The Fantasy Youth Ministry Team

The last Sunday afternoon of every August I sit in my living room with 11 other guys. We’re intensely focused as we type away on our laptops while looking through stacks of papers covered in handwritten notes. A planning retreat? No. A curriculum development meeting? Nope. An anointed brainstorming session? No way. It’s my annual fantasy football draft.

It sure would be nice if we could pick our youth ministry teams like we pick our fantasy football teams: looking at statistics and match-ups and choosing based on need. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way but if there were such a thing as a “fantasy youth ministry team draft”… here are five categories I would consider:

Love the Gospel – I don’t care how hip or influential a person seems to be. If it isn’t obvious they love the story of redemption and are centering their lives on the goodness of Jesus, then I don’t want them on my team. I’m not talking about perfect people. I’m talking about people who are entirely aware of their imperfections and modeling a lifestyle of faith and repentance.

Love the Family – Youth ministry is not just about teenagers. Youth ministry is about partnering with and supporting the work of discipleship happening in the home. Youth workers that try to take the place of parents or try to make parents out to be the enemy would go undrafted by me. If parents are unsaved this may look different but it’s still a non-negotiable.

Love the Team – We’re better together. Sometimes talented individuals and natural leaders have a hard time believing that. I want people on my team who love that they’re a part of a team and are glad to have a role to play. I don’t need someone with a messiah complex or a lone ranger.

Love the Journey – We’re all in process and there’s never been a teenager who emerged from youth ministry a finished product. 15+ years after high school and I still have so much growing in grace to do. I would select youth workers who patiently trust in God’s progressive work of sanctification as opposed to trying to be the Holy Spirit in teenagers’ lives while forcing behavior change that is disconnected from heart transformation.

Love the Vision – This one starts with me as the leader. What’s the vision, why does it matter and how can you be involved? The vision should me memorable, engaging and regularly repeated. I would be using my draft picks on people who feel the tension of the problem that the vision exists to solve, buy into that vision and can share it with others in a compelling fashion.

We can’t draft our youth ministry team but we can intentionally recruit them and we must strategically develop them. Consider using these five categories as areas of development in your team and you just might be on your way to leading your very own fantasy youth ministry team.

Question: What would you add to this list? Share it here and let’s learn from one another.

Guest Post: David Hertweck serves the Assemblies of God in New York as the District Youth and Chi Alpha Director. Prior to that he served as a youth pastor for 11+ years at Trinity AG in Clay, NY. He’s married to Erin and has two daughters, Lilia and Caraline. He loves his girls, his extended family, good music, good food, his Weber grill, his Taylor guitar, Liverpool Football Club, the Yankees and the Gospel. You can follow him on Twitter at @DavidHertweck.

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The Sucker’s Choice: is it either/or… or… both/and?

Guest Post: David Hertweck served as senior associate pastor of Trinity A/G in Clay, NY for over eleven years. He served as the lead pastor of inside-out student ministries and element young adults ministries and as a worship leader. He is an ordained Assembly of God minister. He presently serves as the District Youth Ministries and Chi Alpha Director.

Sometimes the choice to make a choice is the wrong choice.

In the insightful book, Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second EditionKerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler write about avoiding “the sucker’s choice”.

In short, “the sucker’s choice” is when we force an “EITHER…OR…” dilemma when it can be a “BOTH…AND…” opportunity. You may have heard someone say something like: “Either we can have fun OR we can have competition”. It implies that you can’t possibly find a way to have both fun AND competition. It sets up an unnecessary choice, aptly named: “the sucker’s choice”.

An example in youth ministry goes something like this: EITHER we prepare and deliver a message with non-Christian teenagers in mind OR we prepare and deliver a message with Christian teenagers in mind.

We don’t have to make that choice. I believe that there is a way to effectively preach to both audiences at the same time and with the same words. The solution is to preach the Gospel.

