Are We Collecting Students or Sending Missionaries? (Part 3)

So far in this series, I’ve noted that if we aren’t equipping students to be missionaries in their families, schools, and communities, we’re simply collecting students (Part 1) and provided a few ideas of what it looks like to simply be in the business of collecting students (Part 2). To finish off the series, here’s a list of what it look like to be a youth ministry that sends missionaries:

More emphasis is placed on what God is doing than what the youth ministry is doing. It’s a great thing to love our church and youth ministry, but when we tend to highlight what’s going on in our church than what’s going on outside of it, we have a problem. We should be more eager to celebrate what God is doing than what our church or youth ministry is doing.

Students are encouraged to make an impact in their world that exists outside the church walls. Students have been gifted by God to serve him where God has placed them in their schools, families, athletic teams, dance studios, and communities. We need to encourage them to serve however God has called them to do so.

The youth pastor and leaders foster a Kingdom-first mentality. Our lead pastor, Roy, frequently tells our staff that it’s amazing what can be accomplished when we don’t care who gets the credit. A youth ministry that sends missionaries has leaders that are more interested in building the Kingdom than building their kingdom.

The youth pastor works with other youth pastors and churches to reach students in their community. I’m not saying that every single event or initiative has to be a joint endeavor. But whether a youth pastor is willing to partner with other churches says a lot about whether that leader is collecting students or sending missionaries.

Evaluating the youth ministry involves more than attendance data. We can’t ignore numbers, and we should certainly celebrate when are in a season when we get to see lots and lots of lives changed by Jesus. But there are other things to take into consideration when evaluating a youth ministry. When we focus only on numbers, we’re probably more interested in how many students we’re collecting than anything else.

Question: What would you add to this list?

Are We Collecting Students or Sending Missionaries? (Part 2)

In the first post in this series, I noted that if we aren’t equipping students to be missionaries in their families, schools, and communities, we’re simply collecting students. But what does it “look like” to collect students vs. sending missionaries? To start, here’s a short list of what it looks like to simply be in the business of collecting students:

All events are planned based on what the favorite events of the students who have been around the longest are. There’s not much thought about what will help get the youth ministry further toward its mission.

All evangelism efforts center around getting students to bring friends to church or youth ministry events. There’s very little or no talk about helping students being missionaries wherever God has placed them, or helping students share about Jesus with their friends on their own turf.

Students in the youth ministry rarely, if ever, have meaningful conversation about church or their relationship with Jesus with their friends. Mostly because they’re never taught or encouraged to.

The youth pastor is very worried about “losing” students to other nearby churches. He or she would rather worry about a few students finding a church home elsewhere than the hundreds or thousands of teenagers in his or her community that don’t yet know Jesus.

Most of the new students in the youth ministry are Christians who previously attended another church in the area. If there is growth, it can be attributed to people coming from other churches, rather than students coming who don’t already know Jesus.

Question: What would you add to this list?

Update: Part 3 can be read here.

Greg Stier Leader Talk THIS THURSDAY Free from Lead222

 I am a part of a mentoring program called Lead222 led by Bo Boshers and Keith Cote. One thing that I miss about living in Colorado is that I had established some great relationships with two mentors there. This year, I started in Lead222’s mentoring program, and I love it. I’ve got a great mentor I’m getting to know, and I’m excited to be a part of a community of youth pastors who simply want to humbly learn more about following Jesus in their own lives and leading others to do the same.

Lead222 wants to let youth workers be a part of two important components of the mentoring program this month–FREE. The first is a Leader Talk with Greg Stier this Thursday (September 15th), and the second is a group coaching meeting on September 29th. Both happen via teleconference technology. if you’re looking for a mentoring or coaching program, I highly recommend you check out Lead222 this month. Here’s the letter with all the info, but know that you need to shoot them a note by noon tomorrow (Monday) to take part:

Dear Youth Pastor,

LEAD222 is an international coaching and mentoring ministry for middle school and high school youth pastors like you. Our mission is to build a community of passionate leaders who sharpen each other in personal character and professional skills to become the most effective leader God has called you to be.

Our ministry is structured around monthly Leadership Talks as well as monthly Group Coaching teleconferences with others in a similar ministry structure. We have the privilege of serving hundreds of youth leaders around the world and we’d like to invite you to experience LEAD222 for free this month.

