Create A Youth Ministry Environment
By Dennis Miller • Church Development, Inc. • Edina, Minnesota
This is an excerpt from Changing Lives (a foundational resource as you lay out your Youth Ministry GAME PLAN) by Dennis Miller – one of the “gurus” of youth ministry. Dennis didn’t just write about these principles he trained hundreds of youth leaders personally to apply them. Dennis graduated to his heavenly home early in 2020. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.
By the end of this section, you will be able to create a five-stage environment for the Holy Spirit to work to accelerate His ministry in your students’ lives. This objective is beneficial to your ministry in the following four ways:
• You can work effectively with students at five different levels of commitment. By applying this objective you will be able to identify and stop doing unrelated activities or activities for activity’s sake.
• You will know with confidence the reasons why you do each youth activity. Some activities relate to all the different levels of a student’s commitment.
• You can develop a common direction and purpose for your ministry. Since every church is unique, programs must vary to meet the particular needs of each group. But the objectives do not vary. However, the objectives need to be applied differently in each church’s situation. This section will assist you in applying the objectives to your specific situation. You, the youth worker, are required to think for yourself and to make your own decisions.
• You are to serve, not be served. The efforts and programs are meant to serve youth. You will be able to identify if youth are being served.
The following environment chart is provided to help you visualize different segments of your program that will focus on different types of student commitment levels. Each box represents a different level of commitment from a lesser to greater student involvement and risk.
Decide to Change
The general purpose of the Change Level is to assist students who are willing to change spiritually. There are four basic objectives that must be accomplished in order to make the maximum impact on students at this level. These are as follows:
• To develop a profile of a changing student.
• To develop program options to facilitate change in students.
• To develop specific ways to challenge students to be involved in various Change Level groups.
• To plan and carry out events to help students be willing to learn new truths.
Defining Changing Students
The students participating in Change Level activities must be willing to decide to change spiritually. They are learning about, committed to, and using basic spiritual truths in their lives. They must make knowledgeable decisions to be involved in their own change and development. They must agree to three minimal commitments: to attend weekly meetings regularly, to study and apply, and to explain to others their basic desire to allow God to use the activities to improve their relationship with God. These commitments will help a leader measure a student’s willingness to be involved.
There is nothing more discouraging than trying to teach students who haven’t decided if they want to change. Students and staff will be frustrated if they assume that students, who are committed to come and listen, are also interested in and willing to change. Oddly enough, very few of us figure out if a student has made this decision because we don’t ask.
Opportunities and Choices
When a leader gives students opportunities to make their own choices, the leader’s ability to minister is strengthened. Because students must make their own decisions, the responsibility for change and development is on the students. They make decisions on their own: it’s their own volition. This frees the leader to be a resource to students, not a spiritual policeman.
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FIRST OBJECTIVE: Develop the Profile of a Changing Student
The purpose of the youth worker and his staff is to help students develop their own evangelism and discipleship ministries. If we value this principle, our perspective will change some of the ways we do our ministries. We will need to know what qualities are necessary for students to develop who want to change.
Worth The Time
The time you invest in this process of defining character qualities will be well worth it. When we know how to define “a changing student” we can then evaluate how our activities relate to the discipleship process. If we want to develop changing students, who multiply God’s life in others, then the question is: “How do our activities help develop changing students?” This appears to be a very simple question. However, in writing a list of your activities and asking this question of each activity, you’ll find that it is not quite as simple as it seems on the surface.
As you encounter unanswered questions, God will supply the wisdom and perseverance you need. Defining a changing student is one of the most important challenges in this book. God wants to include you in his special unique plans for the students in your group, so think hard and rejoice as He leads you.
SECOND OBJECTIVE: Develop Program Options for Changing Students
There are different emphases and areas in the Change Level. We have chosen to discuss four possible groups in this level. However, each church could have a different number of change-oriented programs and groups. The number of the areas and groups will vary according to the youth leader’s vision, the leadership and the needs of students:
These are small or large group Bible studies based on topics of high interest to students: for example, “What the Bible Says about Dating.” The student agrees to attend group meetings for five to seven weeks to learn about and work on particular problems in his life. The purposes of these studies are:
• To present a Biblical perspective on felt needs.
• To lead students to choose to live by the basic truths in the Christian life.
• To encourage students to attend a Basic Group.
At the end of every Salt Study, each student is challenged to become involved in a Basic Group. The Salt Groups can meet the needs of students who do not feel ready to commit to a Basic Group. However, some students begin with Basic Groups and never attend Salt Studies.
These small or large group Bible studies are held for five consecutive weeks. They teach the basic truths of the Christian life. With each group, there are progressively increasing standards for involvement. After each five-week period, students are re-challenged to continue the change process by committing themselves to a slightly riskier involvement. This allows the student to frequently reflect on spiritual changes in his attitudes and actions. The four purposes of these studies are:
• To explain the foundational areas of the Christian life.
