Several months back my pastor and I discussed igniting an alternative service that would be geared toward a “college and careers” age-bracket, that was missional, and maybe even “emergent” in some ways. I called together a group of leaders from our church to help brainstorm this event and as the meeting went, it became obvious that we had overlooked the fact that we have a group of high school’ers in our church with whom we were doing nothing with.
We had someone who was the youth leader, but there were no youth gatherings (in part because the youth leader’s strengths laid elsewhere). Through a series of events I never would have predicted I have somehow become the new youth leader, and this past Saturday night we had our second service.
Before our first service I had contacted my old youth pastor seeking advice and direction. He replied with a strong, long and exhortational letter that I would do good to return to from time to time. One thing he said really stuck:
“Derek, always ask yourself … what do I want these teens to be doing when they are 25 – where do I want their spiritual life to end up when they are 30. Then … plan for THAT. Don’t plan for the moment (“Oh God, give me a game and a verse for tonight”). Do not be afraid to go deep with the group and squeeze them to go deep. Expect big things from them and challenge them to aspire. Never settle for mediocrity.”
“Where do I want their spiritual life to end up when they are 30?” That is the question I had on my mind when I went into this first service.
If you get a group of pastors together one of the anticipated conversation starters goes like this, “so, how many people attend your church?” I think that is the question people ask youth leaders too. My friend up in Chicago had a rather large youth group. He’s a great guy. He connects well. He’s funny. And what’s more, he played lots of games with the youth. LOTS. But when he decided go push the youth some. To bring them deeper and challenge their lives for Christ – for the world – he lost 90 percent of them.
Our little church – we average about 67 members including the kids! – was quite excited about having a functioning youth group. I received comments of encouragement and support from various members for weeks leading up to the first service, and the one thing everyone wanted to know after was “how many did you have?” The question has a ring of hope and fear. Hope that lots of kids will show up. Fear that few will.
I’ve been down this road before. Immediate success and God’s will was determined by numbers. I knew it. My church members knew it. Everyone knew it except Jesus. At the height of his short but popular career Jesus called his followers by way of a sacrificial message, and almost everyone split.
So, how many do I have? Eight. It’s a great number. If more come that will be great. But for right now eight seems to be just the right number. Because I’m not interested in building a community youth hangout. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with community youth hangouts, I think they’re great. But that’s not my goal or mission. I’m not interested in setting up apologetics classes either, to teach them how to war off JW’s, Mormon’s or Atheists. I am primarily concerned with making disciples.
I don’t want to give them head-knowledge, I want to instill within them world-shaking instincts. Head-knowledge won’t keep their spiritual lives intact when they are 30, first-nature kingdom building will. If they “get” the Kingdom message of Jesus and what that message means for them and for the world around them it will change everything.