by Amanda Waterson
It is my heartfelt prayer that as you read this, you are encouraged and inspired. Today’s youth are incredible. They demonstrate passion, power and faith that is unprecedented. They are yearning to be a part of a cause much bigger than they are. A cause that urges us to minister the Kingdom of Heaven in our community. It’s our task as leaders, to harness their potential, disciple it and release it on to the next generation. What a privilege and what a responsibility!
Jesus gave us such a wonderful example of how to disciple and mentor in Matthew 4:19. There are three distinct parts to this scripture, and these provide a framework for us.
Come follow ME. Journey with me, do life with me, and learn from me by watching what I do and who I am.
I will make you. Allow me the honour of linking you with the knowledge, skills and experience you need to become the person God destined you to be.
Fishers of men. Go and offer yourself to love and serve your community as Jesus did.
Jesus chose His disciples when they were not particularly gifted in the areas of prayer, evangelism, deliverance or teaching. As He journeyed with them, He chose not to ‘clone them,’ rather to release them in to the path God had laid out for them. Shawn Boltz says that we ‘don’t have authority over that which we don’t love.’ Before you start, it’s important to ask the Father to show you His love for the youth in your community and to see them through His eyes – with the future He has for them. Youth ministry rarely (if ever) produces immediate fruit, so it’s important to keep God’s big picture in your mind and in your heart.
1. Come Follow Me
Note there is no expectation here on the disciples to do anything initially but ‘follow’ Jesus. Jesus did the ministry initially and they ‘followed.’
It’s common for church communities to load youth up with responsibilities and jobs to keep them connected in to church. But Jesus didn’t do it this way. In fact, the ministry/jobs came at the very end of his process.
How do we interpret, ‘COME FOLLOW ME?’
Our expectation is for you to ‘HAVE FUN!’ Let’s face it, most teens are able to turn up and have a good time. While this is a great beginning, they can’t stay here.
SET THE LEAD
Live a life fully in love with God, with your heart, mind and soul fixed on Him and not the circumstances around you. Youth can only follow you to where you are, so be in a place of constantly living in awe of God’s love for you.
Graham’s first and major bit of advice for youth pastors is, “Turn up. Turn up. Turn up.” In an unstable world, they need consistency – if we are to be imitators of God, He is faithful and consistent and we need to demonstrate this to a generation who have had inconsistency scream at them continually.
‘Turn up’ means to turn up at their soccer games, school awards nights, and other events outside of church activities. We love our youth and want them to succeed, so it is a privilege not a duty to cheer them on in the areas of their life they excel at.
‘Turn up’ is not just Friday nights, Wednesday nights and Sundays.
Of all the characteristics of God to demonstrate, apart from His love and faithfulness, youth today need us to encourage them. The world outside of God is crazy and confusing. We develop a culture of encouragement and discourage sarcasm (even it is ‘seems’ cool to put others down). We actively look for opportunities to encourage and cheer our youth on.
Have you ever noticed how many times Jesus took His disciples to a quiet place? Have you ever stopped and considered how often you take your team/youth away to a quiet place? No, not to have a meeting – just to go somewhere to have some plain old fun. Discipline comes out of relationship, and if the youth are to move forward in the discipleship process, you can guarantee you will need to have some sticky conversations down the track. These are most fruitful when they come out of a healthy relationship.
Graham sends out a personal message via social media every Monday to literally hundreds of youth and youth leaders right across our nation. This reminds them they have an older person cheering them on and believing in them. It keeps us connected with youth and keeps the relationship open so they know they can turn to Graham when the storms hit.
2. I Will Make You
Everywhere Jesus went, He taught spiritual truths. His disciples could not complain about being spiritually hungry. It’s important for us to help youth understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ before they do the ‘what.’ In today’s society, more than ever, we need to help our youth understand the importance of ‘being’ sons of God rather than just ‘doing’ ministry to fulfil a vision of a church.
Invest in taking your youth to training events, guest ministries and concerts bigger than you. Allow them to learn from others so their capacity can be increased. It’s especially important to take them to events and speakers that are strong in areas and giftings that you aren’t. This gives them a balanced approach.
Release your youth to be who God intended them to be. While it’s important to have a Kingdom culture in your group, it’s never healthy to expect them to be clones or to be someone they were never meant to be. Helping them to find their identity in Christ overcomes this.
We accidentally stumbled across a concept we now call LAC (Live At the Chapel). This has been a lifesaver for our youth. About ten years ago, we noticed that youth were coming to their leaders for prayer and advice. While there is nothing wrong with this, it wasn’t training the youth to connect with God, it was promoting connection with the youth leader.
We started LAC once a month in response to this problem ten years ago, and it hasn’t stopped. In the school holidays, on our mission trips, we have LAC every night.
What is LAC? We turn up after youth, put on worship music, have our Bibles and journals, and wait for God to turn up. It’s a way of training the youth to connect with God for themselves. Each LAC is different. We wait on God following His lead, but the end result is training youth to connect with God. Some weeks we read a passage from the Bible and journal our thoughts, other weeks we worship with greater zeal than ever before, other times it’s about praying for each other or leaving burdens at the cross or encouraging each other. Each time we come, we are training the youth (following God’s direction) to connect with God.
