What is the youth in ministry “affinity sphere?”
When it comes to spiritual formation of the next generations, the Church is struggling to know how to respond to their unique needs and challenges. We’re especially perplexed how to sync the models and methods of youth ministry from the recent past with the dreams and desires young people express today. This “me” generation as they have been defined are really naturally collaborative, talented, flexible, and open-minded. They hate conflict, avoid complainers, and long for community. These are encouraging traits that pave a promising way forward, if they are leveraged. But the programs and practices of yesterday’s youth work doesn’t begin to give them a voice or create the value they long for as co-equals and co-laborers in the cause of Jesus Christ. So it’s time for a redefinition of youth ministry, which can be accomplished by inserting a simple preposition between the words youth and ministry—the two-letters—in. The addition of this word is the first step for changing our mindset and moving the congregations closer to understanding and accepting God’s call on this generation who are desperate for a sense of identity only found in Jesus and embodied by his Church. Youth in ministry qualifies the need the Church has for training young people to serve and lead the cause of Jesus Christ today—not someday. It also quantifies the results and provides meaningful and measurable outcomes for the collaborative efforts of young people taking ownership for their faith and responsibility for their lives, which exactly what they seek today. If young people aren’t given the chance to lead express their faith in Jesus by taking action for the issues and causes God breaks their heart with today, they will continue to leave the church and be gone from our gatherings tomorrow. We must start letting God change our hearts and minds about his plans and purposes for young people and that begins by simply giving youth work a new name—youth in ministry.
What is the impact/potential/significance of youth in ministry across our culture?
A quick review of revivalist history gives a glimpse of the results of what happens when young people are given permission to put their faith in action. Nearly every major move of God that spark transformation in the Church and throughout society has two common factors: 1. They began with copious amounts of prayer. 2. They were led by young people who had the freedom to put their faith to work. My favorite example of the impact youth in ministry can have on the world begins with Jesus. I subscribe to the historical, biblical, and rabbinical argument that Jesus’ disciples were young people in their teens and early twenties, not middle-age men. And if this point of view is accurate (and I’d argue fervently that it is), the results speak for themselves. At a time in history when the world needed a new way forward, Jesus Christ entered the picture and recruited, trained, and released young people for mission and ministry. His discipleship plan was a process of learning by doing. He modeled, mentored and mobilized his young protégés who had the freedom for three and a half years to discover, develop, and demonstrate their faith in real and tangible ways. Basically, he trained his replacements and empowered them to flesh out the Gospel in words and in actions. The result was the birth of the Church. In our desperate world today, we must create avenue for young people to serve and lead so we can experience spiritual rebirth and regeneration—generation after generation. And this begins by producing youth in ministry.
Since 2005, I’ve been humbled to give leadership to Endeavor Ministries (formerly Christian Endeavor International or CE). Endeavor was the first youth movement that swept the globe; it is credited as the father of and forerunner to what has been called youth ministry. But it was birthed by a pastor, Dr. Francis Clark, who made this statement in 1881, “Never do anything for young people in the Church they can learn to do themselves.” This simple mindset can be boiled down to three words—youth in ministry. Fifty-seven teens were trained and turned lose with the same power of the Holy Spirit Jesus’ gave his disciples, and within only a few short years there were 67,000 Endeavor Societies with more than 4,000,000 young people. It was a youth-led, adult-mentored movement of youth, by youth, and for youth the encompassed the globe. I’m suggesting—no urging—the Church to return to the roots of youth ministry and embrace the mindset that God used to release the potential of that generation in our desperate world once again. Youth in ministry changed congregations and cultures, so why would we not expect the same results.
How is the message of God’s love in and through Christ being expressed in the youth in ministry sphere?
For the last few years at Endeavor, we have been investigating the “secret sauce” that God used to launch the youth in ministry movement through CE. We reviewed the practices and principles Dr. Clark taught teens and congregational leaders that led to a global groundswell of youth in ministry. Amazingly, the entire manual for this movement was a two-page document—that’s it. Young people were free to follow the guidance of the early Church and their playbook found in Acts 2:42-47: meet together, care for each other, learn from each other, encounter God in your daily life, and something together to put your faith in action.
