When Chad Phelps candidates to be youth pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church he put together this philosophy statement.
Youth ministry is without a doubt one of the most significant aspects of the local church in the era in which we live. There are at least two primary reasons for this. First, families within the body Christ are understandably concerned with the aspects of ministry within the assembly that will frame the paradigm through which their young people will relate to them, their church, and ultimately to God. The second reason for the importance of youth ministry is the understanding that the youth of the church represent a great potential for growth and involvement in ministry, and that soon they will form the cornerstone of the church as it carries on its Great-Commission responsibility to evangelize the lost and to disciple believers.
Parental involvement is of utmost importance to the success of youth ministry within the local church. For those teens whose parents remain actively involved in the church, several important factors must be considered. These factors frame the paradigm through which the rest of this youth philosophy will be viewed. It is important to realize that every aspect of youth ministry should be framed against the backdrop of strong parental support and cooperation. Consider the following:
a. Parents, not youth leaders, are ultimately responsible for the discipleship and spiritual maturity of their children (Duet. 4:9-10; 11:18-19; Prov. 29:17; Eph. 6:4).
b. Youth leaders should work closely with parents in order to accomplish the common goal of Christ-like maturity.
c. Youth leaders should offer support to parental authority that is biblical in nature, seeking to “turn the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).
d. Youth leaders should seek to maintain strong, open lines of communication with parents, and vice-versa, in order for concerns to be shared freely and openly.
e. Intentional, regular meetings should be scheduled between the youth leaders and parents in order to foster an environment of open communication, keep parents in formed on issues that youth are facing, offer encouragement, and reiterate youth philosophy.
The above list is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but it forms the background against which the rest of this youth philosophy should be viewed. Successful youth ministry cannot take place without the cooperation of both parents and youth leaders.
Youth ministry is not unlike a marathon. Extensive training is involved and expected for success, mental foci must be pointed and disciplined, the process is long and grueling, but the reward can be exorbitantly greater than anything imagined. Opinions differ sharply within the church as to what makes up a truly successful youth ministry. Should success be evaluated based upon relationships? Should there be a threshold of numbers that is expected in order to be considered impactful? Should activities put forth an unavoidable attraction to the youth? What is the mind of God on this important issue? Sadly, many of these prevalent perspectives ignore the most basic and crucial aspect of youth ministry that must be understood. Youth ministry is a part of the body of Christ. As such, youth groups should be evaluated with the same care and concern with which Christians evaluate the local church itself. With this understanding in mind, the mission of the youth group should be “to evangelize the lost, to disciple believers, and to raise up a generation of passionate followers of Christ to the praise of His glory.”
Evangelization is crucial to the success of any ministry within the body of Christ. Christ’s earthly mission was consumed with the importance of sharing the gospel of the kingdom with those who knew him not. His admonition to his followers to make disciples of all nations rings in their hearts to this day (Matt. 28:19). True evangelization occurs when:
a. Opportunities for evangelism are actively sought by the evangelist. (again, Matt. 28:19)
b. The evangelist is able to expound gospel truths to the one being evangelized with accuracy and precision. (I Pet. 3:15)
c. The one being evangelized accepts the truths of the gospel as his own. (Rom. 10:13)
With these undeniable truths in mind, it is incumbent on those involved in youth ministry to:
a. Educate the youth regarding the truths of the gospel to the extent that they are able to readily expound its truths.
b. Provide opportunities for real-world evangelism that will assist in their discipleship and encourage them to freely share their faith.
Though today’s era places a significant emphasis on relationships, it is a trans-generational truth that real world discipleship takes place in the context of relationships. It is evident in all of Paul’s epistles that he had a great love for those with whom he was active in the process of discipleship (I Timothy, Corinthians, Titus, etc.). Such a love only takes place in the forming of relationships. In the context of a youth ministry, relationships open up doors through which the youth leader is able to actively pursue the heart-issues that become readily apparent in the lives of those that he cultivates relationships with. Effective discipleship of youths occurs, therefore, when:
a. The youth leader makes it a priority to gain the trust and love of those that God has called him to serve.
b. Love and trust, in turn, provide avenues through which the youth leader is able to disciple those that God has called him to serve to Christ-likeness.
