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Equipping the Young Saints

 
One of the core practices of a congregation is to equip the saints for faithful service in the church and in the Great Commission. Paul reminds us of our calling in Ephesians 4:12: "to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up". This equipping is not limited to just what we might consider mature adult believers but to all who are called into God's family, including youth and children.
 
Why is This Important?
 
Being equipped to serve is extremely important for adolescents as they journey into adulthood and solidify their identity and values that will shape how they live. The state of adolescent culture contributes to the urgency of this task as it constantly reinforces a "me" orientation. Even the psychological development process that a teen experiences tends to make youth self-focused as they begin to differentiate from their parents and figure out who they are.
 
The best thing we can give our youth during this stage in life is the opportunity to connect with something bigger than themselves. Our task is to engage them in a life that serves God and others, using the gifts that God has given them.
 
A Biblical Basis
 
 Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." He makes it clear that since we are redeemed in Christ, God empowers us to do these good works. It's important that we remember that serving or good works are not just something on our "to-do list" but rather are a result of being created in Christ.
 
Some Practical Ideas
 
 So how do we encourage this to happen? How do we equip the young saints?
 
Connect Bible lessons with action. When you teach on a particular topic or Scripture, give them a specific way to practice it. For example, when teaching on a parable of Jesus such as the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) or the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), give them a practical way to serve those in need. Take them to help serve a meal at a community soup kitchen, collect coats and blankets for the homeless and deliver them to a shelter, or visit someone in a nursing home. This can be an effective teaching tool as it's very important for an adolescent to connect life with Bible truth.
 
 When you teach on a particular topic or Scripture, give them a specific way to practice it. For example, when teaching on a parable of Jesus such as the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) or the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), give them a practical way to serve those in need. Take them to help serve a meal at a community soup kitchen, collect coats and blankets for the homeless and deliver them to a shelter, or visit someone in a nursing home. This can be an effective teaching tool as it's very important for an adolescent to connect life with Bible truth.
 
Avoid the temptation for your ministry to be entertainment-based. Sometimes it feels like we have to compete for a student's time. It is true we can attract students with fun games and attractive events (and these can serve well as an "open door" for friends or unchurched as well as create opportunities to build relationships). However, if that's the focus of our ministry, we run the risk of communicating to the kids that church and Christianity are just additional venues in which the purpose is to be amused.
 
 Sometimes it feels like we have to compete for a student's time. It is true we can attract students with fun games and attractive events (and these can serve well as an "open door" for friends or unchurched as well as create opportunities to build relationships). However, if that's the focus of our ministry, we run the risk of communicating to the kids that church and Christianity are just additional venues in which the purpose is to be amused.
 
Make sure your ministry has regular opportunities for mission and service. The fact that you regularly do mission trips, servant events, or service projects communicates what your church values. They also help students discover their giftedness and skills in practical ways.
 
 The fact that you regularly do mission trips, servant events, or service projects communicates what your church values. They also help students discover their giftedness and skills in practical ways.
 
Involve them in congregational ministry. Volunteering in the church isn't just for adults. Youth can regularly serve in areas such as Sunday School or VBS as well as greeters, lectors, and musicians. This can be a powerful experience as they learn about what it takes to work in a ministry, and it provides an inter-generational experience where they can witness to others using their gifts in service.
 
 Volunteering in the church isn't just for adults. Youth can regularly serve in areas such as Sunday School or VBS as well as greeters, lectors, and musicians. This can be a powerful experience as they learn about what it takes to work in a ministry, and it provides an inter-generational experience where they can witness to others using their gifts in service.
 
Building the Future
 
 A congregation that values its youth in these ways will help them discover who they are as God's handiwork and help develop the gifts given to them. This can, in turn, cultivate in them a desire to serve God and His people rather than revert to the culturally dominant mindset that focuses on self. Finally, this will also help them stay involved in church as they transition into adulthood. The Augsburg Youth and Family Institute found that youth who developed and practiced their giftedness by being involved in service and assimilated into leadership during their youth were more likely to be involved in church and have a vibrant faith life into adulthood.
 
Published July 2011


Steve Jorgensen has served in youth ministry in Lutheran congregation for over 20 years and currently serves at Pointe of Hope Lutheran Church in Blue Springs, MO. He has been on planning teams for National Youth Gatherings and National DCE conferences, and has been a featured presenter at district church worker conferences. In addition to a business degree and a certification in DCE ministry, he has a Masters in Family Life from Concordia, Seward. He has been married to his wife, Nancy for 21 years and they have two teenage daughters, Emily and Amy.

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