Determining Success in Youth Ministry

By: Darrell Johns

Success has become an obsession in our society. In the minds of some people, to say the word success conjures up images of money, influence, or notoriety. In terms of ministry, what are the signs of success?

Is the success of a leader the accumulation of a large group of people who look to him for leadership? Is it measured by the volume of demands placed on his time? Is success in ministry determined by how powerfully a person is able to influence the actions and decisions of others? Is success measured in material means that often accompany secular success?

Granted, when a person is truly successful some of these symbols of success may be evident. But if the criteria just listed are the yardstick by which to measure the faithfulness of a minister, then John the Baptist, the man Jesus classified with the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, was a failure.

Toward the end of his ministry, when John the Baptist was in prison, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask, “Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:20). Jesus performed many miracles in their presence and dismissed them with an admonition to John.

Then, addressing the people concerning John, Jesus said, “What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously appareled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts. But what went ye out for to see?
A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:24-28).

From these words of Jesus, we know that John the Baptist was a tremendous success. Yet John did not enjoy many of the signs of success by which we sometimes measure it. The example of this desert prophet encourages us to focus on what really matters in ministry without seeking the trappings of success. And his
ministry can serve as effective role model for ministers to youth today.

Not a Reed Shaken in the Wind

John was a success because he was not a reed shaken in the wind. He was not a compromiser when it came to truth. He did not play to the grandstands, nor did he fear the consequences of telling the truth even when his life was at stake. John courageously called his audience a generation of vipers and asked, “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?… now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Luke 3:7,9). In the message that would lead to his own death, John rebuked Herod for living in adultery with his brother’s wife. (See Mark 6:17-18.)

The pressure is on the pulpit today to bow to the will of public opinion. Sadly, some ministers have swayed under the forceful winds of false doctrine, compromise of biblical truth, and ungodliness. This drift is happening at a time when the moral moorings of our society have slipped and our young people are
looking for stable guideposts. Our young people need leaders who will not bend on matters of truth.

As we minister to young people we need a touch of human kindness, a double dose of tact, and a ton of wisdom. But we never serve God or the best interest of young people by cutting corners on truth.

He Did Not Seek an Image of Success

John was a success because he did not feel a need to portray a successful image. He was not clothed in fine clothing, nor did he live luxuriously. (See Luke 7:25.) John was an oddity in his day. He was not allied to the local religious community. While the priests of his day used positions of power and their alliance with
Rome to rule the people, John drew crowds with his spiritual authority. He would not have been a popular televangelist, for his lifestyle was too simple and plain.

A leader of young people will not have success by building a ministry on style or personal charisma. Building a youth program on personality alone will not last over the long haul. Youth workers need an authority in their lives that comes from time spent with the Lord.

The Ministry of a Prophet

John was a success because he fulfilled his role as a prophets. A prophet, in the broadest sense, is one who speaks for God. He does not have the luxury of preaching his own personal message. John, with the plainspoken, direct approach, was on target with his generation. His ministry touched the needs of the people, and they came by the multitudes. They spilled out of “Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,” and they “were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6).

A youth worker who stands before young people week after week can always be a success in the eyes of God if he will tell them what the Lord wants them to hear. Sometimes the message may be “Repent”; at other times it may be “Cheer up, God cares about you.” At times the leader may feel the urge to give his young
people a piece of his mind. But he should seek the mind of God, asking what He wants him to say, and then say it. That is a mark of true success.

Content in His Calling

John was a success because he was secure in his calling. His ministry was not a stepping stone to a higher position in the kingdom. In the early days of his ministry when he was attracting crowds, the people asked John if he was the Messiah. If he was tempted by his human ego or ambition to deceive the people about
his identity, he quickly affirmed his role and mission. He said, “I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him” (John 3:28).

It is important for youth workers to understand their calling and role in the church. They must give loyalty and honor to the pastor under whose leadership they serve and ultimately to the Lord, who gave them a ministry. A youth worker enjoys a measure of oversight that is delegated scripturally by the pastor. There must never be a breach of that trust. Although temporarily a few people may follow a disloyal leader, the end result is spiritual shipwreck.

So secure was John in his calling that when the crowds began to leave him to follow Jesus, he became filled with joy. A committee of loyal disciples informed John of the attrition of his followers (John 3:26). They may have expected to get a reaction of insecurity out of their leader. But John knew and repeated his
mission. He was not the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom. His role was to negotiate the marriage and to celebrate the arrival of the bridegroom. From the outset of his ministry, John knew the day would come when his group would disappear in the distance to follow the One whom he was called to

It is inevitable that the youth group will eventually leave the youth leader. They will follow the pastor, and they should. They will grow out of the youth group, go on to college, marry, minister, and live their lives. They never belonged to the youth leader in the first place. He should rejoice because the effect of his ministry will be eternal.

Preparing the Way for Jesus

John was a success because he prepared the hearts of people for Jesus. Luke 3:4-6 records: “As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Youth ministry is much like this. Youth workers are to bring down the high places of idol worship, the love of sports stars, rockers, media personalities, and often, the god of self.

Our ministry is also to raise up the low places of depression, confusion, isolation, and low self-esteem. Through the power of the gospel we lift youth up in spite of abusive homes, rejection, and hopelessness.

Often, our challenge is to straighten out the crooked places of sinful habits and poor character. We reach for people’s will to bring their lives into loving submission to Jesus Christ.

Much of youth ministry involves smoothing out the rough places of the personalities of young people. We deal with the abrasive, the ungrateful, and sometimes the obnoxious. But successful youth ministry, like the ministry of John the Baptist, prepares the lives of young people for Jesus.

He Pointed People to Jesus

John was a success because he pointed people to Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John’s greatest joy was introducing people to Jesus. The prophecies concerning his ministry were specific: he was to introduce the Messiah to Israel. To miss his mark would have made him a miserable failure. He was not called to build. He was called to pave the way, to lay the foundation for the kingdom of God.

Perhaps the greatest display of the success of John’s ministry came after his death, possibly twenty-nine years later. Twelve of his disciples were living in Ephesus, still following in the light John gave them. It is amazing that they had not crystallized into a denomination, a sect. Upon hearing that the Holy Ghost was
available and that a new baptism was needed to remit sins, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul laid his hands upon them they received the Holy Ghost and spoke with tongues and prophesied. (See Acts 19:1-7.)

John had established his disciples on a love for truth and not a dependence on personality. John had pointed his disciples to Jesus Christ. When they had a personal encounter with Him through the Holy Spirit they readily received Him into their lives.

The most realistic measure of the success of youth ministry may come long after young people have graduated from the youth group. It will come day after day in their lives as they follow the Christ whom their leader introduced to them in their youth.

John never heard the eulogy of Jesus. His disciples, who left before Jesus’ remarks, did not even get to tell him the kind words of his cousin. He received his “well done” in another world. And so will we. That, youth worker, is the ultimate measure of success.

(The above material was appeared in the March 1992 issue of the Pentecostal Herald.)

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