LAC is a safe place to learn to pray for others. It’s a place where hurts are healed, burdens are shared, and youth feel encouraged and strengthened to face the month ahead.
3. Fishers of Men
Our job is not only to train our youth, but to release them into their God given ministry path. Once they are secure in knowing their identity as sons of a loving Father, the time comes for them to exercise their faith and serve their God.
IDENTIFY THEIR STRENGTHS AND RELEASE THEM IN THESE AREAS
If a teen is not an extrovert, don’t expect them to be one. Release them to be who God designed them to be. We take our youth on mission trips every school holidays and every trip we remind them to be themselves. That way, when they minister, they will each reach a different part of the community. We are a body and need to function in unity as one.
MISTAKES ARE JUST LEARNING OPPORTIUNITIES
Teens by nature of being teens will let you down and mess things up. Forgive them and encourage them to keep trying. We develop a culture where mistakes are seen as learning experiences and not full stops.
When we release our teens, the goals are clear, the expectations are clear and the feedback is always personal and constructive. We never give negative feedback publicly but we do discuss ways of improvement. Every day at the end of a mission or outreach we sit in a circle and debrief. This is a great chance to celebrate the successes and alter the plan if need be based on the learning experiences.
KEEP PUSHING THE ‘CHICKEN LINE’
We talk about our ‘chicken line’ as that point we come to and decide to chicken out and not go any further. Everyone has their own ‘chicken line’ because we are all on our own journey. We develop a strong self-awareness of the concept of the ‘chicken line’ and encourage our guys to identify a ‘chicken line’ each mission/season and ask God to help them push through.
This sometimes means fighting for the youth. When we travel, our youth are trained and ready to share a testimony, offering talk or communion message. We don’t set them up to fail, they are well prepared and even though for most of them, the idea of giving a communion message in a church is well and truly ‘crossing their chicken line,’ it sets them up for greatness from an early age.
I want to end with a quote from Joel Holm in his book, ‘Church Centred Mission.’ It’s my prayer that as you read through this, it will help you understand that the cost involved in taking messy teens into your world, and pouring your heart and wallet in to them (day after day after day after decade) is worth it. Sure, some may fall away – the parable of the sower suggests the plan isn’t 100% fool proof, and even Jesus lost one disciple along the way- but for those who stick the journey through, it’s worth it!!!!
“The pastors were asked to list the top five characteristics of the leaders they would recruit to work with them in leading their church. Regardless of the region, the answers given by the pastors were the same. Foundational character traits, such as faithfulness, prayer, humility, sacrifice and obedience were listed. The Bible itself lists some of these characteristics. However, in contrast to the lists created by the pastors is the list Jesus must have had in His hand when selecting the 12 disciples. Rather than being men of prayer, He chose men who couldn’t stay awake for one hour. Rather than looking for humility, He chose those who would spend long hours arguing over who would be the greatest. Rather than identifying a teachable spirit, He chose those like Peter, who would argue at statements or actions made by Jesus. Rather than selecting those committed to the cause, He chose those who would shamelessly abandon Him at His greatest hour of need.”
May this encourage you as you disciple young champions of the faith!!!
by Phillip Mutzelburg
This article continues the series on the distinctives of A2A. They represent what the National Leadership Team believe the Holy Spirit confirmed to us at a retreat with our spouses early in the present year.
As I begin I want to extend my comments in the introduction of my last article. Apostolic leadership is something we as a leadership team believe is fundamental to good biblical leadership. The NLT could easily be called the Apostolic Leadership Team but we choose not to do this because of the abuse of authority that is often associated with apostolic leadership, and a desire not to project an authority beyond what is biblical. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
When we took the bold step of dismantling CLCI, and inviting three other movements to join with us to form a new national movement, it was because of a dream to establish a movement of churches that more closely reflected a God honouring expression of what the church could look like. After extensive discussion and prayer together, only CLCI acted on this leading, but some courageous elements of the other movements, and some other equally courageous individual churches from other long established denominations, caught the vision and became key in establishing something new with us. It is pleasing that people from many of these groups are now represented on the NLT. As this movement, which we call A2A, has been establishing itself, the distinctives which we want to typify our movement have become more visible, and recently confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
The NLT want to strongly encourage you to be intentional about introducing these distinctives into the life and language of your individual churches. As a local church is led by an anointed leader, so our movement is led by a group of anointed leaders. The local church will not be healthy and thrive unless the congregants acknowledge and trust the authority of its leadership. It follows I believe that a movement will not be healthy and thrive unless the member churches and leaders acknowledge and trust its leadership.
Having said all of this, one of our values remains the autonomy of the local church. We believe the ultimate authority of God in the earth is worked out through the local church. This is not a contradiction to anything I am laying out with these introductory comments. Your NLT will never interrupt the vision and mission of your local church unless it steps over the clear boundaries of scripture on essential doctrine, but from time to time we will ask you to implement what we believe is essentially a word from the Lord for your church. This is the purpose of these articles.
