What do The Beverly Hillbillies and teenage volunteers have in common? If you remember correctly, Jed was out roaming the vast land doing what any qualified, simple country man would do—he was hunting for some food. However, in a moment of destiny, Jed missed his target, striking the ground only to experience the life-changing moment of tapping into an underground well of what is called “black gold, Texas tea” (aka oil) and watching it come a-bubbling up … and he moved to Beverly … Hills, that is. He struck it rich by accident and this precious resource had been hidden beneath his feet the entire time!
As children’s leaders, we too have a valuable resource, right beneath our feet (or at least within our church walls) and although it won’t make us financially rich, it will make us rich in kingdom impact. What’s more valuable than teaching, training, and empowering our next generation to multiply the kingdom and bring the Good News to a world in desperate need of hope? We’re just like the Clampetts (the Beverly Hillbillies, that is) scraping to get by, needing volunteers, living off a meager budget. But, we have the chance to strike it rich … tapping into teenagers!
Over the years, I’ve witnessed a lot of discussion about teens—their capabilities, their potential, and their future. However, I began to see that we often set teenagers up as trainees and approach them with the mindset of how great they could be if only we train them well. I began to realize that teens weren’t ready to be trained. They were ready to lead, and they just needed an opportunity. This NextGen doesn’t want to be told what to do; they want to do it! As children’s leaders, we have been blessed with incredible opportunities to lead/direct ministries that provide platforms for the next generation. We have the opportunity to train, but we have an even better opportunity to provide on-the-job leadership. When I realized this (as simple as it is), I struck it rich! I tapped into a resource right beneath my feet, and it changed my children’s ministry into a thriving ministry for first graders through college students. I became a children’s and youth pastor, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
In considering teenage leadership, think of the opportunities you have for teens, as if you are a mini-college or mini-seminary. Think beyond Sunday, and realize you are impacting the world 5-10 years early. You’re providing a platform that will strengthen and develop young leaders to fill your role one day. A teenage ministry within your children’s ministry is a wonderful investment. I train all my adult leaders to view our teen program as a ministry unto itself. We are providing teens an opportunity to grow and prepare for college ministry in four short years. My team realizes they are multiplying God’s future kingdom by investing in and empowering our next generation of leaders right now. The team also realizes that in ten years, some of our teens may be in full-time ministry, or at a minimum, lay ministers within their own churches. They will be sharing, equipping, and leading kids to Christ because of the strong foundation they developed during their teen years. All this grows out of the commitment and dedication of our team to provide teens the opportunities to lead.
Isn’t a teenage ministry a bit risky? Will I be creating more headaches for myself? What about teens making things more chaotic and adding to an already high pressure day of ministry? First, the biggest risk is not taking the risk! We’re developing the next generation, and if you don’t provide them with a platform from which to lead, everything will remain stagnant. That’s a bad place to be. Second, if you plan well, give clear vision, and lead your teens with passion, you will not have chaos. You’ll have triumph! You’ll witness young people rising to the challenge; you’ll see underdogs find their place with confidence and assurance, and you’ll witness a transformation within your ministry beyond what you ever thought possible. Again, the biggest risk in teenage ministry is not taking the risk!
As you ponder this opportunity within your ministry, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks I’ve learned while growing and developing this teen leadership ministry.
I’d strongly recommend meeting with your youth pastor to share your vision. When they hear your passion for giving teens leadership roles—direct opportunities—they might kiss you right on the spot! Help them understand this is not designed to draw kids out of their program but to provide the youth with the Christian opportunity to serve. Once the youth pastor understands this, you’ll have an advocate and a recruiter on your hands. Every youth pastor I’ve met desires opportunities for on-the-job teen leadership.
Another avenue of recruitment is looking for those teen underdogs—teens who might not seem to fit in, may not be overly athletic, or just those that are considered wanderers. I can’t tell you how many of these young teens I’ve watched come into our program and blossom into jaw-dropping leaders, finding and using their gifts, talents, and passion for the eternal. Keep a watchful eye out. These kids will truly inspire you and your team as they develop into an unexpected heavyweight Christian leader in just a few short years!
Casting Teen Vision to Your Team
As I shared before, make sure your existing team of volunteers understands the big picture of a teen leadership ministry. These are not just warm bodies making our ratios work; it’s truly a ministry of which they are a part and a ministry that will multiply the kingdom of God through their efforts, patience, and humility.
Communicating with Teens
I’ve found that the most important, foundational element to building a teen ministry is how to communicate with them. This will vary depending on your area and social preferences. We found years ago that email worked. Later, Facebook became the best way to communicate to the teens regarding responsibilities, reminders, and updates. Recently, we found the best way to communicate is through texting. It’s almost a 100 percent receive rate in getting information out to our teens. Whatever you do, it’s important for you to find what’s best FOR THEM, not what’s best for you. They are NextGens. Let them tell you how to operate in their world. It’s vitally important.
Empowering the Teens
Be ready to encourage and empower teens. Make sure they know you believe in them! Share with them the confidence you have in them and that no matter what the outcome, you’re going to be proud of them for listening to God’s direction and giving their best. This is a growing process, not a lecture opportunity. You’re their champion; they need to know they can succeed and/or crash and burn, and you’ll still be there pick them up!
Whether being organized is your personality type or not, you need to make it a priority! I’ve found most people don’t enjoy clutter, and they really don’t enjoy cluttered administration. Put together a plan for the various areas of potential teen leadership, as well as adult leaders you believe would be willing to expend effort in this ministry. Develop a game plan, put together so your vision casting is clear and understood. I can’t stress this enough—you must plan and stay ahead of your ministry, especially with teens; otherwise, they will not feel valued but may feel as if they are only filling a void to YOUR ministry. They need to believe this is THEIR ministry as you provide the organized, behind-the-scenes opportunities for them to be the leadership team.
Remember, teenagers are ready to lead. They just need the opportunities! Never forget that you have been chosen by God to lead your ministry and to do great things in and through it. Invest your heart, time, and passion in teens for kingdom multiplication, both for immediate and long-term results. This has been one of the most rewarding parts of ministry for me. Jed Clampett never knew what was right under his feet until he saw it bubbling up from the ground below, and yes, the next thing you know, Jed was a millionaire. As children’s leaders, we have one of God’s greatest resources right beneath us. Watching these teens develop into kingdom changers is better than black gold or Texas tea. You and God’s kingdom will be blessed beyond riches, while your children’s ministry becomes it’s own Beverly Hills!