A Health Check For Your Youth Ministry
I don’t know anyone who enjoys going to the doctor, sitting in the waiting room reading the lone out-of-date Sports Illustrated from cover to cover twice before being poked and prodded like a science experiment. Nevertheless, just as it is wise to regularly assess your physical health, it is also important to check the health of your ministry. Without regular checkups, a ministry can grow listless, sick and even cancerous. Diagnosing problems early allows you to make changes that impact students’ lives for eternity.
As a 12-year veteran in student ministry and in my role as Director of Student Ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, I’ve had the privilege to watch how God radically transforms students’ lives. I’ve enjoyed successes, witnessed failures – my own and others – and seen an interesting pattern emerge.
Healthy, flourishing youth ministries tend to share the traits of being kingdom building, character transforming and culture shaping. Ministries that miss these traits run the risk of raising students who miss Jesus.
Children’s ministries often focus on what kids must “do” – be kind, honest, trustworthy, etc. The children’s minister focuses on producing children with strong character values. When that child enters the youth ministry, the repeated message they hear often shifts to what Christian students “don’t do” – don’t drink, smoke or go out with those who do. These youth can spend seven years learning the moral restrictions of our faith without the theology. When they graduate into adulthood, they have a clear picture of the character of a “good Christian” without ingesting the life-altering character of Christ and His Gospel message.
Screening your ministry for health in kingdom building, character transforming and culture shaping will prevent this very real tragedy from happening.
A ministry that is kingdom expanding is evangelistic. It has new students who meet Jesus and are rescued from their sin. This is important because we’re all familiar with the adage “The majority of people who meet Jesus do so before they graduate high school.” We ignore this and similar statements we have heard so many times that they have become cliché. Shame on us. The reality of student ministry is a calling to one of the most fertile mission fields in the world as we minister to students and their families.
While kingdom expansion ultimately comes through the work of God, we need to realize that kingdom-expanding student ministries are:
Modeled by the leader
The leader’s heart must demonstrate a kingdom-expanding mentality so students see it modeled. They will focus on what theysee you doing far more than anything they hear you saying. Students need to see that your life is about making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) in the strength and power of Christ (Colossians 1:11) and not something that can only happen from a stage.
More than church expanding
We must be careful that our efforts are poured into more than just drawing a crowd or growing our group. We must move a crowd of any size toward an understanding of the Gospel. Kingdom-expanding evangelism is much more than merely convincing students to pray a prayer or come forward during an invitation. It ensures that students understand the Gospel and the reality that God invites us to respond to His grace. I have consistently found that when I am faithful in leading students to the Gospel, God will take care of the numerical growth part Himself. After all, His skill at growing things far exceeds my own.
Moving toward the nations
Kingdom-expanding student ministries help their students see and connect with God’s heart for the nations, which is clear throughout Scripture as seen in and through interactions with His own people (Genesis 22:18), His plan for salvation (John 3:16) and His commands for us to continue the Gospel story (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). We need to make sure our students see beyond our towns and cities by helping them engage in taking the Gospel to the nations early and often.
Healthy student ministries also focus on character transformation, not merely character formation. This might sound like semantics, but it’s a huge distinction. As student pastors, we want Jesus to transform students’ character through God’s Word. For students to experience lifelong transformation, the Truth of God needs to be applied to the deepest parts of their identity.
This issue is ultimately a theological one. Do you believe that students are innocent or do you believe that they are impressionable? If you believe that students are innocent at their core, then you will seek to build upon that innocence by shaping their character. However, if you believe that they are impressionable, you will aggressively seek to apply the Truth of God to their hearts. David gives a clear declaration in Psalm 51:5: “Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.”
We fail in student ministry when we make it about shaping their character apart from the life-giving power and freedom of the Gospel. 2 Corinthians 3:18 talks about believers who, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of God. This passage also gives the result of this “staring at the glory of God” – transformation. They are being changed into the image that they see. We need to do a much better job of leading our students to stare at the image of God through Scripture instead of forcing them to stare in failure at the imperfections in their own character.
