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Episode 58 - 9 Dec 2019

Leading Teenagers

David Penuel and Rebe Long (Watermark's Student Ministries) join John and Adam in the studio today to talk about leading teenagers. They provide 3 practical principles for being successful with youth ministry.

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Episode Summary


Today's teenagers have to navigate an ever changing cultural environment. They are perhaps the first truly post Christian generation in America. Bible reading, church attendance, and religious adherence are at all time lows. Believers everywhere are being increasingly chastised for their beliefs. Between the frequency of school shootings, the ease of access to pornography, and the highest rate of mental illness ever, teenagers are stressed, addicted, and desperate for help. Thankfully, the church offers a place where teenagers can be known and loved.

3 Principles for Leading Teenagers

  1. Prioritize Relationships
  2. Prioritize the Gospel
  3. Encourage Teenagers to BE the Church

Prioritize Relationships

In order to prioritize relationships, we choose to cast an ambitious vision for leadership. Rather than the typical structure with leaders choosing a particular grade or age range and leading that group year after year, instead we ask leaders to commit to lead teenagers all the way from 6th grade till they graduate high school. And yes, you read that correctly. We ask for a 7 year commitment. While this is an incredible responsibility and a huge time commitment, it also allows for meaningful and long lasting relationships to be formed. Leaders are able to build actual trust with teenagers. Rather than shipping each grade off to a new set of leaders, students will be relationally invested in by the same leaders year after year. This gives them a consistency and longevity that gives teenagers people to lean on when needed. When many teenagers will not even have the same friend group for 7 years, this gives them opportunity to have genuine community over that whole time. Is it costly? Yes. But the benefit to this kind of discipleship is immense.

Our job becomes finding, training, and multiplying leaders to make a team. This takes precedence over programs and music and camps and activities. It is at the very core of how we do ministry, because relationships are at the very core of discipleship.

Prioritize the Gospel

Far too many teenagers grow up in church but fail to hear the gospel articulated clearly and in a way they can understand. Thus, we insist that every single week, in every group setting, there will be a presentation of the gospel. We also ask kids who are believers to present the gospel as well. By the time they are seniors, they will be far more equipped to communicate the gospel. There is a temptation to forget this. We have an enemy that would delight for us to forget to proclaim and apply the gospel. Any problem that a teenager faces will have an answer found in the good news of Jesus. This will come in direct opposition to the narrative teenagers hear in culture every day. True life is found not in self-expression or individual fulfillment, but in the person of Jesus.

We cannot allow youth ministry or ministry to teenagers to simply become behavior modification. We cannot insist upon moral adherence for those that do not yet understand the gospel.

Encourage Teenagers to BE the Church

Being the church is far more exciting that going to church. Going to church is often boring. But if we treat the church like a battleship rather than a cruise ship, then they may start to see a healthy picture of what the church can be. Call teenagers to full devotion. Don't have a separate set of expectations for the adults in your church than you have for your teenagers. If you call your adults to membership, then do the same thing for your teenagers. Give them ways to serve. Insist they participate in worship and the culture of the church. Allow them to participate fully in their ministry and truly be ambassadors to their peers. The best ministers to teenagers are other teenagers.

Youth pastors do not need to be the only ones evangelizing to and ministering to teenagers. Don't carry that burden. Call teenagers to minister to their friends.


If this sounds too intimidating, pray about it. Ask the Lord to show you if this is too ambitious a vision for leading teenagers. If you are worried that asking leaders for that kind of commitment would scare them away, instead realize that there may be those who are ready and waiting to show up.

Don't support the false idea that ministry to students is somehow a lesser calling. Ministry to teenagers is not a stepping stone. It is an incredible calling and opportunity for discipleship.

For more information about Watermark's ministry to teenagers, see and to find additional resources and contact David or Rebe for more.

If you are interested in an in-depth look at ministry to teenagers, consider attending the Church Leaders Conference. Both David and Rebe will be there to help troubleshoot problems and brainstorm solutions.

Hosted By
John mcgee 20200223 wcc headhshots 001447
John McGee

Sr. Director of Watermark Resources

A tarnow
Adam Tarnow

Cohost of Church Leadership Podcast