BY ROGER FELIPE
Three years ago I was wrestling with my future. I felt trapped between my aspirations to lead a church as a senior pastor and continuing to minister to the youth in my church. I also felt direction-less. Our youth ministry had programs and ministries, but not a vision to set the course. I saw myself “simply floating” through ministry without a clear understanding of the direction and purpose God had for His children.
These were difficult days, weeks and months. Thanks to the prayers of my brothers and to God’s timely promises that encouraged me to wait on Him, things are now different! I no longer doubt that God’s calling on my life is to pastor His little ones. Neither do I have to worry about God’s assignment for my ministry. Through a series of events, heart inclinations and biblical instruction, God has given me insight into His vision for our youth.
God’s vision for our youth is a cell or small group approach to doing ministry. Seeing kids, some as young as twelve years old, leading a small group and learning to become shepherd leaders, is beyond description. The experiences we are enjoying continue to confirm that our understanding of God’s vision is on target.
Our vision statement for our ministry is as follows: “To establish small groups for every school represented in our student body, where every youth can a) experience the love of Christ; b) live in community with one another; c) grow in their relationship with God, and d) provide a safe place where their friends can come to know Christ.”
There are many challenges to consider when beginning any model of ministry. I want to share three challenges I have had to deal with in developing our “Love in Action” community groups.
The foremost challenge pertains to the person who is leading the ministry. Unless you as the spiritual leader over the youth in your local church are led of God, it will be difficult to develop a model that will blossom. When uncertain of what to do or where to go with your ministry, you must simply wait on God, as did the prophet Habakkuk. Only then did the Lord reply and tell him to write his prophecy (Habakkuk 1:17; 2:1).
A second challenge I faced was to trust God to move in the hearts of our kids and adult sponsors. Would kids come to the weekly training? Would they give up another night to meet with their group? Would adults be able to see the vision and give the necessary time to make it a reality? At the end of fourteen months God has blessed us with sixteen student shepherd leaders, five adult sponsors, and nine small groups that meet each week.
A third challenge is the time, effort and commitment that it takes from you and your supporting staff. John Maxwell says that “the road to the next level is always uphill.” When God gives His servant His vision, it will always be bigger than the servant. It will be God-sized. God wants to use dedicated leaders and followers who will labor faithfully along with Him.
Unless God clearly shows me differently, I am convinced that the next twenty years of my life will be invested in this place in order to see this vision come to fruition. To recap, the three challenges you will face as you consider the possibility of starting a small group youth ministry are; 1) your ability to wait and receive God’s vision, 2) your decision to trust God to move in the hearts of people, and 3) your commitment along with your leadership staff to labor with God for the long-haul.
How can you get started in developing small groups in your church? Allow me to provide a few “how to” suggestions.
First, please be sure to do your homework. There are many good books available on how to organize a cell ministry, as well as the philosophy behind its use and success. I suggest the following as good reading materials: Bo Bosher’s book, “Student Impact for the 21st Century” published by Zondervan; “Generating Hope” by Jimmy Long, published by InterVarsity Press; and Bill Beckham’s book, “The Second Reformation” and “Where Do We Go From Here?” by Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr., both published by Touch Publications. You need to research the textbooks and order some small group materials before you plunge into small groups. A good amount of reading up front will help you tremendously.
Second, begin to include small groups as part of your ministry. You may have been afraid of starting this type of ministry because of fear that all other forms of ministry will have to be shut down. Our youth ministry has had cells for over a year, without doing away with Sunday School, discipleship groups, and other avenues of ministry. Whether or not you eventually choose to move to a completely cell-based model of youth ministry doesn’t have to prevent you from developing some small groups now.
Third, organize for growth. You must decide who will make up your leadership team and how often you will meet with them. We meet once a week with both student leaders and adult sponsors for one and a half hours of training. This includes prayer, team building, discussion, administrative details, preparation for the following week, and some type of discipleship instruction. Also, you will need to determine if each group will move around or will remain in one location. After trying the former we now ask kids to commit to one location for their group meetings.
Fourth, invest time into your leadership team. Eat together, retreat together and build close relationships with student leaders and adult sponsors.
Fifth, cast the vision continually. Once God has given you His vision, be sure to cast it before your staff, your leadership team, your youth, their parents, and anyone who will listen. I’ve taken several groups onto a high school campus and shared the vision for winning hundreds of kids through youth-led small groups. In order to help people understand why they need to commit to this form of ministry you will need to help them see what you see. Cast your vision creatively and frequently.
Youth-led small groups can powerfully impact your local church and community. If God so leads your ministry, He will enable you to be faithful in developing small communities of young believers who will care for and serve one another and who will learn to reach out to friends with the love of Christ.
Suggestion: Cell-based curriculum in English can be ordered from High Impact Publishing, 1-800-72-YOUTH. Also, “Student Impact Small Groups Resources” is published by Zondervan. To order, call (847) 765-0070.