I have found that one of the hardest things to do in youth ministry is to keep the students engaged in whatever we’re doing at the time. Whether it’s playing a game, listening to a sermon, or having a group discussion, it has been a constant struggle to get and keep their attention throughout the entire time we’re together. As much as I would love to think that every message I preach challenges their minds, captivates their hearts and brings them back wanting more, I have to face the reality that my preaching is not always the main reason they come to youth events.
That realization has actually brought me a lot of comfort; it takes the responsibility off of my shoulders to try and perform well or act in a way that will make my youth like me. I simply have to listen for and follow the voice of God and trust Him with the results. I am not responsible for the outcome; I am responsible for the obedience. I have had many services that produced a smaller turnout than I had hoped for, but the Lord spoke to my heart to be faithful to Him and His commands no matter what the situation looked like from my perspective. If I had focused on the fact that we were down ten kids from the past week, I would not have poured my heart out to the ones that were there, which would have been a disservice both to them and to God. It has been in those times that I have learned to make the conscious choice to set the tone for every event.
Through my experiences, it has been proven over and over again that the leader is the primary individual who sets the tone, the attitude, for the entire experience. If I get excited about what is happening, there is a much better chance that some of the youth will get excited about it, too. If I have a dull, non expectant attitude, it is almost a guarantee that most of the youth will share in my infectiously negative point of view. I respect those who have a calmer demeanor when preaching the Gospel, but I celebrate our difference in that respect. I get pumped when I preach, and it is usually somewhat entertaining to those who are there to see it (no church property has been damaged yet, don’t worry). I accept the fact that some people think I’m crazy, as long as they know I’m crazy about Jesus and the love He continually shows to me. I am passionate about the message God has assigned me to deliver, and I believe that passion and excitement is contagious.
The best and most important way to set the tone for every ministry event—from Wednesday night service to playing basketball with students on weekends—is to begin with prayer, to surrender all of myself to the power and dominion of the Holy Spirit to move how He wants to in every moment. I fix my eyes on Him and pursue Him relentlessly. I have to constantly remind myself of the fact that I do not save, heal, or purify anyone. Only God does that. I cannot fix any person, but I can guide them to the One who fixes them. I need Him every second of my life, and I must start every day and event in ministry by reflecting on that truth. If God is not the center of it, I want no part in it.
After prayer, the biggest thing I can control is my attitude. I can make the choice to get excited about something when I know I don’t feel like it. A positive attitude is contagious and a negative attitude is infectious. A positive, excited attitude can turn an otherwise boring work day into a fun competition between the guys and girls. A pessimistic attitude might not even guarantee that anyone will show up to work. Just think, if we can turn a work day into something fun, who knows what we could do with other events like scavenger hunts, trips to amusement parks, or summer camps?
Fighting to keep the youth’s attention is an ongoing battle, but I rely on setting a
tone with two essential elements: passion and love. I am passionate about what God has called me to do, and I do my best to love Him and to love my youth with all of my heart.
Trey Wideman is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and the Youth Pastor at SpiritLife church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.