Imagine that you’re a minister founding a congregation’s first youth ministry. Quite naturally, you’re going to ask what all church leaders should ask: What is the purpose of this ministry? How will I know whether the ministry is successful?
What are the likely answers?
* Do the kids enjoy church?
* Do the kids invite their friends?
* Do we have great crowds at the Wednesday night worship?
* Are the teens developing great relationships?
* Are the teens learning important life lessons?
Those are all good things, of course, but none is quite the right standard. The real question is whether the teens are becoming like Jesus — the self-sacrificing, mission-centered Son of God. That is, of course, the same goal for all Christians.
If the teens really are maturing into the image of Christ, what effects would we see? What are the indicators we should look for?
* Do the teens remain loyal to Jesus after they graduate? This is more than loyalty to the church or the denomination.
* Are they an active part of a missional community? Not — do they attend church regularly? — but are they active in the mission of God in community?
* How many of our teens choose to go into ministry, into missions, or into church planting? I wouldn’t expect they all would, but some should decide to make that kind of commitment.
* Do our teens have a passion for the mission of God?
* Do our teens take intentional steps to mature in Jesus? Do they study their Bibles on their own? Do they have an active prayer life? Do they look for opportunities to be with older, more mature Christians to learn how to grow in their faith?
* Do our teens consider spirituality in deciding whom to date and whom to marry?
That’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but it’s a start at looking beyond church culture toward Jesus to envision what we could become.
It’s very hard questions like these that should shape how we run our teen ministries. And I think at least part of the solution is for them to serve alongside adults who have a passion for the things of God.
And so, I’d encourage youth ministers and elders and the adult leaders in youth minister to have this conversation. What would we like our teens to be like when they graduate from high school? What would indicate that the ministry has been successful?
Start there and then ask how we get there. I’ve offered a handful of suggestions. I’m sure there are other ideas to be found that would help as much or more. You see, I think it’d be a mistake to just read my few posts and impose a new regime on a youth ministry. Rather, I’d hope these posts lead to a conversation in each congregation about how to do things better. And from that conversation will come ideas for the leadership to consider in light of who Jesus calls us to be.
And if anyone comes up with other ideas for how we can do better, please share.