Youth Group Culture: Convictional Leadership

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This is the second piece in our series on youth group culture that asks the question, “How do we create a culture of participation, passion, and engagement in the broader church in our youth groups?” The first piece can be found here.

In the early summer of 2014 I took an official position at my local church as the Junior High Director. Since then, I have preached every Sunday, led mid-week bible study, and coordinated camps, training, and other events. It has been a tremendous experience, and God has both challenged me in numerous ways and molded me more into his image. I have noticed that youth ministry is full of interesting dynamics and movements. One day the students will be excited about the new Avengers movie, and the next about hipster Instagram graphics.

The truth is: they sit on one train for a day, and then enthusiastically jump onto the next. I’ve learned that it’s easy to get them excited, but it’s hard to keep them excited. Furthermore, the hot trending topics of today will not be the hot trending topics of tomorrow. How can one possibly create a culture of passion and engagement in the local church and in a youth ministry? I hope to offer an insight here. 

It’s about the Leader

One of the best ways I have seen passion and engagement grow in our church is through a convictional leader. Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once described a convictional leader as this, “When a leader walks into a room, a passion for truth had better enter with him. Authentic leadership does not emerge out of a vacuum. The leadership that matters most is convictional—deeply convictional. This quality of leadership springs from those foundational beliefs that shape who we are and establish our beliefs about everything else. Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip. We would not know who we are but for these bedrock beliefs, and without them we would not know how to lead (Conviction to Lead, 21).” 

I can say with absolute certainty that this works. If we desire to see passionate people become fully engaged and passionate disciples in our youth groups, then it must start with a leader who has deeply rooted convictions and passion for the grace of God for all sinners, and the victory of Christ over all evil.

A convictional leader takes the doctrine of the church and realizes that all believers are tied together from the inside out in gospel-partnership because of our common salvation. He knows the power and weight of the Divine Creator going out of his way to make himself known throughout Scripture. He talks about the Creator of the universe; the Creator who breathes out stars and life, and places planets in their exact locations and spins them with his almighty finger. Finally, the Christians of our youth groups, old and young, are members of the messianic community; they are Jesus’ people. This leader knows that the church is not his fan club, but Jesus’ citizens and humble servants. 

It is all about the leader, but not you. It is about THE leader: Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, and resurrected. I have seen God do some incredible work through me this past year. And I realize more and more that if the gospel does not take deep root in my own heart, and if the gospel does not hold me, then I will not inspire young people to embrace the glories of youth ministry.

Implications:  There are immense implications for convictional leadership.

1. Convictional leadership removes any temptation to treat youth ministry as child care.

When a leader becomes enthralled in the wonders and sweet doctrines of scripture, the students notice, the parents of those students notice, the senior pastor notices, and non-believers notice. People begin to catch a glimpse of something more than “dropping your child off for spiritual care and fun games.” I have found that when people see a little more than childcare, they buy-in to the ministry and begin to find ways to replicate and further develop more disciples of Jesus Christ.

2. Convictional leadership enhances the disciple-making process. 

Part of being a disciple is imitating those who are imitating Christ. I think this is part of the reason Paul commands us to, “imitate me as I imitate Christ (I Corinthians 11:1).” If our students look to the leaders of youth ministry as those people who are not convicted of scriptural truth, then they will imitate us and become disciples who have systems of ministry in their heads, but not conviction. Conviction creates disciples who in turn create more disciples for the kingdom.

3. Convictional leadership bypasses limited excitement and aims for truth rooted in the heart. 

One of the things that I have noticed within my last year of ministry is the difference between excitement and passion for truth rooted in the heart. Excitement in the hearts of youth lasts for only a limited amount of time, and even if they have excitement in the gospel, the passion seems to drift away after a time. It would seem that excitement is sporadic. Conviction, unlike excitement, is constant. Conviction takes hold of truth and roots it in the heart, so that even when we feel dry and wayward, the truths of scripture still hold us in time of trouble. A convictional leader aims in youth ministry to take hold of these beliefs and lets them take hold of him, with the purpose of transmitting that conviction to other people.

I know that I have only scratched the surface on a topic like this, but I hope that it gets the cogs in your brain moving. I hope that convictional leadership can help you and your youth ministry. I hope we can say with Paul that the gospel came to us, “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5).”

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