• To increase the student’s use of these truths in everyday life.
• To create a platform of successful change in order to build incentive for riskier spiritual change.
• To progressively create a desire to be individually discipled.
Usually, the spiritual development of students relates to one or more of the basic truths being taught. They are encouraged to identify personal needs for life change and begin change processes in particular areas. Students are not able to apply everything that is taught in these studies. If they are not ready or able to continue, they should be encouraged to become involved in another Salt Study until they are ready. After completing all of the five-week studies, the student should be challenged to join a Discipler Group.
Discipler Groups – Small Groups
These small groups, usually scheduled for ten weeks, focus on applying spiritual truths to one’s everyday experiences. The leader needs to build a close relationship with each student, forming a supportive bond. Because of the bond and family-type relationships, students may become progressively able to overcome barriers and claim the promises of God in their lives. The ten-week schedule enables the groups to measure actual lifestyle changes and reinforce previous changes in attitudes and actions.
During the group sessions, loving commitments are solidified. The students are held accountable as individuals and must be willing to be taught. They are challenged to help one another grow in their relationships with the Lord and other Christians. At the end of each ten-week commitment period, students reflect on the process according to their unique needs and goals. If appropriate, students are rechallenged to another ten-week involvement. Possible subject areas for the groups are:
• Learning To Use The Basics
• Learning Advanced Relationship Skills
• Learning To Influence Other Students
If a student does not desire to enter a new ten week Discipler Group, he is challenged to become involved in another area of the Change Level: for example, an Advanced Bible Study.
Advanced Bible Studies – Large Groups
These are intensive large group ten-week Bible studies for students committed to their own change and development. Not just anyone can attend. Involvement Level students would be uncomfortable with the commitment. Some elements of it are: aggressive Scripture memory, homework requirements, student teaching teams that share the responsibility for teaching each week’s lesson, individuals sharing their needs, successes and failures. After each ten-week segment, students are rechallenged to a Discipler Group. These studies can be used as places for students:
• To be challenged while Discipler Group leaders are being trained;
• To rethink their progress in the Discipler Group process;
• To provide a group for those who are unable to participate in Discipler Groups, but want to be in a group and are willing to work on family consent issues.
In conclusion, each ministry situation should choose the activities that are most needed and practical for their own circumstances, objectives and needs. They may or may not use the activities just discussed. Very likely other activities, like retreats, will be added. Just remember, that whatever works for you, do that!
THIRD OBJECTIVE: To Develop Challenges for Changing Students
How do you challenge a student to be committed at this level? Let’s say you are leading a Fifth Quarter Involvement activity. Near the end of the activity you stand and announce to the group: “Many of you have expressed an interest in knowing some more about what the Bible says about parents. This week we start an activity that will last three weeks. The name of this study is ‘Getting Along with Your Parents.’ How many of you have had trouble getting along with your parents? If you want to learn what the Bible says about getting along with parents, please come. We want you there, but there will be some personal risks if you come. Risks like discussing questions with your parents. If you are not ready, please don’t come.”
The students must then decide whether they are willing to risk a discussion with their parents in order to attend. The ones that will attend are already prepared to respond to the Holy Spirit’s work in them before the study starts.
Students Must Choose
By challenging in this way, you are appealing to students to make decisions about their willingness to grow and develop in their spiritual lives. But what about the students who say they are unwilling? You can just continue to encourage them in Involvement activities until they are ready to make decisions to become seriously involved in change opportunities.
If we force students into commitments, they will not be sincere and could be disruptive. They may even hear all of the content, but they won’t really apply it to their lives because there is no desire within them to do so. They may even reject the Lord eventually, because they have been made responsible for truths they don’t want to face.
When preparing to challenge students to join various Change Level activities, you can present the invitation to an entire group explaining the activity, the students’ requirements to attend and the risks involved. If possible, be sure to emphasize that some students have already expressed a strong interest in attending.
Help Students Learn
Too often we train students in things they have no desire to learn. We must use a little “salt” to make them thirsty for the truths we wish to teach them. A student’s involvement in ministry can make him aware of his need for training. Salting is vitally important if you desire to make more than a casual impact on your students’ lives. Often, when students are involved in serving others they experience their own need for help and training.
Sometimes when students are trained and willing, they can venture out into ministry. But be careful not to push them beyond their level of commitment. If you do, you could breed frustration, disappointment and resentment.
We have discussed ways to help you develop the Change Level of your ministry. Although initially, the Change Level seems complex, it is far more practical than it appears. But trying to make all of this work immediately is not reasonable unless you have plenty of leadership. However, using some of these categories mentioned will allow for a well-balanced program that ministers to students at the level of their willingness. Many ministries appoint one individual to be responsible for each main Change Level activity. This spreads the management load around fairly evenly.