Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

On the outside basketball court, just down the road from where we live, we spent time as a family helping our eldest daughter with her bike riding. For a few hours we were focussed on helping her with her coordination, pedalling, steering, and balance as she learnt to ride a bike without training wheels.

Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

It quickly became clear that this was the right time to do such an activity; she soon became a duck to water and was riding around too fast and confidently for her parents liking. At times she was overconfident, which resulted in a couple of crashes. But generally, she moved from training wheels to the two-wheeler without much trouble. It’s now time to keep the practice going so she continues to grow in confidence and skill.

If you’re involved in youth ministry I wonder whether it’s time for you to take the training wheels off?

What’s that mean, you ask?

Perhaps the following points might help that.

People Over Program

Starting out in youth ministry finds all leaders more concerned about the program than the people coming to said program. Every rookie leader I have seen is more worried and anxious about pulling together a good program than they are in building relationships with those in attendance.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning the ropes about how to put together and run some games, write and deliver a talk, lead a discussion group, understand the flow of the night, and be involved in set up and pack up are all important parts of youth ministry. It is natural, and far easier, to learn the skills that are associated with those kind of tasks than it is to learn the art of conversation and care. It’s far easier to deal with these task-orientated responsibilities than being intentional about relationship building.

A leader who takes their training wheels off will be one who begins to focus more on people over the program. They understand the relational connections with those who come along far outweigh whatever activities are happening on a particular night. Soon enough the programmatic nature of the ministry takes care of itself and conversations with leaders, parents, and students become the priority.

Character Over Competence

This, in reality, is a must at any stage.

From a personal point of view, this is the idea of working on one’s character over working on one’s competency. Competency can include all the planning and organisation ability, relational nature, program tasks, idea generation, and even leadership skills. Yet, if the character of the person is not something you want modelled by others then it is probably best to reassess the situation.

Someone who is taking the training wheels off in this regard will be intentional about their growth in character. In Galatians 5 we read a list of character traits, known as the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’, which are more worthy to be working on than any particular skill and ability. These include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Other character-forming virtues include, truthfulness, humility, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and the like. It is these things that we seek to work on, be intentional about, and realise they all take a long time to grow within us.

At the end of the day, character trumps everything.

Initiative Over Instruction

So you’ve been involved in your church’s youth ministry for a while. You build relationships. You can run a good game. You can do a talk. What’s the next step?

Taking initiative.

And this isn’t just doing those things above without thinking, or seeing the need to do more of these things and going for it. While that’s great, and it is an example of taking initiative, there are other areas to begin to explore.

Taking initiative might look like:

  • beginning to think about how you can catch up with the one or two students after school.
  • sending a text or two during the week to encourage someone from the group.
  • asking a parent how you can pray for them and the family this coming week.
  • sharing a bible verse or thought to someone who God puts on your heart.
  • vacuuming the floor after the youth night is over without being asked.
  • getting to the event early and making sure you’re setting up and prepared.
  • writing an encouraging card to someone who you think needs it this week.
  • engaging with the strategy, vision, and big picture of how the youth ministry services others and the wider church.

Initiative is doing those things that you know are worthwhile and important without being asked. And while initiative includes doing all the tasks required to pull off a great youth event, it is again centred on people. It is beginning to think and act in a way that actually ministers to people, not just performing a task.

I wonder how you operate? Do you still have your training wheels on?

Is it time to take them off?

God’s Love Expressed: Through Our Love For One-Another

In the passage 1 John 4:7-21 the beginning and the end command us to love one-another.

It’s like a love one-another sandwich.

In v7-8 it reads,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

And v21 says,

“And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.”

Whether there is an issue within the churches John is writing to, I’m not sure. But he certainly makes it clear that loving one-another in an important part of what it means to be in community together.

Because love has come from God we are to love one-another.

To love one-another is an expression of what it means to love God; a visible expression of God being a God of love.

God's Love Expressed Through Our Love For One-Another

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find churches who have within their history periods of time where loving one-another is lacking.

But a church devoid of love is like a tap without water.

A church devoid of love is like a football team without players.

A church devoid of love is like an orchestra without its conductor.

A church devoid of love is like cushion without stuffing.

A church devoid of love is like a car tyre without air.

A church without love is an unmitigated disaster.

And I wonder whether John would suggest they are really a church at all.

In his book, ‘The Compelling Community’, Mark Dever writes,

“To follow Christ is to love other Christians…Love between believers isn’t a sign of maturity; it’s a sign of saving faith.” (Dever, 52)

And John seems to suggest this here in our passage. The church, when loving one-another, show they are people who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, acknowledge his saving grace, and understand his atoning sacrifice for sin.

We may know these truths individually and personally. But, we should also see and know it together as a community, as a church.