Passionate followers of Christ are few and far between in the generation in which we live. When I speak of passionate followers of Christ, I am referring to those who see the glory of Christ and the blessedness of His calling as central to the design of their existence on this earth. We live in a day in age where being a Christian is sometimes considered “fashionable,” but rarely are the life-altering truths of the gospel actually personalized. Of course, Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-30) proves that such a mindset has always been present among those who desire to be followers of Christ. That said, it is the responsibility of the youth ministry to raise up a generation of genuine followers of Christ whose passion for His glory is the driving motivation behind every aspect of their existence. Raising up such a generation can be done through:
a. Thoroughly educating members of the youth group regarding the terms of the gospel and its calling on their lives (Luke 9:23).
b. Putting in place expectations that guide the hearts of the youth towards a desire to follow Christ passionately in the midst of a generation where such a mindset is not considered to be popular.
Having considered the mission of a theologically sound youth ministry, a vision of how such a ministry would be fleshed-out in the context of a large local church setting in New Hampshire will now be explored.
The vision is to “cultivate a local church youth ministry with the goal of seeing youths, aged 12 to 18, saved and discipled to become mature believers and passionate followers of Christ.”
With a population of adults who find success in worldly endeavors and little need for religion, there can be no doubt regarding the importance of a theologically sound youth ministry in the context of the local church.
Goals and Objectives
Goal 1: To see the salvation of youth in and around the surrounding area in which the youth group ministers.
Objective 1(a): The youth leader must initiate strategic evangelistic conversations with those in his community, aged 12-18.
It is incumbent upon the leader that God calls to ministry to be faithful in sharing the Word with the world (Acts 1:8). This involves gaining an understanding of the social lives of the youth within the community that the youth leader ministers to. Data can be collected by asking the youth in the youth group, and by seeking out public school contacts with a good understanding of the social dynamic of the community. After such data is accumulated, the youth leader should follow up by building relationships through societal events which will then provide a great opportunity for gospel contact.
Objective 1(b): The youth group must provide a context for pointed evangelistic outreaches to take place.
Though the youth leader is certainly responsible for sharing the gospel, it is also within his realm of responsibility to provide contexts within which the youth that he ministers to can share the gospel as well. This includes planning and implementing specific activities that are developed with the intention of providing an opportunity for those in his youth group to invite unsaved friends with the knowledge that they will be exposed to a clear gospel presentation from the Word of God.
Goal 2: To see the discipleship of youth taking place within the context of genuine, loving relationships.
Objective 2(a): The youth leader must live in such a manner that there is no doubt in the minds of his young people regarding his love for them.
Just as Paul left no doubt in the minds of those to whom he ministered regarding his love for them (Rom. 9), it is important for the youth leader to show those within his youth group his love for them. Becoming personally involved in the lives of those in the youth group is key. Surface-level relationships that don’t extend past Sunday and Wednesday to little to prove any sort of love to the youth. It is important to ask the youth questions regarding their lives, to express interest in even the most menial of details, and to stop everything in order to be a blessing when trials arise, no matter how small that they may seem. Unless true love is shown by the youth leader, true discipleship will not take place.
Objective 2(b): In a culture that seeks relational transparency, they youth leader must model appropriate transparency in his relationships with the youth.
Leadership becomes stale and stand-offish when transparency is nowhere to be found. Paul himself modeled transparency in his discourse regarding his “thorn in the flesh” (II Cor. 12). The youth need to realize that their leader is a real person, and that he in no way possesses perfection. That said, my emphasis on the appropriateness of that transparency was very much calculated. The youth leader must possess transparency, but not to the extent that those within his youth group lose all respect for him after hearing of some inappropriate sin that he is struggling with.
Objective 2(c): The youth leader must develop a discipleship program that will lead his youth in growth towards Christ-likeness.
I Corinthians 14:40 commands that all things be done “decently and in order” within the local church setting. This provides theological justification for avoiding disorganized and slip-shod discipleship programs with no clear intention. The best discipleship program is the systematic exegetical preaching and teaching of the Word of God, which falls within the realm of the youth leader’s responsibility. Only God’s Word provides the pathway to true spiritual discipleship and maturity (1 Pet. 2:2).
Goal 3: To see the youth develop a servant’s heart as they discover the servant’s heartbeat of the Christ that they follower.
Objective 3(a): The youth leader must emphasize the importance of service for Christ in his personal and public ministry.
