Why all this fuss about youths?

I found myself asking the same question as I read through the 110-page report put together by the FOPx team.

Is it really necessary to put so much emphasis on youth ministries? Is it fair to make youth ministry seem like the most important ministry in the church?

Thankfully, I found a conclusion written at the end of the report that spoke to these questions I held in my heart.

“While this project may have been focused on the youth ministries of our nation, its intention bears the hope that strengthening youth ministries will in turn strengthen the Church of today and the days to come.”

It’s true: it really isn’t just about youth ministries. It’s about the future of the Church.

Youths nowadays are faced with more challenges in their faith because life has become more complex. Indeed, our State of the Church study found that more and more young believers are leaving their churches.

The spiritual conditions young people face are worrying because it concerns the future of the Church; what will we do if there are no younger believers to take over the baton and carry on with the mission?

Today’s youths will be the future of the Church. They will be the next generations of pastors, ministers and missionaries who will carry the Gospel message to the world and bring the Church forward.

Therefore, we need to unite as one Body of Christ and build up any part of the Body that is struggling (1 Corinthians 12:21-26).

Here, you will find five focuses we’ve drawn out for youth ministries looking to thrive, after examining more than 40 suggestions proposed by FOPx (again, you can find the full report here).

You will also find that many of these strategies involve other ministries and the church as a whole, rather than just the youth ministry; I do believe it takes the whole church to fire up one of its parts!

1. Equip youths to engage with culture

Youths today are constantly bombarded with new information, trends and social issues, either from social media or directly from their friends. As such, for youth ministries, staying relevant is an essential part of integrating faith with the daily life of youths and young adults. 

Youths need to know how their faith is meaningful and applicable to the issues they face in the world today. This process is also important so that they will not be taken by surprise or become shaken in their faith when their peers and friends ask for their Christian perspective on current societal issues.

“The goal is not to necessarily provide answers to all questions, but to have youth leaders (and youths) become more confident in engaging in discourse, and to do so in a Christlike manner,” the report mentioned.

Some initiatives suggested by the report include:

  • Conducting a church-wide survey to understand the current issues faced by the youths
  • Engaging experts and professionals to speak on specific topics
  • Escalating complex matters such as severe mental health challenges or cases of abuse to senior leadership

Churches should seek to understand the condition of their youths, and the specific types of challenges they face when it comes to culture, so as to develop suitable solutions to help them stand strong in their faith and to engage in winsome discourse with their peers and the world.

2. Build spiritual foundations; facilitate deep discipleship

While it is crucial to understand the contemporary issues faced by the youths today, it is not enough to simply acknowledge these issues. We need to disciple our youths and ensure their spiritual foundations are strong so that they will mature in their faith and last the race – no matter what culture throws at them.

The report calls for leaders and pastors to model asking difficult questions and demonstrating vulnerability in how they wrestle with God in their personal walk. The goal is to demonstrate to the youths that the church is a safe space to grow, where questions and doubts are not seen as weakness or a lack of faith.

“This would pave the way for them to work through their questions in a safe environment, with community and guidance around them, and through this, come out on the other side hopefully with stronger convictions and foundations of their faith,” the report added.

In my experience leading youths, I realise that they can feel encouraged or ministered to when I share about my own struggles honestly.

A few of my mentees have told me that these moments are powerful to them because they show them what it means to struggle victoriously. 

Honest conversations help them realise that I am also human, and I face struggles in life just like them; the only difference being that I choose to look to God in my weaknesses – and they can do the same.

Discipling youths is not just about programmes, teachings or resources. It needs to be life-on-life because youths need models of faith they can follow and learn from.

Therefore, youth leaders and pastors need to have personal interactions and conversations with the youths outside of church programmes to create space for life-on-life discipleship.

It would also be good to involve adults in mentoring the youths so that they, too, can model faith to the younger generation (more on this in the next few points).

3. Establish better support systems for youth leaders

Many youth leaders are young adults or youths themselves. Apart from leading in the ministry, they have to juggle between their studies, work, family and all their other commitments at the same time.