Specifically, we’d like to invite you to be our guest for our Leader Talk with Greg Stier coming up on September 15th at 1:00 CST. Hosted by Bo Boshers and facilitator Candace Stephenson, this 45-minute conference call will both encourage and equip you to train your students in the area of evangelism. Greg will share how your students can share their faith and reach a generation with the good news of the gospel.

If you can be a part of Leader Talk with Greg Stier, we’d also like to invite you for a follow-up LEAD222 Group Coaching teleconference on September 29th at 1:00 CST, hosted by Bo Boshers and Dr. Andy Stephenson. During this call you’ll hear from top youth practitioners to follow up and further process the information presented by Greg Stier during the Leader Talk.

To be a part of both of these training experiences, click here to give us your contact information. Once we have this, we’ll reply back with the details to call in to the Leader Talk and Group Coaching teleconference call.

Please respond by noon on Monday, September 12th to take advantage of this free offer. For more information on LEAD222 visit www.LEAD222.com.

We look forward to having you as our guest in September.

Together,

The LEAD222 Leadership Team

What if You Were the First Youth Pastor Ever?

Imagine this: You wake up one day to discover that you are now in an alternate universe. Everything about your world is essentially the same, with one exception: youth ministry as we know it has never existed. Perhaps Jim Rayburn gave up ministry to become an auto mechanic, or maybe Wayne Rice convinced Mike Yaconelli one night before the creation of Youth Specialties to join his bluegrass band, and the pair spent the rest of their lives as a highly-rated duo singing songs about squirrels–“Pharaoh, Pharaoh” never saw the light of day. Whatever the reason, in this alternate universe Doug Fields is the most successful Farmer’s Insurance agent in southern California, Josh Griffin helps run a popular Star Wars fanboy website works nights at a computer repair shop in Winnemucca, NV, and Kara Powell heads up the Classified Research Division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The world has never heard of Youth Specialties, Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry, Young Life, Youth Ministry 3.0, or Fluffy Bunny.

Today in this alternate universe, you are beginning a job at your church. After attending the church for a few years, you’ve been tapped to help the church carry out a specific task: help teenagers in your church and community know Jesus and live for him. Remember, you’re the pioneer in this whole youth ministry thing, and you might be the first youth pastor ever.

My question is this: what five resources would you have on your side if you could choose them? By resources, I don’t just mean curriculum or stuff you can get off the internet. I’m using the term in the broad sense, which would include not just physical resources, but also some intangibles that are harder to measure, such as a great relationship with your senior pastor or a committed core of parents. Feel free to think a bit outside the box, as I try to below.

I know that defining the youth pastor position as a job, I’ve already stepped outside the bounds for some of you in terms of how you would shape this thing we call Youth Ministry had you the chance to start it all over. But, I wanted to narrow the scope of the question a bit. Here’s how I answer the question:

1. A great marriage. One of the biggest strengths for me in ministry is my wife, Jennifer. She’s an amazing encouragement, and when I give her, our marriage, and our family the time and energy they deserve, ministry just seems to go a lot smoother.

2. A passionate, visionary senior pastor who is passionate about people knowing Jesus. Thankfully, this one is true for me where I am right now. A lot of youth pastors wish their senior pastor would support them and the youth ministry more. Those are probably good things, but I think it simply starts with a senior pastor who is passionate about people knowing Jesus, which helps determine the direction of his/her church’s youth ministry.

3. A core group of parents who believe that they should be the primary disciplers of their children. Look, we know that this is how it’s supposed to work: parents should be the primary disciplers of their children, including their teenagers. A group of parents who were passionate about this would be a huge asset in helping other parents grow in this area. Of course, not all parents will want to disciple their kids–or will even have a relationship with Jesus for that matter. But it doesn’t mean we don’t set it up as the ideal.

4. A core group of missionary-minded students. One of my critiques about the common critiques of modern youth ministry is this: those critiques often only take into account the small percentage of teenagers who are followers of Jesus and are a part of our churches. Yes, we need to encourage parents more and stop trying to do their jobs for them. Yes, we need to stop separating the teenagers in our youth ministry from the broader church. But what about those teenagers who desperately need to know that God loves them and that his Son died on the cross so they might have life in Jesus? Not only are they not in our church’s worship services or youth ministry, too often they’re not on our radar. And guess what? It’s not the job of the youth pastor to connect with all those teenagers and tell them about Jesus. It’s the job of the teenagers in your church! Our job is to equip them, and when the teenagers we serve are passionate about being missionaries wherever God has placed them, the sky really is the limit.

