Friday, May 25, 2012

The Cool Shepherd?

I hear it from fellow pastors all the time.
"Why do we lose so many of our young people, once they 'graduate' from the youth group?"
It seems to be a widespread problem among evangelical churches. Most of us put a good bit of time and effort into our children's and student ministries in the church. Yet we often lose many of our youth once they "age out". Why is that?
Do they no longer need discipleship training?
Are they no longer interested in connecting with friends?
Are spiritual matters no longer an issue with them?
Is it because the church is no longer relevant?
The answer to all of the above is, "Of course not!"
So, why do they seem to disappear in droves?
Perhaps the answers can be found by studying those who DO NOT leave the church, after their youth group years are over.
I read a very interesting article by Jon Nielson on my BlackBerry recently, while sitting in a hospital waiting room. The post is entitled, "Three Common Traits Of Youth Who Do Not Leave The Church". The entire article can be found here...
Nielson writes that there are three common traits that can be found in the young people who stay involved in the church. Interestingly, his findings have nothing to do with music, worship styles, dress standards, or the "cool factor" of the pastor or the congregation. According to Nielson, the three common traits of youth who do not leave the church are these:
  1. They are Converted
  2. They have been Equipped - not Entertained
  3. Their parents have "Preached the Gospel to them"

Does that make sense? If these factors are valid, and I believe they are, It should be a wake up call to all of us, and a reason to re-evaluate our respective youth ministries.

The first and foremost things our kids need is Jesus! Not just a head knowledge about who Jesus was, where He went, what He did, or even what He said. Students, like adults, need to KNOW Jesus. To know Him as their Savior and Lord. They need a personal relationship with Him. The message of John 3:16 and John 14:6 is just as important to young people as it is to 30, 40, and 50 something folks. Our youth activities need to be built around Evangelism!

Secondly, as young disciples, students need to be equipped - not entertained. Many churches and youth workers seem to feel that we "have to keep them entertained or we'll lose them". Now, I understand that there does need to be activities that add fun and fellowship to our student ministry activities. But entertainment is not what its all about. It is very possible to plan enough entertainment and activities to keep kids coming out, but without conversion and a focus on building up and discipling these young folks, they will be gone as soon as the fun is over.

Just as important is the need for parents to model their faith before their kids. No youth pastor, no matter how talented, gifted, or imaginative they may be, can take the place of the parent in laying the foundation of the Gospel in the lives of their children. Parents must take on their God given responsibilities. Don't just send the kids to youth group. Don't just expect the "youth guy" to accomplish in a few hours a month, what you can and must do in the home.

At Westmoreland Baptist Church, these are the things we are going to focus on in our "Beneath the Surface" student ministry. Will Youth Pastor, Bub Amis, and his helpers have some fun activities planned for the kids? Sure. But we make a commitment to you as parents that in all of our activities, our goal will be to win these kids to Christ. It won't be all about activities and fun and games. We will seek to build them up as strong disciplined followers of Christ - to be young people who will not only have a rock solid faith in Christ, but will be growing in Him, and will be a witness to their friend as fellow students as well.

We ask the parents to back us in this, and above all to do your part. Teach them in your home. Model your faith in your life, so your kids will realize that their greatest role models are genuine in their beliefs and practices.

Kids need a shepherd the same as adults do.

We are going to commit that our efforts will be to model the Good Shepherd, rather than focus on being the Cool Shepherd. I'm convinced it will be of eternal value to the kids!

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