The report highlights that youth leaders and pastors are prone to feeling lonely, discouraged, burnt out, lost or overwhelmed. These are also some common reasons why leaders decide to leave the ministry.

For this reason, better support systems for youth leaders are needed. Some ideas include facilitating fellowship and friendships between leaders (intra-church and/or inter-church) and ensuring personal discipleship for youth leaders goes deeper than just equipping them for ministry.

The report suggests that the church can find avenues to feed youth leaders’ spiritual walks. Those journeying with youth leaders should also express interest in leaders’ lives and their spiritual growth since one’s walk with God is a lot more than his involvement in ministry.

For youth pastors, the report’s recommendation is for them to be directly and personally discipled by the senior pastor as “Youth Pastors have to deal with in terms of leading their leadership team, service schedule, etc., in a lot of ways mimicking what the Senior Pastor does for the whole church” and “the wisdom and experience of the Senior Pastor will very effectively help to guide the Youth Pastors in their role”.

“Youth pastors carry the responsibility of raising the next generation through the formative years of their lives and thus we believe that personal discipleship of these pastors is crucial,” the report affirmed.

4. Give youth ministries freedom to experiment with supervision

The FOPx survey also found that most youth leaders and pastors hope for a safe space in church where they can experiment with how they do ministry and learn through their mistakes.

They believe that this will allow them to explore different ways of doing things and “find their own expression of leadership”.

The report added that “Giving space for youth pastors and leaders to grow in their unique giftings will help them value their role in the youth ministry more.”

However, there seems to be a slight disagreement between leaderships of different generations as most senior pastors do not see this as a priority.

A possible middle ground could be established by exploring inter-generational collaborations. Putting together youths’ creativity and passion, with the guidance, wisdom and experience of senior leadership – we should recognise that the potential here is limitless.

Beyond programmes, processes that involve and include youth leaders will help them feel valued and engaged. They will see that they are not just following along blindly, but being discipled by senior leadership and will come to appreciate the principles, priorities and traditions of the church.

5. Unite with the whole church as one Body

Youth ministries can sometimes be perceived as operating on their own because they are not that visible to the adults. Some parents might not know how their children are being discipled in the youth ministry even though they are in the same church. 

“Because many youth ministries/services operate separately from the rest of the church, some on an entirely different day, it is important that the youth are still seen and visible, especially in the main service. Visibility is important in integrating the various age groups in church, so every generation is aware that others exist and are active in Godʼs kingdom,” the report stated.

As such, the report calls for more opportunities for the youths to serve the adults and vice versa. Ministries in church are also encouraged to form inter-generational teams whenever possible.

This could look like building teams that have members from different generations to plan and execute church-wide events. Opening up ministries for different generations to serve together is another option, rather than restricting serving opportunities to a specific age group or congregation.

Another suggestion is for youth ministries to organise “Parents Day Service”, where parents are invited to join their children for a regular youth service. Doing so will allow the parents to understand what their children are doing in church, and also provide a platform to explore how they can be meaningfully involved in their children’s discipleship.

The goal is to build unity across different generations in the church and eliminate the culture of youth ministries operating in silos.

“How good and pleasant it is when Godʼs people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaronʼs beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:1-3)

All in all, FOPx believes that reaching and discipling the next generation is a whole-of-church effort and that it requires the church to come together in unity.

Commenting on the report, Pastor Liaw Zheng Kai, Youth Pastor of HOPE Singapore shared with us: “To act on the initiatives presented, we need to ‘curate capital’ and ‘cultivate capacity’. Without the necessary relational, social, spiritual and emotional capacity, nothing can happen.”

He agreed that youth ministries nowadays are “the busy leading the fast”. Youth leaders are doing too much while also trying to make sense of their own faith.

“We have to reorganise the church and lend skills and expertise from the older generation, so that youth leaders can focus on the most important thing – discipleship of the youths,” he added.

In the words of FOPx, may we be “committed to working together as one Church, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, to seeing His Church grow from strength to strength, and glory to glory”.