Youth Ministry, Prayer & Authority
By Andy Harrison • Youth Pastor • Planetshakers Church • Melbourne, Austrailia
There’s no doubt about it. The last few years for youth ministries all around the world have been weird. I’ve been a leader and pastor in the lives of young people for 16 years in Planetshakers Church, but these last few have been unique, to say the least. Coming out of COVID and lockdowns, surely there are some lessons we can bring with us.
To me, one of the defining things about the last few years is that for many of us, we were reduced to the basics. And there is something about not being able to work with much that re-clarifies what really matters.
So let me ask you a question. If you had to build a youth ministry, and you could only use a few basic things – what are the things that are non-negotiable? Like if you had to survive on a desert island and you could only bring a few items with you – what would you choose? Well, I think I could sum up my Desert Island list with these: prayer, connection with the house of God, personal follow-up, the Word of God, and taking steps of faith. To me, everything that I am wanting to achieve in raising disciples who raise other disciples is found in these elements. There’s a lot I could say on each one of these things, but for the sake of time, let’s just focus on the first one!
But “just pray” can seem pretty vague and unhelpful. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot to pray for in youth ministry. There’s a lot that will and should have your attention. Where do you start? Well, I thought I’d try and dissect a piece of how my “youth ministry prayer life” might look.
BRING THEM BEFORE GOD
I imagine myself gathering them before God. I know His people always have His attention, but when I pray I need to know that these specific young people are in His viewpoint. Name them. See their faces and think about them. I’ve always used lists to help me. Pastoral care lists on my laptop from our Urban Life Groups (home cell groups) or literally printed pages of names from different regions in our youth ministry. Sometimes I imagine the different areas that young people come from around our city and go through geographically in my imagination, sweeping them into the presence of God. Then I ask Him to have His way. What does He want to do? What is on His mind and heart for them?
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PRAY IN THE SPIRIT
A huge key here is praying in the Spirit. Ephesians 6:18 says to pray in the Spirit at all times and Romans 8 tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray. Often, but especially under the lockdown restrictions, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know what to pray. I didn’t know where people were at and what was really going on in their hearts, lives, and homes because I literally couldn’t get to them. But the Spirit did and does. So we prayed in the Spirit and were led by the Spirit in what to pray. And still now, when something drops into my mind as I’m praying for people – I follow that lead.
I allow Him to paint on my imagination what is happening in their lives as I am praying and I really believe that it is being accomplished, though I have no way of influencing that naturally. I know that the Holy Spirit will give me a burden for what is going on in young people’s lives, but He also always brings the faith for it too.
SPEAK TO SITUATIONS WITH AUTHORITY
Then, whether it’s from my own awareness of what people are facing, or maybe it’s just a leading from the Holy Spirit – I begin to bind and loose (Matthew 18), praying with authority over these things. I take authority over thoughts that may be in their mind that haven’t originated from God. And in their place, I release peace over their minds and the kind of thinking that does come from Him. I take authority over temptations and spiritual attacks that would be aimed against them. We are spiritual shepherds who are called specifically to young people. A shepherd has always needed to protect sheep from the attack of those who would want to devour and steal. This begins spiritually before we do anything practically. Coming out of this pandemic season, I think it’s pretty clear that we need youth pastors and leaders who know how to pray and carry spiritual authority more than ever!
HEAR AND RECEIVE FROM GOD
While we have gathered our young people before God and He is stirring our faith for them, we are in a position to actually receive keys for things that they need.
We need to affect their situations spiritually first, but we should totally still come out with some practical strategies for how to lead them effectively. It might be a simple download from God of what someone needs to grow in Him or a little prompting of who to focus on and when. Again, sometimes the needs seem so great that we don’t know where to start. But the Holy Spirit orders these things into bite-sized pieces for us to be involved as shepherds. We can’t do everything, but it’s so effective when we can do just the right thing at just the right time. The biggest breakthroughs and most significant shifts in our youth ministry have pretty much all come down to simple, little keys from the Holy Spirit. Just the right thing at just the right time.
It seems like every youth ministry always needs more leaders and resources. And every youth pastor always seems to think they need more of something they don’t have. But, maybe COVID and the events of the last few years can remind us what we have in the basics. We can’t focus on everything at once, but if we focus on a handful of non-negotiables (our Desert Island list) it’s amazing what we realize we do have. Surely, prayer needs to be on that list. Our world and our young people NEED leaders and pastors who know how to (and actually do often) pray over them, bringing them before God, affecting the spiritual realm over their lives, and helping them to hear His answers.
Andy Harrison is the leader of planetboom—the youth ministry of Planetshakers Church which cares for 4000+ teenagers weekly (as of 2020). At 14 years of age, Andy dedicated his life to serving Jesus after a radical encounter with God at a Planetshakers conference in 2002. In addition to pastoring and discipling young people of all backgrounds and cultures, Andy is an accomplished drummer and songwriter who not only passionately and faithfully serves his local church but also travels the world extensively touring with the Planetshakers Band. He is a humble and powerfully-anointed communicator, gifted musician, and renowned leader who has the unique ability to express his love for and faith in God with a level of intimacy and vulnerability that resounds with all generations—ultimately leading many to Christ.