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(Photo: Dare 2 Share)Thousands of teens attend a Dare 2 Share conference in 2013.

There may not be very many things that I am absolutely certain of. However, I am one thousand percent certain that good youth ministry works and works every time. I wish I could list names of men and women of God that I have known over the last forty years who were fantastic youth leaders. They were called of God. They were gifted of God. They loved teenagers with Christ's love and no matter where they went the kids could feel it. There was something gently heavenly about their presence, their smile and their planning. They did not see youth ministry as a good place to start out so that they could one day grow up into a Senior Pastor. Every teenager was important to them and they made great sacrifices of their time and money to prove it.

If you're starting a youth ministry, just start. Start with a leader who is solidly dedicated to Jesus and feels called to reach teens. Then begin to decide as a church that you are going to stand behind them completely and help them in any way you can to do what God has called them to do.

They say the youth culture changes every six months. If you do not believe it, just watch the trends. However, if you have teens in your house it will be easy for you to believe this rapid change happens. I raised three of my own and to watch them and their friends interact about what's cool was an eye opener. What is popular, from their favorite words, to hair styles, to music, to fashion, to sports, to foods, to TV sitcoms reveals a culture of continuous change.

It seemed so hard for me as a youth leader/pastor to communicate to the older saints in our church (no matter what church) that when we reach out to youth, we are always dealing with a sub culture here of our society. That today's teens are always different and probably different than they were six months ago. I was still hearing about hay rides, going bowling, and roller skating as the "things we used to do when we were kids" when I youth pastored. One of my greatest irritants as I am sure someone somewhere beat this statement out in perfect rhythm on a big base drum. "We never had these problems when we were kids!" Ok how many ways can you say duh? Your Challenges will likely be the same in every time period in history. We must always respond in love and pray for wisdom on how to open their eyes to the needs of today's teens around us. Dealing with the adults is often the most challenging part of youth ministry.

One of the most exciting things I ever did with an awesome group of teenagers I had, was to create a "Youth Action Team." We had about fifty-five teens that were regulars, with over a hundred coming out on Friday nights to our youth service. Because we are dealing with a sub culture, that we ourselves are not in, we need someone from that subculture to speak their language. We need someone who does live in the culture, someone who does understand the needs. Most important of all someone who knows what that group from that particular town or city thinks is fun and loves to do.

From the fifty-five regulars, I prayerfully chose about seven of the junior senior age youth who were solid Christians. We had a planning meeting every month for 2-3 hours that always started with prayer, and worship. Then we would sit down around the table at someone's home and the teens would literally plan every youth activity we did. I worked extra hard to only provide very gentle oversight with little input. I was intensional in letting them have control and the teens loved it. They ran with it and came up with incredible ideas. I did have to say "no we can't go bungee jumping, cliff rappelling or parachuting," but I really tried my best to say yes to everything else they wanted to do. It relieved me of any responsibility to them of having to answer for a boring activity. We would laugh when something bombed and we would rejoice when something was a hit.

Spiritually, this same group formed their own worship team. Our Friday night youth meetings ended up being a type of small revival. These kids learned how to seek the Lord and often parents coming to pick up their teens at nine thirty had to wait until maybe ten o'clock, because kids were still praying for each other at the altar.

If I could impart a bit of wisdom to those just starting up a youth group it is to press on beyond discouragement because you will have some. My first youth group had only three teens for what seemed like months. However do you know one of those young men got saved and called into the ministry? So one could say that one third of my youth group went to Bible College and entered into full time ministry! As the year turned into the next we took several carloads to a youth conference. As in all ministries, one sows, another waters, but God gives the increase. It is not a place for the faint of heart, those who do not know how to pray, or someone just trying to develop a name for themselves. I can promise you though that the love of Jesus for teenagers is so strong His joy will permeate all you do for Him

Let's work together to break the stereotypes of ineffective youth ministries of the past that were poorly funded, understaffed and not treasured. Lets show America what happens when Jesus can love on our teens intentionally! Teens will bring their friends to youth group. It will work. Let's make it happen! An unsaved teenager in your community needs Jesus today! Lets seek Him!

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.
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