My wife and I feel blessed to be parents of five amazing apprentice adults. The oldest will be turning 16 later this year. We learned early in our parenting journey that kids replicate what their parents (and other kids and adults around them) celebrate.
Going to the bathroom for the first few times all by themselves? “Good job! Way to go! I’m so proud of you!” [Cue happy, proud, excited child.] After this scenario plays out a few times, the child will continue in this behavior and may even encourage their siblings to do the same—whether they’re ready to or not! This is very good.
Not Just for Kids
This positive reaction to positive reinforcement doesn’t end in early childhood. Instead, it follows us for most of our lives. We even see it in the lives of Jesus’s disciples.
In Luke 10, Jesus sent out the 72. He sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to go. He gave them clear instructions to heal the sick and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. The disciples obeyed Jesus’s clear command, and they returned from their outreach with joy. Upon their return, after hearing their stories, Jesus celebrated with them.
Jesus said, “I know. I saw fall a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.” Luke 10:18–20, The Message
Jesus rejoiced with them. He celebrated with them. This all-important action on the part of our Lord caused the disciples to continue in this activity and teach others to do the same, long after Jesus ascended.
This same reality is true today. We replicate what we celebrate. And it’s no different for your students.
How It Works
Do you want to see your students start up more Gospel conversations? Be like Jesus, by following this four-step process:
- Model it in your own life. Make sure you’re sharing the Gospel with people personally, outside of your ministry setting.
- Train them to do it themselves. Give them simple, clear instructions on how they can do what you are modeling. Set clear expectations.
- Share stories. Provide opportunities for the people in your ministry to share stories about their experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly).
- Celebrate every story! Even if it didn’t go as they hoped, celebrate that they tried. If they had the privilege of leading someone to the Lord, celebrate God’s goodness in using them to be a part of rescuing someone from the dominion of darkness and bringing them into the Kingdom of God’s Son!
Then follow the same pattern of modeling, training, sharing stories, and celebrating with anything you’d like to see your students embrace—baptisms, Bible reading, Scripture memorization, or any other biblical outcome. Doing so will positively reinforce these behaviors among your students and—with the Lord’s blessing—multiply them even beyond your ministry.
3 Ways to Celebrate
Follow these leader-tested strategies for affirming Gospel conversations and other positive outcomes you’d like to see.
- Clap your hands and cheer (and encourage the rest of the group to join you) when someone shares a story about how they are faithfully trying to follow Jesus.
- Visibly display your goal (Gospel conversations, Scripture verses memorized, etc.) somewhere in your youth room, and make a tally mark or another visual symbol each time someone adds to the total. Then have a party or other reward when your group hits the goal.
- Write private, personal notes to let students know you see their progress and that you’re proud of them.