We can never find enough musicians for our worship band or enough leaders for our worship committee.”
“Our church is dying. Once the kids turn sixteen or seventeen they leave the church and never come back.”
Comments like these represent two major crises in churches across the country, in both urban and suburban contexts:
- It is harder and harder to find people to serve in volunteer capacity in crucial ministry areas within the church.
- Most established churches are hemorrhaging teens and young adults. They leave and never come back.
The amazing thing is that each of these problems contains the solution to the other. But the solutions are hidden, like buried treasure. In fact, buried treasure is a great image to use to uncover the solutions. We designed the following worship service to encourage, shock, and model for churches how leadership training for teenagers is just the hunt for buried treasure that Jesus calls us to be on.
Four Key Elements of a Treasure Hunt
Jesus’ parable of the treasure hunt contains four key elements that are true of any good treasure hunt (think Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Hobbit, and others). Jesus doesn’t invent these elements; instead he uses them to show us a picture of the kingdom.
1. There is treasure out there somewhere. Unimaginable treasure awaits those who want to venture into the kingdom of God. Right now, not too far from any one of us, an incredible adventure leading to treasure awaits those who take Jesus’ invitation.
2. Treasure is hidden. Treasure requires digging, uncovering, and effort, and it does not always come in obvious form. Treasure hunting often involves stages, treasure maps, and prolonged and difficult expeditions. It requires eyes that can see and faith and stamina. Most of the kingdom treasure is “upside-down” treasure to which the world assigns little value.
3. Treasure is dangerous. When the man finds the treasure he hides it again because he knows that people will cut his throat to get it. A kingdom treasure hunt will involve an element of danger. You will have to face certain fears.
4. Treasure brings incredible joy that makes you willing to sell all you have and still feel like you’re getting a deal. When he discovered that the treasure would require buying the field, the man was not discouraged or depressed at the sacrifice required, rather he was overjoyed with the deal he got.
Each of these elements of the treasure hunt precipitates a question that forces us to apply the treasure hunt to our lives.
1. Do you know about the treasure, or are you just going through the motions of life?
2. Are you on a treasure hunt, or is it all treasure and no hunt?
3. Is there any element of danger in your life, or are you just playing it safe?
4. Is there anything in your life worth selling everything for?
One more point remains. After looking at the treasure hunt and honestly evaluating our willingness to authentically give ourselves to the costs involved, we must admit that none of us are very good adventurers. That’s where the gospel comes in. Before we can be on a treasure hunt we must realize that we are hunted treasure.
So far we’ve been using the telescope of this parable to search the world for kingdom treasure that God has called us to find. Now God asks us to take the telescope and turn it toward ourselves. We are treasure being sought and God is looking through the lens. Using John 1 and other key texts we can see how Christ walks through each of these four steps in his search for us! In the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God. He enjoyed a life of perfect, packed, creative power, joy, and life. But God saw that there was treasure “out there,” and he emptied himself to be in a place of pain, incompleteness, and despair (v. 14). Why? Because he saw some incredibly valuable treasure that he had to have—us. But this treasure was hidden. The light shone in the darkness, but the treasure got up and moved around, trying to avoid being found (vv. 5, 10).
Jesus’ whole life was an exercise in dangerous living. A fugitive from birth, he faced confrontation, anger, and eventually arrest and execution in his quest to find treasure. But how did he view this sacrifice? Was he bitter? No, Hebrews tells us that, “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross” (12:2). This is the language of a good deal. On Jesus’ last night on earth he spoke to his disciples of the labor pains of a woman giving birth and how they lead to an overshadowing treasure joy. This was his mind. This is how he viewed us (John 16:22).
What’s the point of this? Only when we realize that we are hunted treasure will we be able to have the love and vision, insight and patience to invest in the hidden treasure of teenagers. On this hangs the health and strength of our churches.
Worship Service Outline
The worship service described here tries to follow not only the content of Jesus’ treasure parable, but also its form. In other words, it is meant to be a kind of parable. Our worship team includes six teens and two adults. As we begin our worship service, most of the teens are planted (“hidden”) in the congregation. As the service progresses those teens become the discovered treasure. We make the central point of the sermon by drawing them in and letting them take the service over for the adults.
Call to Worship: Treasure Drama
[Led by Teens 1 and 2, who are already onstage. A boy walking home decides to take a shortcut through a field (stage area). As he walks, he trips over some treasure. He uncovers it and begins jumping and shouting for joy as he discovers its value. At the same time, he stops, realizing his danger and exposure with so much treasure, and looks around in fear. The owner of the field immediately appears and begins challenging the boy (“What are you doing here? Get out!” and so on . . .). The boy offers to buy the field. The owner, sensing his good fortune, unloads the field at a higher than market price. The boy leaves for a moment, comes back, and signs on the dotted line. As the deal is closed, the boy is left onstage. He jumps for joy and gives off the general impression that he has hit pay dirt!]
Teen 1: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure.
Teen 2: [also displayed on PowerPoint] Do you know about the treasure? Or are you just going through the motions?
[Pastor offers introduction and welcome; comments about the nature of this worship service and invites congregation to let Jesus’ parable draw us into a deeper understanding of the kingdom as we use the parable itself to structure the worship service.
Adult leader introduces treasure element 1: “There is treasure out there somewhere,” then invites congregation to praise God for revealing himself as our greatest treasure.]
Song: “Come On and Bless the Lord with Me”
Teen 1: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.
Teen 2: Are you on the treasure hunt, or is it all treasure and no hunt?