In late 2015, we launched a new resource modeled after that mindset called, WAVES (wavesinaction.com). We recruited twelve young people in their teens and twenties from across the globe and charged them with producing a resource their generation could use to create youth-led, adult-mentored small groups of youth in ministry. We defined the outcomes of the resource; they designed the tools. They had permission to risk failure to develop something “brand new” using the proven practices and principles of the past. The result less than one year later is that more that 10,000 young people in 13 countries have started WAVES groups within churches, in communities, and on campuses. And we’re still just in the beta phase of this experiment.
It is so exciting to see young people use their voice to accomplish a vision God has given them today. From ages 13-23, WAVES groups are choosing causes based up what breaks their heart. They’re meeting together regularly to pray and study God’s Word (by using a storying method). They’re finding mentors to help them with the tough questions (although mentors don’t lead—they only support). From rural and remote communities to urban centers, youth in ministry are experience Jesus working and through their lives to transform their world with the love of God. They sharing their faith and taking action to make the message of Jesus real and relevant in a hurting planet in need of healing that can only come from heaven.
We feel God’s favor on WAVES and the growing youth in ministry movement. Here’s one example. On October 21, there’s a new movie being released in the United States called, I’m Not Ashamed. It’s the story of Rachel Joy Scott and the tragedy that took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999. This movie is the most powerful Christ-centered film I’ve ever seen. It’s real, raw, and redemptive, and it will have an incredible impact on young people. At the end of the film, audiences will be prompted to respond by the final screen that says, “If you want to impact the world like Rachel, text CHANGE to 95577.” Those multitude of texts messages will be received by Endeavor exclusively, and we provide viewers with the chance to receive Jesus and download my newest book called, Begin21: Your First 21 Steps with Jesus. For those who already know Christ and are ready to make a difference with their lives, they will be able to download the free WAVES mobile app, which allows them to start a WAVES group of their own right now. This opportunity to resource hundreds of thousands of hungry, emerging young leaders is an incredible blessing God has provided. We are praying it is a catalyst for the youth in ministry movement, so we’re busy producing the materials churches will need to facilitate the change coming soon to their youth programs as well
How can an individual involved in/identifies with the youth in ministry affinity sphere become involved in LOVE202
One of the tools we provide young people and one of the most exciting new resources we have for them is a booklet called, Tell21 (tell21.com). It’s a 21-day devotional that teaches teens the prayer, care, share model of peer-to-peer evangelism which is the heartbeat of Love2020. By simply teaching teens to live this lifestyle and tell the story of what Jesus is doing in their life, we are able to empower them to reach their friends for Christ and be part of the mission of Love2020 every day. If ministries are looking for a way to engage young people in reaching the nation with the life-giving message of Jesus, Tell21 would accomplish this goal.
What is the path a congregation or ministry organization can take to connect to the youth in ministry affinity sphere?
Endeavor provides resources for congregations and ministries to take small but significant steps for changing their philosophy of youth work to youth in ministry and embracing God’s call on this generation as co-workers in the cause of Christ. The greatest way to get started is through an intergenerational prayer campaign that connects young and old in a three-week program to pray with youth. This is the most effective means of building a firm foundation for the future of their church with this new mindset. We offer another resource called, Pray21(pray21.com) to help achieve this result. This simple booklet comes with a leader’s guide for churches to implement. We are so humbled to say that so far God has allowed this resource to be used by over 500,000 young people in 80+ countries, and church leaders are reporting astounding results for this ready-to-use tool in the lives of young people and in the lives of adult prayer partners who are both better understanding their identity in Jesus Christ and accepting God’s call on this generation.
- Contact info …
Timothy Eldred, CEO
P.O. Box 377
Edmore, MI 48829
Father God, I pray that the Church would hear your heartbeat for this generation of young people who are desperate for higher expectations and greater accountability. May we give them a safe space and place to discover you mission for this lives today—not someday. May we see them through your eyes and provide environments where you can release their potential to understand how significant they are in your mission of redeeming people and restoring this planet to your original purpose until your son Jesus returns to establish your permanent kingdom. I pray that you would change our mindset to embrace youth in ministry as the way the Body of Christ does youth work again. And may we see an awaking among empowered youth equipped with the Gospel to reach their global peers with your life-transforming word. In Jesus name, Amen.