By Dave Reardon, Youth Alive Victoria Academy Director & Former WA Youth Alive Director @docreardon

Youth ministry is a spiritual gymnasium for growing strong and healthy young believers. Done right, God’s gym is a place to learn alongside experienced trainers in a safe and fun environment. Done wrong, it’s shallow, noisy and involves a lot of flexing on social media.

In Daniel 3 we find a trio of strong young Hebrew leaders, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were dragged 1000km from home, given a new diet, new jobs, new clothes and forced to learn a new language. Through it all, they held onto their faith in God, even when staring down the all-conquering, all-flexing Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and his fiery furnace. 

Reading this famous passage again recently, it struck me that there were two distinct leadership models on display. There was the impressive, flashy, demanding style of Nebuchadnezzar, a leader with an ego to match the golden statue of himself he’d built. And then there was the Hebrews’ leadership, based on personal conviction and humble faith.  Compare their leadership styles below:

Nebuchadnezzar < Hebrew boys 

Built high < Stood Tall

Focused on the Impressive < Focused on the Important

Public Performance < Personal Convictions

Demanding < Surrendered

As 21st Century leaders, we should have a laser-focus on building students’ personal faith, Bible literacy and humility rather than being drawn into constantly chasing bigger numbers or the perfect crowd-shot for IG. 

Yes, big events are terrific and certainly should be part of any youth ministry calendar, but always remember that our ultimate responsibility is to build DEEP:

  • Teach students to pray, encourage kindness and personally model generosity. 
  • Walk with them through the Bible week-by-week, year-by-year. 
  • Provide opportunities to stretch their leadership, take risks and sometimes fail. 
  • Explain HOW believers make wise decisions, rather than simply demanding behavioural observance. This sets them up to live strong in the long-term.
  • Continually point them back to Jesus. It’s not about us!

What a tremendous privilege it is to walk alongside young believers, teaching and training them as they build spiritual muscle. Enjoy the journey.