Pastor: The treasure hunt brings up a question: Are you on a treasure hunt, or is it all treasure and no hunt? In your life, in your ministry, in your family, in your way of relaxing and dealing with our culture, have you given in to the reigning cultural impetus of instant gratification—“You can have it all with no cost”? Or do you understand that the treasure is hidden? It requires a map. You can be on it for years, only to discover you’ve been holding the map upside down. Kingdom treasure is often hidden in strange places and in strange packages.
[As the pastor is speaking, “planted” teens begin to distract and disrupt, doing the things that every youth leader in America knows too well. At first the adult leader interrupts the pastor to deal with these disruptive kids. This turns into a “live” family counseling session, where it comes out that one of the reasons kids act up is because they are not included in leadership or given training. This conversation turns into an invitation to lead, and the disruptive teens take the opportunity to lead the church in the next worship song. The adult leader provides conversational glue to hold this section together.]
Song: “Oh, Give Thanks”
[After the song the adult leader encourages the teens who led us. Teens 1 and 2, however, point out that there is still someone who has not been included and is still disruptive. The leader then invites Teen 3 to come up; she then notifies the congregation that this was “staged”—but that there is an underlying truth. She offers her testimony about how God used leadership development to bring her into the kingdom.]
Teen 3: [Gives testimony.]
Call to Confession
Teen 4: Are there children in your congregation who are disruptive? Or does it seem as though there’s no place to put them? [add more examples—neighborhood kids, the complainers in your church]
What do you do? Do you just ignore them and keep going on with your everyday life? They may be the hidden treasure that Jesus is talking about—like we were.
Let’s take some time to reflect about and confess to God the chances we’ve lost to go for hidden treasure. [pause for silent prayer]
Assurance of Pardon
Teen 5: As our assurance of pardon, we will sing this song.
Song: “Good to Me” (SNC 71), sung by all teens
Challenge and Offering
Teen 1: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, when a man found it, he hid it again.
Teen 2: Is there any element of danger in your life or are you just playing it safe?
[Opening drama is repeated up to the point of hiding the treasure again. Teen 6 then freezes the actor on stage. She poses the question “Why is he hiding his treasure?” She then unfreezes the actor and interviews him. He explains that it’s dangerous to have so much treasure lying around. . . .
Teen 2 then engages the congregation about the treasure they are going after and how they must also have experienced this element of danger. This leads into an exploration of Jesus’ statement “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a seed. . . .”
Teen 5 then invites us to bring an offering to the Lord. Bulletins (in the form of treasure maps) include a treasure chest where everyone can write down something that they fear God would ask them to do if they were to really commit to the treasure hunt. Deacons will collect these as teens lead in song.]
Song: “God Has Not Given Me a Spirit of Fear”
Teen 5: If we go on the treasure hunt, does it mean then that it’s all to be dreary death and self-sacrifice?
Teen 1: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Sermon: “The Treasure Hunt”
[Adult leaders and/or teens tag-team preach on (1) The Joy; (2) The Bargain; (3) The Field.]
[Teen 4 offers a reality check by leading teens as they review with us the four questions and assess how we are holding up under Jesus’ invitation to be on the treasure hunt.
Pastor preaches the big reversal: until we realize that we are hunted treasure, we will not be very effective treasure hunters.
2 Readers counterpoint selections from John 1, Hebrews 12:2, and John 16 and the four main points of the treasure hunt, showing how each part of the hunt is lived out in the incarnation of Christ. This may be filled in with some exhortation.]
Song: “When I Think About the Lord”
Doxology: “Trading My Sorrows”
Pointers for Youth Ministry
- Find out what moves teens, don’t impose your own style.
- Always look for ways to incorporate teens in the planning.
- Assume kids are leaders waiting to be hatched.
- Assume kids are the church.
- “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” Involving kids in leadership is not a bonus thing you can do with youth; this is youth ministry. Your neighborhood is the mission field. If you do this, your church will grow as it should.
- Put kids’ talents—whatever they are—into play within one month. If it’s drama, one month. If it’s drums, one month. If it’s keyboard, one month.
- Always strive to make things transferable and reproducible. Don’t just teach teens. Teach teens how to teach.
Worshiping at the Treasure Hunt service during Symposium 2004; the service was held in the chapel of Calvin Theological Seminary.
Is there any element of danger in your life or are you just playing it safe?
1. Pray and seek God as you begin.
2. Go to your pastor with this vision and make sure he/she is on board.
3. Form group of interested adult leaders.
4. Identify gifts of volunteers and staff and choose a ministry based on those gifts.
5. Create an application process. Announce to kids formation of team(s) either through existing children’s ministries/outreaches or youth groups. Make it prestigious and desirable; let them know the number of spots available is limited.
6. Choose applicants based on need, effort, and parental support. Hold an organizational meeting with parents present.
7. Keep something going for kids who aren’t in teams; make it discipleship-focused. Let things go that don’t fit the new vision. There is a cost—but that’s OK.
8. Plan for a two-and-a-half-hour youth team meeting:
- Discipleship—one hour
- Games—half hour (optional)
- Rehearsal—one hour
- If your group is working on a drama, rehearsal time is spent practicing skits; if they are preparing to lead worship with instruments, rehearsal is literally years of practice, but you can start the kids playing in public within months.
9. Establish a rewards/attendance system that accounts for both positive and negative discipline. Have kids earn points for rewards.
10. Promotion and reproduction: After one year, make sure to promote kids to a new level of leadership. From the beginning, train kids to take over within three to five years.
11. Get in the door soon—even if it’s a youth service six times a year.
Youth worship leaders at the Treasure Hunt service during Symposium 2004.