So please trust us and ramp up your intentionality to teach, model, and talk these distinctives so that we can become the movement God wants us to be.
The Distinctives of A2A
So we can maintain continuity as we establish these distinctives, I want to list again all six for your reference:
Defining “Celebrating Uniqueness”
What do we actually mean when we say we want to celebrate each other’s uniqueness?
Here is my cut at it. Celebrating uniqueness means we take genuine delight and authentic pleasure at the distinguishing characteristics that are typical of a ministry that is different to ours. Doing this can in reality be challenging because it means we may often have to deal with our own disappointments and insecurities when observing another ministries success.
We are not Meant to be the Same
There is a well-known expression that helps to position us in a mindset that celebrates uniqueness. “Unity is not conformity” We do not have to do everything the same way to have to have unity. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. Our unity is based on our faith in Jesus, not in doing everything the same way.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12 through 26, Paul makes it clear that we should celebrate the different part each of us has to play in fulfilling God’s plan in the earth. It is worth a read to remind us that God has designed us differently so that God’s redemptive plan has maximum potential in transforming the life of irreligious people.
Psalm 139 is another reminder of how differently God has designed us.
With these reminders from scripture, we must be more expansive in our thinking about a ministry that s different to ours. A favourite saying of the late great Trevor Chandler in many of my conversations with him was “different is not wrong, it is just different and I have learnt to celebrate it.” Let’s learn together how to celebrate from our hearts those things which are different to what we are doing.
We all do Church Differently
One of the observations I have made as I travel around our own movement is the different ways we all have of doing church. We vary in our worship styles, the focus on worship, preaching styles, content of our preaching, the use of the arts, the non-use of the arts, formality in our churches, and informality in our churches. We also have a different emphasis on some of the fundamentals of our movement such as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, church government, and the great commission. Regardless, I can say in all sincerity that I celebrate them all.
Another expression of our uniqueness and diversity can be found in who we have looked to for inspiration. Bethel, Toronto, and Saddleback are just a couple. Twenty years ago when I hooked up with Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek Community Church, I received considerable and at times aggressive criticism. My inspiration was grounded in the sensational success WCCC had in reaching people far from God. For all our noise about the numbers of people who made “decisions” for Christ in our charismatic and Pentecostal streams, we did not even come close to how effective and life transforming the ministry of Willow Creek was.
The strategy God gave them was one of producing “thematic” services with a major use of the arts to help visitors connect with God. The arts in church had long been a dream of mine, so there was an immediate connect with this strategy. Over the years we had this ministry focus, we saw hundreds of people come to faith in Jesus, and our church grew and became a dynamic church in our community which was easy for those outside of church life to belong.
Some of the criticism we received revolved around our use of audio visual aids and drama in our services. Catalyst was arguably the first church in Australia to use audio visual on a regular basis. We were also criticised because of the way we encouraged visitors on their journey of faith. We had the view that a decision for Christ was more about a process than an event. In other words, our confidence in the altar call as the catalyst for a faith decision was low was statistically proved not to be a life transforming experience. When we allowed people to journey towards a decision where they understood a faith decision was going to mean life change, those decisions stuck and became pillars in the church.
The overwhelming criticism we received in those years came from the Pentecostals with outrageous claims such as “you are prostituting Pentecost”.
So the reason I include some of my story at Catalyst Church in this article is to highlight how crazy, stupid, time wasting, energy wasting, and just plain wrong it was to miss the opportunity to celebrate with us. Today, almost everyone uses AV, drama, and believes in a discipleship track to faith. I hope you get the point.
We must be slow to criticise another ministry for being different and not doing it our way, and see the wonderful plan God has for reaching all kinds of people.
Celebrating Other Movements and Denominations
One of the unexpected surprises of my life in church leadership has been interaction with other movements and denominations. I was birthed in the Baptist tradition where the Baptism with the Holy Spirit was not taught or believed to be of value to the Christian. Eventually we moved into the charismatic stream because we were unable to develop spiritually in the hostile environment of the day. Today that would not have been necessary because not many Baptist Churches deny the value of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Forty five years after leaving the Baptist Church I still celebrate the grounding in the word of God and the excellent discipleship I received in the church of my youth.
When I became involved with the Willow Creek Association, I learnt to celebrate the many different Christian expressions without agreeing with everything they did which was different, including the Catholics and high church Anglicans. I have loved being with these brothers and sisters who worship differently, preach differently, and practise their faith differently, and I have learnt much from them. I celebrate their uniqueness, and have been enriched by my association with them.
I have a high regard for many of their leaders, and many of them are genuine friends. One of the friendships I enjoy the most is with a Catholic brother who has become filled with the Spirit. I have rubbed off on him, and he has rubbed off on me.
I hope you look for time to love the wider Body of Christ at every opportunity given to you.
What to do Next
I believe that best way to celebrate uniqueness is to make the time to meet and coffee with someone who is doing it different to you. Get into their heads and understand what they are doing. Encourage them in the things they are doing and you will make a new friend who will contribute to your ministry in surprising ways.
Blessings to you all,