Scott Williams makes the case for why you should prioritise your youth leaders.
Pastors! Your youth ministry is already doomed
If you’ve stepped foot inside a youth group in the last decade, you’d see that youth ministry is pretty simple and boils down to three main areas: maturing the youth, growing the youth group in number, and making sure the youth leaders are spiritually healthy. But is it that simple?
Many pastors, when surveying their youth ministry, find themselves looking at what I call the youth ministry triangle:
This means that in practice, their ministry tends to look like one of the following:
- Option 1: Mature Christian youth + healthy leaders: Pastors who choose to spend time growing the Christian youth to maturity in their ministry, while making sure the youth leaders maintain healthy boundaries and are supported in their own personal godliness. Nothing is done about helping the group to grow in size. This option breeds complacency and lacks urgency in evangelism. Eventually this youth group prayer-huddles itself into nothing.
- Option 2: Healthy leaders + numerical growth: Pastors who choose to focus their time on training and equipping youth leaders in evangelistic technique and apologetic prowess. The leaders reach the youth of the world with Christ under God’s sovereignty, resulting in many more youth joining the fellowship. However, this option leaves the newly converted youth wondering, “What now?” Awkwardly the converted masses stand about asking each other what the Old Testament is doing in their New International Versions while their leaders are off chasing new converts. Eventually many end up falling away.
- Option 3: Numerical growth + mature Christian youth: Pastors who choose to invest everything in numeric growth and Christian maturity in their youth ministry. They fill the calendar with amazing Friday nights, mid-week Bible studies, evangelistic events, amazing holiday camps and prayer retreats. This exciting ministry does it all. Or does it? This option burns out the leaders, damaging the youth group from the inside-out. Now who will minister to all these young people?
So what’s the right option? The benefit of picking two is that it shows us that something is going wrong and reveals our desire to set our own course. But the answer is not to choose two points of the youth ministry triangle, but just one.
The question is, which one? Choosing between “mature Christian youth” and “numerical growth” reveals our tendency to favour one direction over another. But choosing both could indicate an unhealthy desire for our own success. Instead, we should choose “healthy leaders”. It seems counterintuitive, but investing in leaders is the best way to grow a youth ministry. This is because healthy leaders bear healthy fruit: they help the youth to mature in Christ and also cause numbers to grow.
So prioritise your leaders with prayer, care and attention. By leading and supporting them in their Christlikeness, personal maturity and Bible knowledge, their own God-given gifts will flourish in your youth ministry. God has created us with an infinite variety of gifts for his service (Rom 12:4-6). So as you nurture your leaders, you’ll see some of them focusing on growing the believing youth, some of them seeking the lost and some of them being useful in other ways altogether.
The bottom line is that your youth ministry is already doomed if your leadership replaces God’s. But by God’s grace, your youth ministry is literally not just one part, but a body made up of many parts. So instead, focus on your leaders and let God set the agenda for your youth ministry.