I was getting overwhelmed.

Teaching three times weekly at youth group was wearing me out, so I asked some of my core students if they would lead a Sunday night meeting. They reluctantly agreed. In the process, three paradigm shifts happened in our student ministry that would empower students to be in mission. The shift went from me to them. The Bible refers to this as “equipping the saints to do the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12-14).

Shift #1: Monthly Youth-Led Night
What started as an innocent “Let’s try something new and different” became a staple event the last Sunday of every month.

The students led games and worship, did announcements, and someone would preach. It was amazing in the sense that it was sloppy; kids would forget the words of the songs; our emcee made embarrassing noises on stage; and the speaker couldn’t find his notes. Despite the flaws each month, these nights became the highest turnouts in the history of our youth ministry.

Jan was a senior in high school and was scared to death when I asked her to speak on a youth-led night. So we helped Jan with the planning and how to find the big idea in the biblical text. Little did I know Jan invited her entire senior class of 135 students to come support her at church. More than 50 of her classmates came to hear her teach at youth group.

That night I drank the Kool-Aid.

Shift #2: Students Teaching Younger Students
Allison was a freshman in high school and one day expressed how much she “hated youth Sunday School.” Of course, I understood as most of us youth workers aren’t big fans either, so I inquired why. She responded: “The teacher is boring and doesn’t know anything.”

I asked Allison, “Do you think you can do better?” She said “Yes, of course!” So I put her to the test. One of our friends taught the fifth grade Sunday morning class, so I asked if Allison could watch and maybe get a chance to teach sometime. It turned out that for the next four years of high school, Allison never would step inside the high school class again! Allison was transformed by teaching fifth graders.

The teacher always learns more than the listener. There is something powerful about the older teaching the younger student.

Shift #3: Lift the bar high, and students will try pole vaulting.
Carsten, a junior, was portraying Jesus during a summer outreach to the community. He memorized Jesus’ words in John chapters 18—20. By the end of the day acting out Jesus in the crucifixion, Carsten told me, “I have been crucified 13 times today.” Another sophomore told me he had been at Vacation Bible School for 12 hours, saying, “It’s a good tired.”

Twelve other high school students were in skits involving stories of the crucifixion and resurrection; eight middle school students were leading crafts; five freshmen and sophomores were leading outdoor games; and six seniors were doing Bible lessons.

As I witnessed this beautiful week of students doing daily ministry, I wondered, “Why have I kept students from serving and leading?”

Youth Ministry at its best is when we move the focus from me (the youth worker’s gifts and talents) to them (the students’ gifts and talents).

Jan, Allison and Carsten have one common denominator that could change the way we do ministry. I think it has something to do with empowering youth to do ministry: Youth on a mission. This Kool-Aid is worth drinking.

David Olshine is the co-founder of Youth Ministry Coaches and the author of the best-selling Studies on the Go (Zondervan).

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About The Author

Dr. David Olshine is the director and professor of Youth Ministry, Family and Culture at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina. He's the author of Studies on the Go: James, 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John (Zondervan/Youth Specialties) and the founder of Youth Ministry Coaches.

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