Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Will It Work? 6 Guarantees in Youth Ministry

We're making a significant change in our youth ministry and our church culture that has huge implications for the spiritual growth and sustainability of our young people. There has been excitement and eagerness. There has also been hesitancy and apprehension. Many have come with questions and concerns that can summarily be described by the following phrase:

"I want to know that it'll work."

One hundred percent, guaranteed. They want to know if this programmatic shift is going to be a surefire success.

Will it work?

I don't know.

I think it will. I hope it will. But who can say? I believe young people's lives will be changed when they encounter Jesus in the elder generation. I believe there will be no kids' table in the kingdom of God. I believe in the 5:1 ratio of adults-to-teens described by Chap Clark, Kara Powell, and other wise leaders in the youth ministry world. I believe the fun-spiritual dichotomy is a myth and that teens are whole disciples and whole members of the present church, not half-disciples or the "future of the church."

I can see that what we're currently doing--both in my local context and in the North American church in general--isn't really working. Young people are graduating from high school and floundering in their faith. More than that, there are literally hundreds of high school teens in my city who don't know Jesus at all, and our current programs and structures simply aren't reaching them. Something needs to change, and I believe the shift we're making is a healthy one.

But guarantee that any program will "work?"

I can't. I don't place my confidence in programs and structures and services. I want to place all my hope in the God who raises the dead, not the latest church model or trend.

Here are six truths I can absolutely guarantee in my youth ministry:

1. God is always faithful. In spite of humanity's faults and flaws and infidelity, God's redemptive plan for history patiently and steadily moves forward. He hasn't given up on us yet, and he never will.

2. The gospel transforms lives. When people encounter the person of Jesus and come to believe in him as Saviour and King, their lives are changed. The goal isn't having a smoother program or a more interesting sermon or high-quality sound systems for worship--the goal is people knowing and following Jesus. This happens through the sharing of life and the gospel out of a committed love for one's neighbour.

3. The kingdom of Jesus will grow. I can't stop it. Even if my programs are awful and I do my absolutely darndest to try to jack up people's lives, the kingdom of God will just keep expanding. It's a mustard seed that will grow into an enormous tree. It's yeast working its way through a lump of dough. That's just how it works. Jesus wins.

4. Nothing is perfect in this life. Despite the surety of the kingdom's redemptive power, we live in the tension of an already-not yet kingdom. No program, structure, service, or church congregation is perfect. When we achieve perfection, we'll have to go and change it again, because we live in a dynamic and ever-evolving world that won't be perfect until Jesus fully establishes his kingdom. Until then, it's gonna be messy.

5. I will never please everyone. One of my personal core values is to please God, not people. This means my heart is motivated by God’s calling and mission for me, not by my own agenda or desire to look good for others. This calling and mission go beyond job description or cultural expectations; this is about being obedient to the Lord before all other authorities or voices. So there will be people who aren't pleased with everything I do. That's okay. I love them. They're God's children, too. And if I was pleasing everyone around me, I'd likely be compromising my obedience to God.

6. I am called by God to be a minister of the gospel and a shepherd to the emerging generation. This is who I was created to be. Whatever my job description or location or age or status, I'm always going to be looking for young people to disciple and preaching/teaching about Jesus and his kingdom. It's the fire in my belly and the holy discontent that keeps me awake at night. So regardless of programs or structures or models of ministry, I'm going to keep pouring my life into young people and pointing them to Jesus.

These are the truths I'll cling to. Everything else is an experiment. There are moments where I have no idea where I am going. But God is faithful. His gospel transforms lives, and the kingdom is growing. So despite my own flaws and brokenness, I'll remain committed to my vocational calling and strive to please the Lord above all others.

Where does your own confidence and hope currently stand--programs and structures, or gospel transformation?

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