. Spiritual Apathy
Many youth group members take their spiritual life for granted, knowing they can simply attend the next church service and think they are becoming disciples. But knowledge does not translate to transformation, only the application of that information.
Although there is no real solution to make kids care about developing disciples, discovering and incorporating their spiritual gifts will certainly help. This generation presents unique challenges. However, their need to be known deeply by others and God is a universal emotional need to tap into that by pinpointing the way God has uniquely wired them.
When our parents were young, church was the top priority, second to their job. Parents worked five days a week, then dedicated their Sunday mornings to church attendance. Each week parents and children piled into their car and attended church as a family. Parents took their children’s spiritual formation seriously and considered it a part of their job to mold their children’s young minds with the truth of Christianity. However, sports, school activities, and other commitments become the top priority, shoving church attendance down on the list of necessary ways to spend their time.
Change their priorities by changing your priorities. If the youth in your church don’t attend a local church regularly, encourage them to do so this week. If they are a bit uncomfortable going back to a church after a long absence or entering a church for the first time, don’t worry. As a pastor, do a series of teachings on how attending church regularly is so important. Teach them that it is a necessary part of their spiritual growth—and maturity. Drive the point home that it isn’t just a membership, it’s a family.
Apply incentives for kids to invite their friends. Offer a prize to the person who invites the largest number of kids in one single youth group meeting. Kids today need an incentive to reprioritize their lives above activities more fun or exciting.
4. The Need for Entertainment
Years ago, homes had one television and one radio centered in the living room, where parents and children watched family-themed programs together. Now, each child has his/her own TV or tablet to watch whatever program they want. This, along with a constant need to be on social media and the internet, and it’s no wonder kids don’t want to focus on their spiritual formation.
Who says bible reading and prayer have to be boring? Be creative! Brainstorm fun ways to communicate the Word of God to teens. Challenge them to make worship songs based on scripture or make knowing the scripture a game. Churches sometimes have quizzing, where kids learn the Word of God in an exercise called sword drills, where a host asks questions and the first person to find the scripture in the bible or shout out the correct answer wins a point. Put a creative spin on sword drills and see if the kids respond.
5. Lack of Discipline
With the proliferation of technology, kids’ attention spans are shorter than ever. Because of their reliance on a screen, images and scenes are always changing. Therefore, it becomes more difficult to listen to a monotone preacher or fill out a bible study worksheet. But discipline is a skill that can be learned.
Challenge them to set a timer for fifteen minutes and ask them to read their Bible. It can be at home, at school, or on the bus. Give them a journal and ask them to write down one new fact they learned from Scripture, or one idea they can apply to their lives. Do this once a week so they can discipline themselves to make time for the Word in their daily lives.
6. Lack of Commitment
Although church attendance is vital, the current church model is one of a consumeristic mindset. This gives kids the idea that church is about what they can get out of it rather than what they can give to it. The church is there to equip the saints to spread the Gospel message, not leave that work to a dedicated few as they do the job. It is everyone’s responsibility to bring the Gospel to the unreached, and no one demographic is more unreached than the youth.
Get the youth started at serving their church as young as possible. While there are certain tasks they cannot perform due to age and maturity (like preaching a sermon or teaching a class.) But they can serve in other ways. Can your church form a youth worship band? It’s a great way for kids to learn a musical instrument—or hone their singing skills—while learning new worship songs and spreading the gospel. They can also take it on the road and play for other churches. This not only gives them artistic skills they use in the future but also develops within them the necessity of meeting deadlines, working as a team, and meeting commitments. These are disciplines that kids need to become mature adults—and Christians.
Youth ministry is more challenging than ever! But there is no challenge Jesus can’t solve. By thinking outside of the box and brainstorming creative ways to combat these challenges, youth ministers don‘t have to just survive in their ministries – they can thrive!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.