When It Comes to Youth Ministry, Age is Only a Number

Rowdy teens, loud music, late nights, crazy games…surely there is an age limit for those who serve in youth ministry, right? Or is there? Does a person need to be young to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to youth? Or could effective youth ministry also be done by those who have been deemed “too old,” either by themselves or by others?

Every person remembers some deep mark left on their young lives by someone older who happened to take the time to invest in them. It might have been over a long period or simply a single interaction, but there are those moments that stand out from all the rest because they became a part of what defined them. For my own life, these moments involved people from all different walks and stages of life. I believe the memory that stands out the most in my own life holds a marvelous answer for this question.


Youth Value Attention From Adults of All Ages

On a fall day in 1994, I was part of a large gathering of teens at the Word of Life Hotel in Schroon Lake, NY. The event was the Zone 8 Gideon retreat where the adults were in meetings, but the kids enjoyed four straight days of fun and fellowship. I had been invited to the weekend by a man from my church. His grandson and I were born a day apart and had a fast friendship. I never thought much about it then, but, looking back on it now, it seems incredible that a man in his early 70’s would fill a 15-passenger van with teenagers and bring them up to the beautiful Catskill Mountains for four days of fun, completely on his own time and dime.

Uncle Martin, as we called him, was jolly and joyful with the deepest smile lines that you can imagine. His eyes would sparkle from behind his glasses as he would crack jokes in his thick Argentinian accent. You could always find a crowd around Uncle Martin. He loved to tell stories and make his audience laugh. He was not the kind of person that you would picture working with youth, and he didn’t per se. He wasn’t a youth leader or in youth ministry. In fact, he was a dedicated Gideon and businessman. However, above all that, Uncle Martin was an opportunist for Jesus. He never missed a chance to speak into the lives of those who were around him, and on this particular day, a pack of rowdy, loud, teenage boys presented an open target.

After 6 hours of meetings, one would think Uncle Martin would rather have had peace and quiet with the hearty lunch that was being prepared for him rather than being around 40 loud teens talking in the normally quiet hotel lobby. We weren’t even supposed to be there, but the bus to take us bowling was late and so we packed the normally serene space with all the ruckus a group of high schoolers brings.

I distinctly remember seeing Uncle Martin seated on one of the couches in the lobby motioning me and the other boys to come closer with a smile that cannot be forgotten. He had been watching and waiting for the opportunity and now he had it. As he smiled, he said, in his strong accent and loud enough for all to hear, “Come here Sonny, and I teach you how to woo women!” That statement was too good to pass up! Within 15 seconds he had a crowd of teen boys gathered around him waiting to hear the wisdom he was about to impart. Without any of us realizing it, he had created an opportunity to speak into our lives. With all the skill and wisdom of his years, he captivated us with the story of how he met and married his wife.

At every point along the way his story was woven with Scripture and principles of godly dating and marriage. He led us from the moment he first saw what he described as “the most beautiful woman in all the world” to the end of 50 years of active sacrificial love. If it had been suggested, just 20 minutes earlier, that this jolly old man, with his bald head and deep wrinkles could have held 40 teen boys spellbound in a talk about godly love, dating, and marriage, no one would have believed it.


Connecting With Youth Requires Intentionally Capturing Their Interest

Why did this happen? How was Martin so successful in speaking into our lives that day? He was constantly aware of opportunities, and not just the readily available ones, but also those that were within his power to create. For Martin, there was no barrier that posed too big an obstacle to cross, not age, not time, not culture, not language, not even awkwardness. He had created interest in us by appealing to a question we had for which he possessed God’s answer. However, perhaps the most important thing that he did was to cross the divide. He could have put his head back in that big easy chair and just waited, content to let the noisy rabble get on the bus as soon as possible and leave him to some peace and quiet before the long afternoon of sessions to come, but he didn’t because he was more interested in being obedient to God’s calling than his own comfort.

Not one of us would have ever walked up to Martin and asked, “Uncle Martin, will you teach me how to woo women?” and that was precisely the brilliance of his actions. He understood that we were more than just a disinterested group of kids. He understood that what was needed was for him to be the grown-up in the room and take the first step, and once he did that, we would respond. And why wouldn’t we? Teens crave adult interaction! They want to be recognized by their soon-to-be-peers. They are standing in that uncomfortable position between childhood and adulthood and all they want is to be taken seriously. Uncle Martin did just that. He took us seriously, but at the same time, he shared his wisdom with us. He knew we would respond, and we did.


