Years ago when I had hair and was in youth group, I learned something important about youth ministry. Our youth pastor asked me to be part of the worship team, which was entirely student led. This opportunity gave me the chance to not only be engaged with ministry to other students, but also to learn how to lead. Today, I am older and have no hair, but I’ve worked hard to put that lesson into practice with the youth ministry I have the privilege of serving with.
My role as a pastor is to prepare students to serve now, but also to prepare them for the long term when it comes to ministry. In the present, I want to create a student ministry that is led by students as much as possible. For the long term, I want to equip and raise up students as leaders so that when they leave our youth ministry they are already in a position as young women and men who have been trained up to serve and use their gifts well. Below are a few areas in particular where we have begun to give students control, so that they can develop as leaders and begin to own this ministry. These ideas are used during our mid-week service, and hopefully can give you some ideas (if you need any).
- Pre-service – Our Wednesday evening service begins at 6:30, but from 6-6:30, we have a time for students and adult leaders to simply hang out and chat. Depending on the time of year, we either serve $1 milkshakes or $1 hot chocolate. The great thing about this time is that a team of students have come together to make it happen. They prepare the menu each week, come early to set up the kitchen, collect money, make the treat, and then clean up at the end. This has been an awesome ministry because it creates a comfortable environment for relationships to happen and also allows our “milkshake crew” to use their gifts, work together as a team, and grow as servant leaders.
- Welcome/Opening Prayer/Closing Prayer – For years, I or another leader have done a welcome and opening prayer to begin our time together. This is nice, but recently we’ve started using students to welcome students. They also begin our evening with a prayer and as simple as this sounds, it’s been great watching new students and visitors immediately connect simply by seeing a fellow student making them feel welcome. The same thing happens at the end of the service. The last voice they hear is a student closing in prayer. There are so many benefits to having students pray. Their prayers are powerful and passionate and when one student prays, it encourages other students that praying out loud isn’t something to be afraid of.
- Worship – This is an area that many youth ministries already have students involved with, so we certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel here. We have a team of 9 students who are involved with our worship team. We have 3 who are training as worship leaders, 1 who is working as an overall worship coordinator, and 5 who are growing as musicians. Week to week, our 3 leaders rotate taking turns preparing the set, organizing practice, preparing Scripture to share, and then leading us in worship during the service. Our worship coordinator helps keep things on track, communicates regularly with our worship team, and makes sure anything they need gets to me and vice versa. By setting up our worship team this way, we are raising students up to lead, organize, and serve in ministry. Our students have begun engaging more with singing and celebrating Jesus as they are led by fellow students.
- Teaching – A new area of ministry our students are leading and serving in is teaching. I realized that students do an amazing job of paying attention when another student is sharing with them. As the primary teacher, what I’ve begun doing is involving a different student in the teaching process each week. We changed the set-up of our room and created a unique teaching space on our stage that looks like the Leadership Lab set-up that you can see each year at the National Youth Worker’s Conference. This allows me to do more of a conversational style teaching that mixes stories and thoughts from Scripture along with stories and thoughts from the student that tie into the overall message for that evening. It’s been beautiful because the student who is sharing learns the process of how to prayerfully prepare and craft a message and then sees the power of God’s word go out from them to other students. Students who hear this message are responding so much more since they can relate to the situation and experiences of a peer. I’ve realized that teaching this way with a student is way more effective than me standing on stage by myself for 20 minutes. Overall, the student who teaches is growing as a leader and the students who are listening gain more from the teaching time.
Personally, I feel that students don’t want to come to our time together to simply be consumers; they want to be involved, using their gifts and talents to serve and lead. They want to shape the ministry so that it’s their youth ministry. It’s beautiful when, as a pastor, I can step back and let the students run with things, when they own the ministry, because those are the times I’ve seen Jesus at work the most.
Adam Ansel is a youth pastor in Yankton, South Dakota and has served on the mission field in East Africa. He’s been in ministry for over 15 years, and in his spare time enjoys disc golf and a good cup of coffee. You can connect with Adam on INSTAGRAM and TWITTER @adamansel and FACEBOOK @adamwansel.