5. A loving group of mature adults who love mentoring teenagers. It was tough to decide what would be the last item on this list, but I think it has to be mature, mentoring adults. And note that these adults don’t necessarily need to be a part of the “official” youth ministry team. When it’s part of a church’s culture to love teenagers naturally, and teenagers are mentored and nourished in their faith by several loving adults, those teenagers are far more likely to make an impact for the Kingdom, wherever God places them.

So, that’s the list. What would you put in your list of five resources if you were the first youth pastor ever?

To Evangelize or Not to Evangelize?

This week, CNN “Belief Blog” blogger Carl Medearis posted an article titled “My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing.” In our culture, this is a common sentiment from many (both Christians and non-Christians) who are turned off by evangelism. Often, the sentiment gets boiled down to, “I don’t mind you (Christians) having your own beliefs, but why do you have to bother others by trying to convert them?” Medearis has done well to lay out his argument in a relatively short blog post. Since his objection is a common one–and therefore an objection that followers of Jesus ought to be prepared to answer–I thought I’d devote a post to answering his objections and some of his claims. I’ll do so by choosing and commenting on a few quotes from his post:

“When I tell my Christian friends in America that some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian, most are shocked. It doesn’t fit the us-versus-them mentality that evangelism fosters, in which we are always the innocent victims and they are always the aggressors.” Not all Christians are ignorant of the fact that terrible acts of violence have been in the past and are now in the present committed by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Such acts ought to be renounced by followers of Jesus. In addition, not all Christians who are passionate about evangelism espouse an “us-versus-them mentality.” To choose the worst examples of evangelism and paint all attempts at evangelism with the same brush is unfair, and amounts to a straw-man argument.

“This us-versus-them thinking is odd, given that Jesus was constantly breaking down walls between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, men and women, sinners and saints. That’s why we have the parable of the Good Samaritan.” Yes, Jesus broke down such walls. However, those walls are broken down through a relationship with Jesus. Paul speaks of the division between Jew and Gentile–who were, humanly speaking, adversaries–and how that division has been obliterated through the cross. Paul says that Jesus died that he “might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16). In addition, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he writes on the great extent in which we are reconciled to one another, he makes it very clear that such reconciliation occurs in Jesus: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, emphasis added). Such reconciliation occurs when people accept the grace and love of God that comes through faith in Jesus. How does one learn about Jesus? primarily through hearing it from another person: evangelism.

“I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus.” When Christians put more time and effort arguing the finer points of Christian theology and doctrine more than they do actually living out Jesus’ commands and telling people that Jesus loves them so much he died for them, yes, that’s a sin. But doctrine–literally, “teaching”–should really be about trying to understand who God is. Medearis’ statement is one that sounds agreeable because of how hurt people have been by institutions that care more about doctrine than a relationship with Jesus. But you can’t somehow sever a relationship with Jesus from what we believe about Jesus. To make a statement of belief in our about Jesus is to make a doctrinal statement–which Medearis himself does throughout his post. What we believe about God is important, because it informs our relationship with him. You cannot have a relationship with someone you know nothing about, which is why Medearis’ statement doesn’t make sense when you get right down to it.

One more…

“Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.” I agree with Medearis that our task is not to bring people into a particular religion, but rather to send people to Jesus! Here are two critiques of this statement: 1) the most important thing that happens in a relationship with Jesus is not just that we become more like him as we follow him, but that through faith in him and his death on the cross, we are given (because we could never earn it) eternal life. To paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:19, if we follow Jesus only that we might be more like him in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied! 2) When we learn who God is through his son Jesus, we are called to renounce all false representations of God (both those that exist within Christianity and outside it). For some, this might mean renouncing their previous religious convictions that are incompatible with what Jesus taught.

My response to Medearis (who is a brother in Christ): The heart of the matter is this: does eternal life come only through Jesus or doesn’t it? The answer to this question (whether yes, no, or I don’t know) will inform one’s view of evangelism. If the answer is yes, than by all means, we ought to love people enough to tell them and try to convince them that Jesus indeed is the only way to be reconciled to God. To not do so would be unloving. Have some used sinful, manipulative, and awful ways to do this (or for some, done sinful things trying to cover them up by using the name of Jesus)? Yes. For some examples of such un-love, one only needs to read a few of the comments by readers at the bottom of Medearis’ post! Does this mean that all attempts at evangelism are wrong? No. Telling someone about Jesus–even pleading with someone to follow Jesus–is perhaps the most loving and grace-filled thing we can do.