Your Will Never be Effective if You Look Down on Young People

How does this relate to youth ministry? What Uncle Martin did was a pivotal turning point in my life. What if he hadn’t done it? What if he had just walked away and never said anything to us, because he believed he was “too old” for youth ministry? In a lecture for Liberty University, Dr. David Wheeler related that during his time as a pastor, he had asked his congregation to go down to the youth ministry area after church and introduce themselves to one teen and spend a few minutes getting to know them. Later that week he asked the youth pastor how many adult members had come by after the service. Sadly, not a single one had responded to Dr. Wheeler’s call. Somehow, someway, and for some reason all of them had convinced themselves that their interaction with the youth of their church was unnecessary.

The great commission does not have an age limit, it is not restricted to a person’s peer group, it is not only a call for pastors or missionaries. It is a command for every believer to be lived out throughout every area of their life to every available audience they can reach. In the Western Church, more than 9 out of every 10 believers currently active in church membership came to faith before the age of 22, with the vast majority being saved before the age of 18. This fact means that it is an absolute necessity for every faithful follower of Jesus to be prepared to reach out to youth.


You can be Effective at Youth Ministry

Uncle Martin understood this thoroughly. He was not a youth pastor, youth leader, or even a Sunday school teacher. He was an obedient servant of God that understood the importance and weight of the command of Jesus, and he was prepared to seize any opportunity to make disciples, even a rowdy pack of teen boys. He understood that he was never too old to do youth ministry, and he impacted lives because he was not afraid to step out of his comfort zone, be obedient, and cross a 50-year age gap.

Imagine what the Church would look like if it were filled with Martins! Imagine what your church would be like if those believers in their golden years gave generously of themselves to pour into those in their teen years. Consider what the Body would be like if members rich in experience poured into members who overflowed with energy. How would your church be different if that started happening today? How would it look 10 years from now? 25 years from now? 50 years from now? What would this do to a nation, a continent, the world? How far would the Kingdom of Jesus reach if the whole church invested its strength to gather in fruit from the richest harvest fields?


The Church Needs You to Get Involved in Youth Ministry

Looking back there is one truth I now understand which I didn’t then. The light that danced in Uncle Martin’s joyful eyes betrayed a truth about Him that I hope and pray will be said of me when I am gone. In his heart, he was as young as we were. Inside his aging, tired body, lived an immortal soul, saved by grace, powered by the Holy Spirit, that overflowed with a joy-filled youthfulness that time could not quench. He did not age with his body because he knew that God had given him eternal life. He was not too busy or too disconnected to reach out to rowdy teens because he saw us as he saw himself, eternal souls in need of Jesus. Uncle Martin is free now and basking in the radiance of his beloved Savior. In his wake, he left an example to emulate. I am looking forward to the day when I can see his merry eyes sparkle in his smiling face once again, but until then, I am determined to follow his example and never believe that I am too old to do “youth ministry.”


About the Author

The calling which God has placed on my life to found Another12 Ministries stems back to my own high school days. Even then, before understanding the calling, I had a sense that God was moving me to bring the gospel specifically to young people. I have spent over 12 years ministering to youth in various capacities. For the past 7 years, I have been actively involved in traditional, church-based youth ministry, leading several student groups.

In 2017, God firmly placed the vision for Another12 Ministries on my heart, and, together with my friend and small group co-leader Chris, the journey to starting this ministry began to take shape. In preparation for this task, I entered seminary in the spring of 2018 at the Rawlings School of Divinity at Liberty University, and in the summer of 2019 God prompted our family to relocate from Seattle to Atlanta.

I am driven by a passion to see the Kingdom of God flourish in the youth of this world. The recent shifts in world culture have led to a mass exodus of youth from the Christian faith, and the result has been devastating to the Church. I am praying that God will begin an unstoppable revival that will capture the hearts of young people around the world, leading to the increase of His Kingdom. My desire is only to be obedient so that God will receive all the glory.

In addition to my ministry experience, I have a Masters of Divinity from Liberty University and a Juris Doctorate from Oak Brook College of Law. I am blessed to have been married to my best friend Tara for 20 years and we have two amazing sons.