I really believe that ministry is more “caught” than taught. What I mean by that is that young people learn more about being a disciple of Jesus by being around someone who is intentionally pouring their lives into them. Jesus spent most of his time with Peter, James, and John, and then the bulk of the rest of his time in ministry with the other eight of his 12 Disciples. Jesus was intentional about showing them day by day what it looked like to be in relationship with him. By being around him all of the time they learned by observation what his priorities were, how he spent his day, and what seemed to matter to him. They even observed what he ate, when he slept, how he recreated, how he talked to the Heavenly Father in prayer. For Jesus, it was “quantity” time with his Disciples as much or more than the “quality of time.”
RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: If you would like a resource to read or train your leadership team in how to make disciples effectively like Jesus did, I highly recommend buying Robert Coleman’s, The Master Plan of Evangelism with Study Guide.
TEENAGERS TODAY ARE SIMILAR & DIFFERENT FROM PREVIOUS GENERATIONS
Today’s teenagers are much like adolescents have always been throughout history but they also have some differences. Like kids throughout all generations, they enjoy fun, they value friends highly, they want to make a difference in the world, and they are typically enthusiastic about new and novel things. This makes them a real catalyst in society. But there are also some differences. Adolescents today are also much lonelier than previous generations. Families are more broken then ever. Entertainment, media, and the fire hose of social/information actually makes kids feel more isolated than connected. This is ironic because social media promises “community”, but adolescent researchers are seeing through the facade.
MODERN DAY YOUTH WORKERS NEED TO EXCEL AT
Chap Clark’s book, Hurt, he sites some very important contemporary research on adolescents. He claims that teenagers, particularly in western society, are growing up with an increasing sense of abandonment and hurt. As a result, he suggests that any youth ministry approach today would do well to focus on three goals: 1) Develop nurturing environments for young people; 2) Provide stable and secure relationships where young people truly feel loved; and 3) Help young people experience authentic and intimate relationships with loving adults. 
One of the more important aspects of an effective student ministry today is to develop healthy small groups for kids to know one another and be known. In my experience as a youth worker, one of the more intimidating aspects of “starting” a small group is those awkward few weeks when you are getting to know kids better and helping set a tone of safety and confidentiality so that kids will open up and be vulnerable around each other.
When thinking about topics that will lead to good discussions, I found a study that was quite helpful. Keijo Eriksson interviewed a bunch of students and asked them to write down what was most important to them in life. These were the categories that they talked about (in order of popularity):
- Social concerns
- Leisure time
- Sympathy and understanding
- The environment
- Health and keeping fit
- The joy of growing up and the satisfaction of making progress
- Security in one’s social environment
As I look at this list of topics, you can boil them all down to three big things that almost every teenager cares a lot about:
1. Individuals and their relationships
3. The concept of God and religion
In leading small groups, you may want to try building some Bible studies around these topics. And if you need help breaking the ice and getting some good conversations started with your small groups of young people, here is a list of 10 questions that I think work well. Depending on what culture you live in you may have to adjust some of these, but I think these questions are fairly cross-culture.
10 QUESTIONS THAT MIGHT HELP YOUR HIGH SCHOOL SMALL GROUPS OPEN UP
- What was your one of your highs and lows from this week?
- What is the something you did this week that you wish you could to do over again?
- When you have some free time, what kinds of things do you like to do?
- If you could change anything about when you were growing up as a kid, what would you change?
- If you could have any job you wanted in the future, what would it be? Why?
- When do you feel most alive or the most “yourself”?
- What is one of the hardest things about being a teenager?
- Can you remember when you first heard about Jesus? What did you think about Him?
- How might you describe your relationship with Jesus these days?
- What is something you really would like to change in your school? Your city?
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 Clark, Chap,
 Keijo Eriksson, “In Search of the Meaning of Life:
study of the Ideas of Senior Compulsory School Pupils on Life and its Meaning in an Experiential Learning Context.” British Journal of Religious Education 22, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 120. Erickson