Theology and Youth Ministry – The Doctrine of Hell

Last weekend, I preached (in our main services) probably the toughest sermon I’ve ever preached: “Would God Really Send a Good Person to Hell?” It was tough not because I wasn’t sure what I was going to say; it was tough because I wasn’t quite sure how to say it.

Let me pause here and recognize that some readers of this blog will disagree with my view on hell–namely that hell exists, that it is a place of eternal and real suffering and torment, and that hell is not empty. In fact, when I posted a simply reminder of our summer service schedule plus what I thought was a harmless teaser about the sermon the day before I preached, a lively discussion ensued on my normally quiet Facebook page. So while I welcome that sort of discussion, my point here is for those who do affirm that the Bible is God’s inspired Word (and you can’t pull the I-place-more-weight-on-what-Jesus-said card on this one; Jesus talked about the reality of hell quite a bit), how do we teach teenagers about hell?

By now, at least a few of you have images of a well-meaning Sunday school teacher coercing young kids into conversion (or at least the appearance of conversion) through scary stories of people burning alive in hell. Or maybe that’s just me. But whatever images (or personal experiences) we have in mind of manipulative (when it comes to speaking on hell) teachers or preachers, let me suggest that we approach this with a clear head.

Ready? All clear? Good.

Now, as I prepared to preach last Sunday (thankfully, I got to develop the sermon with my partner-in-crime, our junior high pastor Chad Holladay), I spent a lot of time in thought and prayer about how to deliver the message. To be honest, part of my wrestling had to do with sinful pride and how people would respond to this difficult message. In the end, my approach was to be as loving and truthful as possible.

That’s also my prayer in how I approach the topic with the teenagers I serve.

In my own self-evaluation as well as in my interactions with lots of youth workers over the years, I would say that youth workers in general shy away from the topic of hell. I believe we do this for two reasons: 1) we don’t want to manipulate emotions or produce false conversions, and so we swing the pendulum to the other side; and 2) the doctrine of hell might be the doctrine that most teenagers agree with, and teaching on it brings up all kinds of negative emotions in our students, which might be directed at us.

That is just plain wrong. And cowardly. And know that as I say that, I am judging myself.

What follows are some short theological observations that should guide our teaching. For brevity’s sake, I won’t get too in-depth here, but rather point you towards the sermon, where I cover most of this in detail.

Every one of us has sinned against our holy God and is deserving of spiritual death, i.e. eternity in hell. I find this to be the most unpopular of the topics surrounding the doctrine of hell. But it’s an important baseline to establish, because none of us are good according to our acts. To drive this point home in the sermon, I mentioned that if God were to judge me according to my acts right now and send me to hell, he would be 100% just in doing so. Everyone–you, me, Hitler, Mother Teresa–are all in the same boat when it comes to our rebellion against God (James 2:10) and the death we deserve.

We cannot–on our own works or merit–atone for our sin. No matter how hard we try, we still rebel and our RAP sheet grows. But God provided a way through Jesus, the second person of the Trinity and the spotless Lamb of God. Jesus died on the cross on our behalf, taking upon himself the punishment for our sin and the wrath of God.

There is no other name under heaven but Jesus that we can be saved (Acts 4:12). To make the results of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross a reality in our life, we must trust in Jesus alone to save us. There are no magic or exact words, and no ritual that we must go through. We must simply trust that Jesus’ work on the cross–not anything we can do–has saved us and provided eternal life. God is love, which is why he provided away. Many conclude that if hell exists, then God is not love. But rather, the reality of hell and what Jesus endured so that we might have eternal life is the most poignant picture of God’s love.

Because of the points above, youth workers have an obligation to lovingly (and un-manipulatively, if I may create a phrase) tell students the truth about hell. From what I’ve already written, I’m not advocating an over-emphasis on hell at the cost of other important truths. But we ought not shy away from it. In fact, to do so would be shy away from telling the full truth. If the Bible really is true, then the only thing that can save us from the ultimate consequences of our sin is the sacrifice of Jesus. And if that’s true, then don’t we have an obligation to tell the students we love? As Mark Driscoll put it once in a sermon on heaven and hell, “My job is to tell you the truth. Your job is to make a decision.

QUESTION: What are good ways to lovingly and truthfully teach the topic of hell to teenagers?