Love between believers is the sign of a faith that is grounded in Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

In the same book, Dever says,

“Our greatest confirmation of the gospel is the community of the local church. Therefore, our best strategy for reaching the world is to fan that community into a raging inferno of supernatural witness that will be far more attractive than any adjustment to our music, small groups, or sermons could ever be.” (Dever, 192)

The love of one-another within the local church is what is attractive to others. It is the love of one-another that stands out to visitors and non-believers. It feeds into the mission and evangelistic edge of the church that we are called to be part of.

As Jesus meets with his disciples for the last time before his death he says these words in John’s Gospel, 13:34-35,

““I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And in Romans 12:10, Paul writes,

“Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Out do one another in showing honour.”

Through the love we have for one-another people see the gospel worked out in practice as we build one-another up through love.

When a local church is going through hardship, significant conflict and disagreement, there will often be less people drawn to the church. The effect of a church lacking in love will mean that there are less new people coming along and less people turning to Christ. On the other hand, when a church displays love for one-another the love of Christ is displayed for all to see. It can be seen and felt within the church itself and draws people in.

It is through our love for one-another in our church that expresses the love God has for us.

In my previous blog post I started by talking about the movie Frozen. How Anna can only be saved by an expression of true love.

We too can only be saved by an expression of true love. This expression of true love is God sending his Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Through the cross God expresses his saving love for us. And building on this, we too can be part of God expressing his love for others by the way we love one-another in our church.

11 Things: Fixing People vs God’s Grace

I walk into church.

I know what to expect. I’ve been to plenty of churches and services before.

I’ve been a Pastor’s kid. I’ve been a volunteer. I’ve spoken up the front. I’ve been on staff. I’ve been part of committees and organising groups.

I know church culture like I know how to drive a car. I know what the people are doing up the front.

I know most of the songs. I know the typical Baptist liturgy, the three-song sandwich.

I’ve sat through plenty of prayers. I’ve let the bowl pass plenty of times. I’ve taken the bread and the juice regularly. I’ve listened to plenty of people’s stories. I’ve heard sermon after sermon after sermon.

I know what to expect on a Sunday morning.

But what I didn’t expect was that feeling of being more burdened when I walked out of the service than when I walked in.

That surprised me.

For a few months, having recently finished up my position as Youth and Young Adults Pastor, I found myself confused.

I thought going to church would now be easier. There’d be no pressure, there’d be no one watching, there’d be no one expecting anything of me. I could sit, I could listen, I could let it all wash over me as I reflected and worshipped God.

But, there I sat. I sat hearing those prayers, listening to the songs, concentrating on the sermon, and participating in the gathering. Yet, the more I did this the worse I felt, the more the burdens piled up on my already heavy shoulders.

As I’ve reflected on this experience there are no doubt plenty of reasons for feeling like this. The loss of previous identity, the over-cynical nature of my mind, the attitude of my heart toward church. I also realised that what I was looking for was grace, hope, and a sense of God’s love for me personally.

Instead, I was given proof-texted lifehacks for a healthy life. I was being fed fast-food that seemed to taste nice at the time but became ugly as time went on.

For a season, I sensed layers and layers of guilt being added to me when walking out of a church service. I was guilty about my relationship with Jesus. I was guilty about my actions and attitudes toward those around me. I was guilty about my parenting. I was guilty about my spending habits. I was guilty about my responsibilities.

I came out feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. That all I needed to do to be living the Christian life was to do more of whatever was taught that particular week. Rather than finding the alleviation of guilt, shame, and sin that the worship of God through the Spirit brings I was finding my already full to-do-list was being added to.

As I look back on my own brief ministry and church experience I realise that little time is spent providing opportunities of being fed God’s grace.

The church service is often a place where people come once a week, if you’re lucky, and seek to hear God through his Word with his people. Yet, I know I have been guilty of things, of just giving fast-food topped with ice-cream for dessert. Often we give a short-term fix to long-term problems. We give little balm for their hurts and pain, providing cheap Band-Aids that soon lose their stick.

In youth ministry we often plough ahead with the program. We outline what’s coming up and hit the main topics of relationships, sex, social media, and other ‘youth culture’ issues. We often bring the fun, the excitement and the loud. But it is also about time we as Youth Pastors thought about bringing the grace.

How do we provide spaces for young people, and those in our church, to understand that God is a God of grace?

We’re all very good at giving advice and providing correction if something doesn’t go the way we think is right.

We’re all very quick to help with the practical but often unwilling to sit with the pained.

The disruptive kid at youth group. The youth leader who always brings the negative. The parent who is always on your back. Each needs grace.

People are not only sinners but they are sufferers too. They are enduring life and busyness and all that comes with the daily tasks of living. It’s a wonder so many make it into church on a Sunday, or to youth group on a Friday as it is!

Let’s not attempt to fix people. Let’s provide spaces where God can work his grace.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part nine of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six, part seven and part eight here.