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spiritual_orphan

Who Spiritually Deepens the Adults who Lead Teenagers?

Even if you and I have never met, I know some things about you. You long to see teenagers love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength—and to love others as they love themselves. You long to see them value the glory of God above all things. You long to see them ready to live or die as they join majestic Christ in bringing His kingdom on earth.

The most powerful way to see those longings fulfilled is to spiritually transform parents. With few exceptions, children will become who their parents are today.

With few exceptions, children will become who their parents are today.

The second most powerful way to see those longings fulfilled is to give teenagers heart connections with adults who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength—who love others as they love themselves, who value the glory of God above all things, and who are ready to live or die as they join majestic Christ in bringing His kingdom on earth.

When I was in my twenties, I thought all adults who had leadership roles at church were mostly spiritually mature. I don’t believe that any more. I now believe many adults in leadership positions are not spiritually transformed and are not growing. I’m not despondent about that but just accept it as a fact of life. And I accept it as a challenge. If I want to see teenagers grow in Christ, I know I have to take intentional steps in that direction. If I want to see adult volunteers grow in Christ, I also have to take intentional steps in that direction.

I now believe many adults in leadership positions are not spiritually transformed and are not growing.

Paul told Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Following that same principle, you are to disciple adults so they will be prepared to disciple and lead teenagers.

Joining Christ in deepening adults takes time. It takes time to invest in them one-on-one, and it takes time to bring them together. Some youth ministers or discipleship pastors might say, “Well, that’s a nice idea, but I would never have the time to do those things.” That is like a fireman who is too busy to fight fires or a surgeon who is too busy to operate.

Spiritually alive and growing adults produce spiritually alive and growing teenagers. What is more important than that? Leaders who honestly do not have the minutes to invest in adults need to cut back on activities or need to allow teams to handle preparation for events.

Weekly, or at the very least, monthly gatherings of adult leaders are essential for consistent spiritual growth. A youth minister should prepare for these gatherings with the same care as a youth group meeting.

Spiritually alive and growing adults produce spiritually alive and growing teenagers.

The question is not, “How can I motivate these adults to get behind my activities in ways that will make me look more successful?” Instead, the primary question is, “How can God’s Spirit flow though me at this next meeting, leading to adults who have more of the aroma of Christ on their lives?”

Gatherings allow adults to go new places in prayer. That is why it breaks my heart when I hear meetings begin with, “Let me open with a quick prayer so we can get going.” Rather than serving as a meaningless ritual, prayer may well take a fourth or more of the meeting time. This allows you to show them how to offer prayers of pure adoration and praise and to create an atmosphere of grace that permits confession. And that provides time for heartfelt thanksgiving. And that allows space for intercession—praying for the coming of Christ’s kingdom, praying for teenagers by name, praying for the leaders’ families, and praying for one another.

Youth ministers are called and gifted to open Scripture as part of the spiritual transformation of teenagers. Youth ministers are called and gifted to do the same thing with adults. Preparing a talk or study for the adults ought to require the same care and prayer as one for the teenagers.

Preparing a talk or study for the adults ought to require the same care and prayer as one for the teenagers.

Your hopes and dreams for your teenagers will help you choose topics for the adults. Do you desire to see your teenagers enter the throne room of heaven at the break of day? Then guide the adults toward richer morning worship. Do you desire to see in your teenagers a heart for the nations? Then lead your adults more in that direction. Who the adults are is who the teenagers will be.

The youth ministers also can use gatherings as a time to build community among the leaders. As an expression of the body of Christ, this is a time for adults to enjoy one another, to laugh and cry together, to care for one another, and to gently nudge one another toward growth.

This does not always have to be at church. Allowing adults sometimes to enjoy a movie or an evening in someone’s home may be more valuable than yet another youth activity. Adults who have discovered authentic community with one another are likely to create that same community among the teenagers they disciple.

Adults who have discovered authentic community with one another are likely to create that same community among the teenagers they disciple.

Let me ask two questions:

  • Do you want one of your adults to connect with students only at church, or do you want that adult also to invest in students one-on-one?
  • Do you believe one-on-one time is powerful in terms of spiritual transformation?

I think I know your answers. The adults who have the most influence with teenagers are those who have the strongest heart connections with them. And the adults with the strongest heart connections are those who have invested time in single relationships. The same principle applies to your relationship with adults.

Do you believe disciplers tend to have deeper relationships with teenagers when they have been in their homes? Then be in the homes of the adults. Do you want adults to attend the games and recitals of their teenagers? Then offer to have lunch with adults or support their activities. Do you want adults to share a cup of coffee with a teenager who is in a hard place? Then invest one-on-one time with an adult going through a tough period.

Youth ministers impact adults during gatherings at church and in one-on-one time together. They also impact adults during special events. One of those events might be a retreat. You probably value youth retreats because they remove distractions, allow teenagers to hear God, and open up space for reflection and deep conversations about faith. Adults stand in great need of those same things. Occasionally, it may be more strategic to take just the adults on a retreat—knowing their future impact on the teenagers will not be the same.

Occasionally, it may be more strategic to take just the adults on a retreat—knowing their future impact on the teenagers will not be the same.

The principle is the same related to out-of-town conferences. Bringing home a van of adults whose hearts have been warmed may be the first step toward new spiritual life in the entire youth group.

Paul had it right. You invest in faithful men and women who, in turn, will disciple the next generation.

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Richard Ross

Richard Ross

Professor of Student Ministry.

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