A Theology of Buildings, Ministry, and High-Cost Tools, Part 2

In Part 1, I shared a bit of an email conversation I had with my friend Jim about the cost of church buildings and their relation to ministry. I’ve heard it asked (and asked in my heart as well), should churches spend money on buildings? I’m still working through what I think is a biblical way to think about buildings and other high-cost ministry tools, but these are a few guidelines:

Saying, “The church in Acts didn’t have buildings, so we don’t need any, either” isn’t all that helpful. That’s about as helpful as saying, “The early church didn’t have guitars, so we don’t need them, either.” The fact is, the early Church (and even Jesus followers before his death, see Luke 8:3) had expenses, and those expenses were paid for by other generous followers of Jesus. This doesn’t mean that any expense is okay or that we can be justified in spending whatever we like on buildings, but it’s simply unhelpful and untrue to suggest that spending money on a ministry tool (including a building) or program is not in line with the NT Church.

It’s biblical to spend money toward the goal of seeing lost people come to faith in Jesus. There are a LOT of good things that Christians’ and churches’ money could go toward. People knowing Jesus is one of them. As noted in the previous point, financial supporters were a part of Jesus’ ministry and of the early Church, presumably to help pay for expenses. In addition, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 9 that pastors ought to be paid for what they do. It’s a good thing to spend money toward the end of people knowing Jesus.

There are people who are hungry RIGHT NOW in your community. Now, it’s unfair to weigh every ministry expense against the fact that the money could be spent on the poor. In fact, such a complaint was made by none other than Judas Iscariot, and I think we should probably try to avoid following his lead wherever possible. However, we are also charged by Jesus to care for those who are suffering in a practical way (Matthew 25:31-46, for instance). The previous point shows that it’s okay to spend money on worthy ventures other than feeding the hungry. But the question does need to be asked, “are we building a monument to ourselves at the detriment of loving the outcast and the poor?”

It’s okay to spend money glorifying God. As a former Anglican, it strikes me as odd how much we as Evangelicals overlook this. One of the most important things we do as the Church is to gather corporately to worship God as the body of Christ. So, why wouldn’t we encourage people to give sacrificially to have a gathering place that points to the glory of God? Again, when we start building monuments to ourselves in the name of Jesus, we have a problem.

A lack of financial resources does not exist in most American churches. I’m not saying that people are not going through difficult times. My point is that we often discuss these issues surrounding building and church finances as though we live in scarcity. The reality is that we as Americans spend far too much on ourselves, and that if we really gave sacrificially, perhaps there wouldn’t be as much of a tension between feeding the hungry and having places for people to gather and hear about Jesus in a corporate setting. On a personal note, every time my wife and I “cut the fat” out of our family budget, God shows us (often using an unexpected expense, such as medical bills or my car breaking down) how far we have to go in learning to live without things we think we “need” that are actually wants.

Thoughts? How do you see this relating to youth ministry?

Methods, the Message, and Attractional Youth Ministry (Part 2)

In part one, I offered an alternative way to approach the “attractional youth ministry” discussion. In case you aren’t in the mood or don’t have the time to refer back to that post, here’s a quick overview: in youth ministry, we have a Message and we have methods for communicating that Message. Until we really understand that (and the relationship between the Message and the methods), it’s difficult to have a beneficial discussion about the Message or the methods.

Now that you’re roughly caught up, let’s get back to work. Obviously, the Message and the methods don’t exist in a vacuum. Here are three overgeneralized and incorrect ways that we can view the relationship between the Message and the methods in Youth Ministry (lest I sound judgmental, allow me to confess that I have been guilty of all of them):

The methods are unrelated to the Message. I’ve spent way too many days, hours, and meetings planning a youth ministry schedule without even considering whether the events I was planning should have any relation to the direction I wanted our church and youth ministry to go. Too often, youth ministry is simply a fun and games ordeal, and as long as a little Jesus is thrown in, we assume we’re doing our job. But as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, the medium is the message, and we can’t assume our methods have little or no relationship with the Message. Which leads us to…

The methods become the Message. This can happen when we become so entrenched in a particular method or set of methods that they essentially replace the Message. This can take the form of a particular Spring Break trip that HAS to be done every year, or a particular format for a weekly gathering. It can also include tried and true legalism, where the way we serve God becomes more important than actually serving God.