In today’s era, there are many emphases that seek to grab at the attention of the youth. These can even include well-intended activities such as music, athletics, and academics. However, nothing should distract from the importance of following Christ (Phil. 3:14). The youth leader must strive to model a balance in his personal life, while maintaining a balance in the life of his youth group as well.
Objective 3(b): The youth leader must provide organized opportunities for the youth group to practice service to others.
These opportunities can include mission trips, community service days, as well as activities that are set aside to meet the physical needs of those who are in need of help within the body of Christ. Even as Jesus came to serve (Matt. 20:28), the youth group must recognize the importance of expending time and service at the expense of personal comfort and preference.
Goal 4: To see the youth develop an evangelistic zeal, and to take evangelistic ownership of the communities in which God has placed them to the praise of His glory.
Objective 4(a): The transparency of the youth leader’s life must indicate an evangelistic emphasis to the youth who come to know him well.
This objective needs little explanation, as it goes hand in hand with objective 1(a). I still thought, however, that it was important to reiterate here, as the youth will learn much from watching their leader practice what he preaches regarding evangelism.
Objective 4(b): The youth leader must ensure that the youth have an understanding of how to share their faith with others.
The first way that this is done is also through the systematic teaching and preaching of the Word of God (II Tim. 4:2). Secondly, the youth leader may choose to lead his youth group through an organized plan that has been developed with the purpose of discipling others to share their faith.
Objective 4(c): The youth leader must provide organized and strategic activities centered around the opportunity for the youth group to share the gospel.
These could be door-to-door campaigns, opportunities for passing out tracts, or other various opportunities that provide the youth with the chance to initiate and engage in gospel conversation.
Goal 5: To see the youth called into full-time Christian service as an extension of what they come to discover as the life of a true Christ-follower.
Objective 5(a): The youth leader must emphasize the importance of realizing that the life of Christ is a life of radical sacrifice unto His cause.
God’s call to His servants is not a call to a life of ease (I Cor. 11). Though it can become popular to emphasize the prosperity gospel which includes turning to Christ with the understanding that He will take care of all of your problems, such an understanding is not the true gospel. The youth leader must biblically entice the youth with a life of sacrifice for Christ, realizing that the heavenly prize is exponentially greater than any earthly reward (I John 3:2-3).
Objective 5(b): The youth leader must honor those who commit themselves to full-time Christian service, past and present.
It has often been said that “you get what you honor.” This is certainly true in youth work. The youth leader should be carefully diligent to make sure that he practices honor towards God’s servants. He should provide opportunities for missionaries and pastors to address the youth group. He should make much of the calling on the life of a young person when he/she feels the call to full-time ministry. It should be the goal of the youth leader to develop a culture of peer pressure that sees the call to the ministry as the highest call on a person’s life possible.
Objective 5(c): The youth leader must provide opportunities for learning and practicing to those who feel the call on their lives to full-time Christian service.
The pattern of the New Testament is a pattern of mentorship within the body of Christ (Titus 2). It is important for the youth leader to feed the desires of those in his youth group who feel called to the ministry by giving them opportunities to exercise their gifts. Youth ministry must involve growth towards maturity. He should also invest in their lives by taking them aside and talking to them about life in the ministry. He should encourage them to pursue a life of holiness and distinction unto God. The youth group should be a place where fledgling servants are encouraged in their pursuit of full-time Christian service.
There are many dynamics relevant to a healthy youth ministry. I do not claim to have the answers regarding all of them. I do, however, find comfort in the truths of the Word of God; my guidebook for service to the King of Kings.
 Attempting to model perfection can become easy to do, but the youth will see right through such a façade.
 Note: This is far from a popular philosophy in the day in age in which we live. While the American dream calls for a strong personal agenda, God’s word demands an even stronger “others” agenda.
 Some of these plans include “The Exchange” by Jeff Musgrave, NetCasters, and Evangelism Explosion. It also may be beneficial to develop a plan that is developed with the intent to strategically address the spiritual needs of a specific community.
 I am well aware of the kick-back on door-to-door campaigns in our society, and I can even sympathize with it. That said, I believe that they can still hold tremendous benefit to the youth as they work on sharing their faith with others.
 This may include tackling tough issues such as friendships, lifestyle choices, and entertainment selections. The youth must have the accurate understanding that a life of submission to Christ involves getting rid of things that he/she may even find pleasurable.