To be clear, I do not advocate abandoning the teaching or commands that God has clearly given. But healthy student ministries make an intentional shift to apply these truths through the lens of the Gospel. These steps include:
Helping students develop an understanding of their sin
This is especially true for ones who placed their faith in Jesus at an early age. Sadly, many – adults included – forget what it was like to be rescued from their sin. Students will never understand the depth of their salvation if they don’t understand the depth of their sin. Students begin to fall more in love with Jesus when they begin to understand the depth of their salvation because they see “behind the scenes” of what God really did for them.
Always bringing behavioral/lifestyle issues back to Jesus
This may sound simple, but it is so easy for a student pastor to grab a verse and tell students what to do. The difficult, more beneficial thing to do is draw it back to Jesus and the Gospel. Until your students know that you are going to connect it with Jesus before you say it, you haven’t done it enough. When they begin to expect it, they will learn the truly beautiful practice of piecing it together on their own.
Helping them to see their identity through the grace of God rather than their personal failures
God’s power is with your students and God has equipped them to live out what He has commanded them to do. You should constantly point them to the truth that through Christ they have been declared holy before God (“It is finished”), then lead them to live in light of that declaration.
Finally, healthy student ministries are culture shaping. When you look throughout Scripture and church history, you see the Lord using young people to shape the culture. We need to embrace the reality that God still has this desire.
Do you really believe that your students can shape the culture? Unfortunately, many think students are too young to make a culture-shaping difference in the world. Sure, they can make a difference with some friends, in their neighborhood or even on their school campus, but shaping the entire culture?
When student ministry holds this mindset, it devolves into a holding tank, turning into years of “preparation” for them to get ready to do something “big” for the Lord. The core of this thought is that students are weak.
That is not true. God, who is fully powerful and can do whatever He pleases, has chosen to use the weak things of the world to exert His influence (Psalm 8:1-2; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29). He mightily used young people like David, Josiah, Daniel and the disciples to work incredible cultural change.
God, who doesn’t need anyone or anything, chooses to use those who are weak. He is attracted to childlike faith and dependence upon Him. As student pastors, we must believe and lead according to the truth that students are not merely the church of the future. They are people that God will use to shape the culture around us right now.
Challenge your students by:
ONE: Showing them how the Gospel impacts their lives
This simple, everyday life truth is often missed by leaders and students alike. Help young people see how the Gospel connects to the decisions that they make every day. This is a constant process so don’t give up. Without a life centered on the Gospel, they will be shaped by the culture rather than shaping the culture itself.
TWO: Providing mission opportunities locally and globally
Give students leadership in these opportunities. It is OK for them to be in situations that are not easy for them both physically and spiritually.
THREE: Never letting them forget that, in Christ, they can have a culture-shaping influence
Display your belief in them in both word and deed. Celebrate stories of how students are having a culture-shaping influence both in your ministry and around the world. Always connect it to God’s work through the student and how other students can be a part of something much bigger than themselves.
While it can be difficult to move a ministry into healthy patterns, the benefits are tremendous. I’ve been a part of ministries that have had a clear plan and others that just winged it. To be clear, God moved and ministry happened in both types. The long-term impact of ministries with a plan was far greater, however, because an organized strategy for health and growth shows your pastor, church leaders, students, parents and volunteers that there is a direction and goal. By articulating this road to a healthy ministry, you gain credibility with the people connected to and invested in your ministry.
Far more importantly, you create an environment for students to become lifelong disciples who are equipped to carry on the work of Christ in others after they graduate, leading others into a spiritually healthy lifestyle that lasts for eternity.
Ben Trueblood serves as the Director of Student Ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources. A 12-year student ministry veteran, he currently serves as the student pastor at Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Ben and his wife, Kristen, have three children ages 6, 4 and newborn.
From: www.morfmagazine.com web site. April 2016.
The above article, “A Health Check For Your Youth Ministry” was written by Ben Trueblood. The article was excerpted from www.morfmagazine.com.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”