I remember a time in my life when I had the mindset that the Gospel message was only for those who didn’t know Christ. I thought that, in time, mature believers “graduated from the Gospel”. I was wrong.

The message of the Gospel is not something that is solely necessary at the beginning of a teenager’s faith journey; it is their faithful companion every step of the way. We never graduate from the truth of the Gospel rather we cling to it and allow it to bring about more and more change in our lives.

Repentance and faith in the message of the Gospel justifies us but it is also the Gospel, at work in us, which causes us to grow in faith, purity and maturity. While hard work and determination are a part of the Christian’s life, if they are not “in line with the Gospel” they will not sanctify, they will strangle.

The main problem, then, in the life of a Christian teenager is that they have not thought out or lived out the deep implications of the Gospel. They have restricted the work of the Gospel to the initial work of salvation (justification) and not allowed it to run rampant in their lives bringing about growth and gratitude (sanctification).

Paul makes it clear in Galatians that we are not justified by the Gospel and then sanctified apart from the Gospel through our own efforts. The Gospel is the way we grow.

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Galatians 3

Human nature is clearly seen in our attempts to control the source of our salvation with works-righteousness instead of fully trusting in Christ. The Gospel reminds us that we are now hidden in Christ and because of that we are both righteous and welcomed. Apart from Him we are hopelessly lacking and desperately trying to do something about that lack. Both believers and unbelievers need to hear this message…repeatedly!

Negative emotions and sinful behavior manifest in the life of a Christian teenager because at that exact moment something or someone other than Christ and his work has become more central to their existence and they’ve elevated that thing (good or bad) to an ultimate thing. The Bible calls this idolatry.

In other words, everyone has “saving faith” in something or someone. Everyone is looking to an accomplishment, an achievement, an experience or an individual to gain approval and acceptance…to justify their existence. Non-Christians do this because they haven’t had a grace awakening but Christians do this when they forget or don’t believe the Gospel.

The Christian way to drive out lesser love (idols) is to daily center our lives on our greatest affection. Thomas Chalmers says it this way: “We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our heart than to keep in our hearts the love of God”.

We are prone to sin when we believe a lie about the nature of God. As Tim Chester writes in his book, You Can Change, we forget that God is great, glorious, good and gracious. The Gospel is the most intimate and intensive reminder of who God is and what He has done. We need to be “Gospel-fluent” with students, with our families and with ourselves!
Whether Paul was dealing with marital issues in Ephesians 5, emphasizing the importance of generosity in 1 Corinthians 8, or confronting Peter’s hypocrisy and racism in Galatians 2, he never just addressed their behavior. He didn’t verbally bully or emotionally manipulate. He didn’t guilt or scare them into change.

He repeatedly points to Christ, he preaches the Gospel. He’s essentially says to them: you are not living as if the Gospel is true! Your heart does not resemble a heart that has been both captured and freed by the life and work of Jesus. And he’s saying this to believers! In fact much of Paul’s writings can be classified as preaching the Gospel to people who already knew it.

One final reason to avoid “the sucker’s choice”: Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to non-Christian teenagers and non-Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to Christian teenagers. Why?

Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to non-Christian teenagers about the Gospel because many of them don’t know how to do the same. As you preach the Gospel in a way that engages and answers the questions and objections of the irreligious, your Christian teenagers will be learning how to do the same! Those same students will also realize that youth group is a place to bring their non-Christian friends to get their questions answered.

On the other hand, non-Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to Christian teenagers about the Gospel because they need to have a sense of the community, the values, the priorities, the passion of a Christ like people and the REASON for all of those things. The reason is the Gospel. They also need to experience growing sense that they are on the outside of something that is beautiful…namely Jesus.

In Romans 1:15, Paul writes that he is “eager to preach the Gospel” and he’s writing to Christians! Friends, there’s no need to make the “sucker’s choice”. Preach the Gospel to the lost, preach the Gospel to the found.

Question: Weigh in… what do you think? Share your thoughts here.

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