A Lifetime of Learning

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Youth ministers have innumerable ways to express their delight in Christ and His glory. One of those ways is learning about Him, His kingdom, and His ministry for a lifetime. Restlessness that leads to lifetime learning flows from a thirsty, transformed heart.

One way to continue learning is through formal study.

If you sense that God will allow you to be in student ministry for a significant chapter of your life, it may be good stewardship to complete a bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD degree in that field. Degree programs help create focus, motivation, and momentum that are difficult to find alone.

Online courses offer the advantage of flexible schedules and perhaps not having to move. Classroom courses offer the advantage of rich interaction with professors and peers, spiritual impact, and the creation of friendships that last a lifetime.

Another way to continue learning is through reading and other media.

Someone has said that five years from now you will be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet. By now you probably know whether you grasp new learning best through words on paper, words on a screen, sound, or video. Fortunately, all those options are available to you today.

The next step may be to block out and protect a time each week that you will focus on learning. Planning to do something “someday when I can find the time” never seems to work out.

A mentor once advised me to balance all the areas I would study but to give special attention to the area of my greatest gift and the area of my greatest weakness. He explained that the area of my greatest gift might represent unique ways I will contribute to kingdom advance. He also explained that my greatest weakness might diminish my effectiveness in all my life. Both deserve study.

Another way to continue learning is through intentional conversations.

Conversations with mentors and with peers in ministry can lead to rich learning. Such learning happens more often when conversations are intentional. It is human nature to want to tell things from our world. It takes intention to ask questions that draw out insight and wisdom from the other person. Those who most enjoy telling how wonderful they are leave conversations the most impoverished.

Ephesians 4:11–12 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” As shepherds and teachers, youth ministers are called and gifted to equip the saints, including volunteers, for the ministry to which they have been called.

Every week the youth minister invests in three groups. The youth minister invests in teenagers directly, equips parents to parent, and equips volunteers to lead. Wise youth ministers do this because both research and their own experience have taught them a lesson: Investing two-thirds of their energy in parents and volunteers leads to more lifetime faith among teenagers than spending all of their energy directly on teenagers.

Equippers need humility. A youth minister with a weak sense of self might enjoy hearing a volunteer say: “You amaze me. I have no idea how you’re able to open the Bible in a way teenagers seem to understand.” Or to hear a teenager say: “I go to class on Sunday morning basically because my parents make me. But it’s pretty lame. But when I’m with you, Scripture comes alive.”

The youth minister who, by the Spirit, is humble can find great joy in seeing trained volunteers begin to prosper in their individual ministries. The leader who delights in Christ will delight in seeing ministry multiplied through others.

When you resign, the church may spend many months—or even a year or more—looking for your replacement. When you are called away, you know you will still care about your present teenagers and their life in Christ. The question is, What quality of leadership will they receive from the volunteers during that period when there is no youth minister?

Watching from a distance, will you see vibrant ministry with spiritually healthy teenagers, or will you see teenagers struggle and the group melt away because volunteers were not thoroughly trained and equipped? Whether you invest in leaders now will determine what will happen then.

Here is an interesting question to ask yourself from time to time: “Do I know anything about God, Scripture, teenagers, families, or ministry that my volunteers do not know?” If the answer is yes, then the next question might be: “What is my plan for getting this that I know to my volunteers?”

To say this another way, you have the privilege of being seminary for your volunteers. I invite you to see yourself as a professor who is trying to pour into your adults everything they need for ministry.

Your volunteers may never go to school to learn such things as responding to teenagers in crisis or the principles of biblical interpretation. You may be their only opportunity for such learning. When you plan a gathering for your volunteers, you may well think, With part of our time, seminary will be in session.

For volunteers to become a close, caring community, they need regular time together. For volunteers to have experiences that take them deeper in Christ, they need regular time together. For volunteers to make specific plans for teaching and discipling, they need regular time together. Now add to that all the youth minister needs to teach them about God, Scripture, teenagers, families, and ministry. Weekly or, at the very least, monthly gatherings seem essential.

Wise youth ministers budget to be able to give books and other media to volunteers. Then they use regular meeting times to discuss the content from specific chapters or sections. Volunteers who consistently are being exposed to new ideas become more and more effective in their ministries.

Youth ministers who are lifetime learners, and who equip God’s people for their ministries, will accelerate the coming of the kingdom in the lives of teenagers and families.

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