A solo pastor needs to remember that he is the pastor of the entire congregation, not just the ones who are old enough to vote. Therefore he needs to build relationships with the children on up to the most senior saints. He needs to pray for them, and seek to help each to grow in their relationship with the Lord. If I had to pick one age group where I believed it was most essential for the lead pastor to have a strong relationship with and be able to teach the essentials of the faith, it would be teenagers.
This is a time of life where transitions and development happen fast. Students are learning so much about their world and life and yet have so much to learn which will only come with trials and life experience. It is a time when crazy challenges can abound and yet also a time when confidence can rise. The most vital thing to understand about this particular time in a person's life is that they are on the cusp of making the transition from being under the authority of their parents to being on their own. While in the teenage years, whether or not students attend church and youth group is primarily due to the choice of their parents. When the student graduates from high school, usually (I know there are exceptions) whether or not the student attends church is because they have independently chosen to do so. That transition between being under the authority of their parents to being on their own happens quickly. It is quite crucial then for teenagers to build a strong relationship with their pastor prior to this transition. It is a relationship which will lead them to be convinced of the importance of growing in their faith through a local church.
My vision for students in junior and senior high within the church is that they would become students who know their Bibles and love the church. That is a summary statement and there is more to it than just those two headings. I can already hear some of the challenges to that statement: "But you can know your Bible and love the church and still not be a Christian!!" Yes, that is true. My over-all goal for everyone in the church I serve is that they would come to be born again, and grow in their faith so as to be mature in Christ. So I proclaim Christ, warning everyone and teaching with all wisdom towards that goal. But the type of born again disciple I am seeking to make within the youth ministry of the church are those who know their Bibles and love the church.
Our teenagers are growing up within a world that despises authority. The main voices in our media are secular voices, who reject any sense of divine authority over our nation's morality. Although, these secular voices are heavily moral, denouncing certain behaviors as wrong and others as good and acceptable. They get some things right, but they often call what is evil, good and what is good, evil. It is a confused time to be sure. Unfortunately, many in our society who would identify themselves as "Christians" and who may even attend a local church regularly are just as confused about authority. When asked or challenged by those in our secular culture to explain what they believe or to give an answer for the moral dilemmas in our culture they often have no answer. They have none primarily because they really don't know their Bibles. So often their understanding of Christianity is self-defined.
Biblical illiteracy is rampant in our culture, and even in the evangelical church. Yet, the Bible provides for us the keys to understanding our world, and how best to live within it as well as how best to prepare for the future world to come. God's Word is powerful. God's Word is trans-formative. The Bible is the way through which God speaks to His people. Within the Bible is found the revelation of God's Son, Jesus; the Savior, the Redeemer, the Lord of all. We can only come to know Him through the Bible, and not just certain parts of the Bible, but all of the Bible. From beginning to end, God's Word is centered on Jesus Christ, and our need for Him. I believe there is no more crucial education that our young people can receive in their teenage years than understanding their Bibles so that they can be transformed followers of Christ the Lord. When they leave their homes to go off to university, or to begin a career, or to get married and begin a family, or even if they are among the many now who don't really leave home and just stay within the security of mom and dad's home for an extended time, they need to know that everything that they hear must be judged according to what Scripture teaches. They need to know how to point others to Jesus in the Bible. They need to know that God authoritatively speaks to us through the Bible. Our students need to learn their Bibles.
Our students also need to love the church. Far too often, our students leave the church when they leave home because they never really developed a relationship with the church. They don't participate in the church. If they come, they only come to the worship service and then leave immediately after it is over so they can hurry back to where they really wanted to be. Far too often students don't understand just how important the church is to their spiritual growth because they have not had good models for this. But other times it is because the church or the pastor has not worked hard to develop good relationships with these students while they are becoming adults before our eyes.
I want to see students involved in their churches. When they walk in the doors members and church leaders should greet them and talk with them as well as their parents. They should be taught the vital role the church plays in their spiritual growth while in youth group or Sunday School. They should see this within the Bible as well as displayed for them by their churches. The pastor should work to develop relationships with them that when they become adults they will feel comfortable getting to know the pastor(s) of the churches they may attend. When students leave home for the first time, they will make finding a good church home a priority for them. Or if they don't leave home initially, that they will desire to continue to be involved in their local church.
Imagine how healthy and strong local churches can become when teenagers are built-up to become young men and women who know their Bibles and love the local church. Young men and women who don't just come to church so they can tell their parents they did, but who go to church to serve, to grow in their faith, and to eventually lead. May we seek to pray and work towards this worthy and needed goal.