What it takes for a ‘successful’ youth ministry
April 4, 2006
One of the best questions that I have ever been asked came from a fellow church staff member shortly after I arrived at the church to serve as their minister of youth and education. One day as the worship pastor and I were sharing our experiences and the insights God had revealed to each of us over our years of ministry, he asked me a question that I still grapple with to this day: “What does it mean to have a successful youth ministry?”
While youth ministers might have several diverse opinions as to the best way to answer such a question: I do believe there are many good answers, but only one is best.
Hopefully, you realize that I am not pretending to be the wise and all-knowing youth ministry sage on this planet. I also realize there may be some who will read this article and think I may have lost my mind. However, what I am about to share with you is a matter of personal conviction for me.
I believe a “successful” youth ministry is one that brings a smile to the face of our Lord.
We all know what brings a smile to our Lord’s face is our obedience and faithfulness to His word. It seems to me that last words are often significant. I cannot imagine anyone’s last words could possibly be more important than those recorded in Scripture from our Lord.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
If we want to be “successful” in youth ministry, then we must be obedient to the command our Lord has given to us. According to Matthew 28, the most important task we have been given is to make disciples. In essence, the students that populate our ministries should be growing in their faith by practicing the disciplines of the Christian life as they actively minister to their families, peers, and church.
Everything we do in youth ministry should equip students for the ministry our Lord has called each of us to fulfill.
A wiser man than me once said to a gathering of youth ministers, “the mark of a successful youth ministry is not how many you have coming, but how many you have going.” He went on to explain that we must be about the business of preparing students to minister in their church through service and missions.
Teenagers are not “junior Christians” in waiting. Once they accept God’s call to salvation, then we should be discipling them for ministry.
In a recent article by Wes Black, youth ministry professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he shares some powerful insights from a three-year study involving 6,000 youth and adults from seven different denominations. In a two-part article entitled, “Nine Big Ideas for Exemplary Student Ministry, ” Black shared several distinctions of exemplary student ministries in local churches.
I would like to highlight a few of the “Big Ideas” from his article.
It is important for us to realize that youth ministry must be “all about God.” Everything we do should seek to bring glory to His name. All the good that may come from our ministry to students is achieved through His power and grace.
We must remember “this God wants to transform and claim students’ lives.” He is not content for them to simply fill a chair on Wednesday night, or a pew on Sunday morning. God is calling them to discover their spiritual gifts and to use them to enhance the church’s witness in their community. In essence, He doesn’t want us to develop “good” kids; He wants them to become “godly” men and women.
According to Black, “God is passionate about using kids and adults to change the world.” When students are called into His kingdom, they do not simply become “junior Christians,” who are waiting to become the “church of the future.” He is calling them to serve Him right now. Thus, it is our responsibility as youth leadership to train and equip students to serve today.
Youth ministry is more than pizza parties, lock-ins, and entertaining trips. Our call is to lead students and their families to embrace the Gospel of our Lord as they become fully devoted followers of Christ. We must be willing to do whatever it takes to equip this generation to take the gospel into their world and beyond!
Black’s article can be found on the LifeWay Web site. (Mike Cooper is the youth Sunday School specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention.)