The methods are allowed to dictate the Message. This one is more subtle. It occurs when our vision for youth ministry does not match up at all with what’s actually going on within the youth ministry. For instance, does your youth ministry include families in its vision statement while having a totally separate worship service every week for students? Or does your mission statement express a heart for the lost, but your students are rarely pushed to pray for or share Jesus with their friends? You may have a Message you think you’re communicating, but your methods are saying something else entirely. Eventually, our Message begins to be conformed to our methods, at which point creativity and conviction cease.

So, what do I believe is the best way to look at the Message and the methods? I once heard Mark Driscoll put it this way: we hold the Message (what we believe) tightly in one hand, and the methods (how we spread the message) loosely in the other hand. This doesn’t mean that anything goes when it comes to methods; it simply means that how we spread the Message should be subordinate to the Message itself. We don’t choose a method that convicts with the Message, and we don’t hold onto a method at the expense of the Message.

How does this apply to your youth ministry context? Well, it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. For some, it might very well include lasers. For others, a drastic overhaul of your youth ministry calendar might be in order. It requires a lot of prayer, Bible study, discernment, and humility to figure out. But I believe that kind of work is well worth the payoff.

What did I miss? What mistakes or high points can you share with how you’ve approached the Message and the methods in your context?

Update:
You can read Part 1 here
and part 3 here.

Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #5: God Desires Faithfulness, Not Numbers

Before I begin, I’d like to point out something that should inform just about everything a youth pastor does: every person matters to God. Roy, our lead pastor, uses a great illustration that I’ll relate using my own family:

My wife, Jennifer, and I have two daughters, Bethany and Samantha. Imagine if we went away on a weekend vacation as a family, and we only came back with one of our daughters. Imagine further if you asked us where our other daughter was and I said, “Well, it’s not about the numbers. It’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality.” You’d think I was crazy! Both of my daughters should matter to me. Just the same, every person matters to God, and we should pray to see as many people come to know Jesus as possible.

So, know that I’m not out to discount large churches, or to say that large youth ministries shouldn’t exist. Also know that I don’t believe that if I bribe and pack as many students into our church as possible, that means I’m being a faithful leader. Here’s the problem: numbers can be one indicator, and can be an important indicator, but it is not the only indicator of how faithful a leader or ministry is.

One of the best things we can do as leaders when discussing the issue of “numbers” is to look at the life and ministry of Jesus. Consider this about Jesus’ ministry:

  • Jesus’ hard teaching caused many disciples to walk away from him (John 6:60-70).
  • Jesus’ closest followers deserted him when he was arrested and put on trial.
  • On at least one occasion, Jesus passed on an opportunity to minister to large crowds in order to do what his Father had called him to do (Luke 4:38-44).

Here’s the point: Large numbers and attendance do not equal faithfulness. When we say that out loud, it makes sense. But the problem is that most youth pastors don’t really feel that way. If we’re leading a small youth ministry, we long to have a larger group at a larger church with more resources. If we lead a youth ministry at a large church, we feel like an event with low attendance wasn’t as successful as a huge, blow-out-the-walls event. That’s just not a biblical way to look at it.

We should certainly celebrate when a large number of teenagers are coming to know Jesus. That was something the early church celebrated in Acts. But we also need to understand that if thousands aren’t coming to know Jesus in our youth ministry, that’s not necessarily an indicator of our leadership. Our first concern should be whether or not we are faithful followers of Jesus. There were times when Paul saw a fruitful harvest among his churches. There were also times when he was stuck in a cold, damp prison cell, abandoned by those who at one time had professed to follow Jesus, and still praising God. That’s faithfulness. That’s something we should aspire to.

It might be that God will let us see a huge harvest and see lots of teenagers in our ministry come to know the saving love of Jesus. Or it might be that he allows us to minister in relative obscurity and that we won’t know much about what kind of harvest was reaped until we worship Jesus around the throne. And still, when we see Jesus, the question will not be, “How many students were in your youth group?” Rather, we will be judged by what we did with what we were given. And like all the others who trusted in Jesus, this miserable sinner will take my place around the throne, not based on the size of any ministry I led, or based upon what kind of leader I was, but based solely on the blood that was poured out for you and me.

Other posts in this series:
Five Truths of Youth Ministry (an Introduction)
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #1: Jesus Saves, Not Me

Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #2: In America, Fewer Youth Are Attending Church
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #3: I’m a Sinner
Five Truths of Youth Ministry | #4: Youth Leaders Should Be Missionaries