I’ve seen it to many times to count. Going to a camp or conference where youth workers are in full force. We all get to sit and talk, compare notes with what is working, what is not, to encourage each other, to pray for one another, ect. But something always slips into the conversation. Maybe it’s out front, maybe it’s more subtle, but it’s the burning question lurking in the corner of our minds.
“How many kids are you running in your ministry?”
The numerical data of student ministry appears to be in the driver seat.
- You want to impress your student worker comrades?
- You need approval from the budget committee for an increase this year?
- You need more volunteers on Wednesday nights?
- You want the respect of your senior pastor and staff?
…Have big numbers…
Among student pastors when the numbers start flying, some feel like MVPs with their impressive headcounts, others feel like total losers who can’t compare. The lines are drawn and the assumptions take root.
Why is this? What makes large numbers the definition of success in most student ministries? I believe it is a strategy of that ole trickster himself. The devil wants us to compare ourselves to each other and not to the truths of Scripture. He wants us to measure our effectiveness based on something other than the Gospel’s power. He wants us to stay distracted, thus losing the opportunity to shape a generation deeply by the power of the cross.
If we define success according to the ministry of Jesus Christ we will find numerical quantity is not the issue, but spiritual quality.
I believe every youth minister, student pastor, small group volunteer, anyone connected to our ministries, should define success in terms of discipleship. Are you downloading your faith into the life of someone else? Face to face, knee to knee. Are you getting into the nitty gritty of life with another individual and showing them the ropes of the Christian life.
Jesus had cycles of ministry. From rock star status, to outcast status. From huge open air crowds, to intimate upper rooms. One thing remained consistent through His public ministry. Jesus continually, intentionally, relationally invested into the lives of His disciples.
- Continually – it takes time. Real discipleship is done with time spent together doing real life. Fifteen minutes of GREAT conversation a week won’t make a disciple, but daily hanging out will. I’ve taken teens with me to dinner at my house, let one watch how I put my kids to bed, had help changing the oil in my car, even (gulp) going Wal-Mart. In everyday situations we show how to live for the glory of God. It rubs off with continual exposure.
- Intentionally – Jesus didn’t do anything on accident. We need to take advantage of the situations we find ourselves in and use them to train disciples. What if we knew some things would be hard, but challenged our students to do them anyway? What if we intentionally tried to develop habits contrary to culture, but conforming to scripture. We should all have some teenagers under us who know they are explicitly being mentored so they can go and mentor someone next.
- Relationally – Jesus taught in ways that His disciples could understand. He helped them along in their faith. He walked with them even though their immaturity. In relationships we have our most powerful influence. Are we taking time to truly shepherd our teens? Sheep get to know their shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and His sheep know His voice. We get the privilege to be under-shepherds and care for His flock. Care for them, know them, walk through life with them. Disciple-making doesn’t come from a pulpit, but from a relationship.
What if youth workers didn’t brag about how packed the room was for extreme goldfish swallowing, but instead bragged about the depths of scripture memorization from their kids. What if numbers didn’t drive the ministry, but spiritual maturity was the goal? How different would our student ministries look if we stopped trying to look cool and hip, and really invested in teenagers allowing the Gospel to penetrate to the deepest levels of the heart changing us from the inside out?
True success is measured in spiritual maturity not in impressive headcounts. Paul understood this when he penned these words in Colossians 1:28. “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
May your ministries be successful in the truest sense of the word.
Your fellow worker in the field, Adam