Despite the fact that most youth workers take part in a variety of important activities, effective youth workers learn to focus on what is even more important. I want to share with you some of what I shared at our recent PDYM conference regarding important verses most important.
In this message I focused on 10 contrasts that separate the important work of ministry from the most important.
1. Activities vs. Attention
Lock-ins, all-nighters and crazy games can be great activities to help students build community and connect with adult leaders, but I believe that students crave attention more than having a good time.
There have been times over my ministry career when I have focused so heavily on the activities themselves that I didn’t spend enough time with students. The event might have come together seamlessly, but the more important element had been discarded.
I am convinced that you don’t have to have a flashy youth ministry. Instead you need loving adults paying attention to students. When you do that, then your ministry will grow; students will want to share their faith and bring their friends to your ministry.
2. Programs vs. Passion
It’s more important to be passionate about the programs you have, than to have numerous programs for which no one has a passion. Because of this I suggest you re-evaluate the programs you have and get rid of those you are not passionate about. This could be your first step toward a healthy ministry.
3. Numbers vs. Health
It is true, numbers are important. Numbers represent people hearing the Gospel. In fact I even suggest that your youth group keep track of your numbers. But remember this…bigger is not better, healthier is better!
4. Quality vs. Longevity
Youth ministers should take their work seriously and have pride in what they do. But longevity is more important than quality.
I believe that ministry gets better and easier the longer you last. I don’t have the same difficulties I once had when I was new to youth ministry and new to my church. An example of this is now I find it easier to enlist volunteers into serving in youth ministry because people trust me. I have been in youth ministry and around this church for awhile now and I have earned their trust.
5. Adult Chaperones vs. Godly Leaders
You can’t have kids driving the church van, youth ministries need adults. But more important than having adults is having godly leaders. I’d rather have one godly leader than 20 chaperones.
I encourage you to train the chaperones in your ministry to be “shepherds.” Students don’t need chaperones; they need shepherds, godly men and women who will lead them.
If you find godly leaders “who are in love with Jesus” there will be no battles over a vision for the youth ministry. Everyone will want to see students in a more passionate relationship with Jesus.
6. Relevance vs. Relationships
I think youth ministers should make themselves students of youth culture, but I believe that relevance can be highly overrated. Most youth ministers are not as cool as they think they are. It isn’t a youth minister’s “coolness” that will make him effective in ministry.
I don’t need to have tattoos. I don’t need to have my nipples pierced. I don’t need to wear boxers up high or baggy pants to have a relationship with a teenager.
When you have a relationship, you have relevance in a teenager’s life.
7. Attraction vs. Retention
Attracting teenagers to a youth group isn’t difficult with a little money. Students will always come to see a good show. But the fact is that life change happens in quality relationships and students cannot get that from the world.
8. Models of Youth Ministry vs. Mystery of God
It’s great to learn from other youth ministries. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry is a great model of ministry, but there are many other good models out there as well.
More important than models of youth ministry is the mystery of God. There are some things about youth ministry that I can’t explain and don’t want to explain.
Don’t be disillusioned by the supposed “steps” to increase the size of your youth group. Instead realize that growth is a “theological phenomenon.”
I can remember spending months planning a “back to school party.” Then when the guitarist broke three strings and could no longer play, the young girl giving her testimony got sick and one of the students had horrendous gas problems, I figured the night was a loss. But after the program, when a young lady in attendance told him that she felt the presence of God that night, I realized God had used the event despite the problems.
If you came to my church and you poked around and asked questions about what makes certain things work here, I’ll have to tell you, ‘I don’t know.’ When you elevate the purposes, God does something, but I can’t explain everything.
9. Students vs. Caring Adults
Obviously we as youth workers care about students and want to reach students. But youth workers should focus on recruiting more caring adults to the ministry. Your ministry must outlive you. In order to do this you must find people who will still be involved in the ministry when you leave.
When a lot of churches look for people to help out in the youth ministry, they look for people who are young and flashy. That’s fine as long as those people are going to find other caring adults who are going to love those kids.
10. Talking about God vs. Talking with God
Most importantly remember that talking with God is more important than talking about God. I learned just how important this was when, in my seventh year of ministry at my previous church. I began to crash because I was depending on my own time and energy for ministry. I can remember pulling over to the side of the street after returning from a big youth retreat and tearing up. In those moments God encouraged me to stop trying to do everything on my own. While I had been doing a good job connecting students to the church, I had done a poor job connecting myself to God.
Let me encourage you not to rely on your own talents or skills to minister to teens, but instead to rely on God.
The great thing about youth ministry is when I show up to speak, I don’t show up alone — I show up with God.
Important vs. Most Important
My prayer for you is that you will come to recognize important versus most important. If you can focus your ministry and your life on the most important you will be amazed at what God does through you, in the lives of your students, in your ministry and in your church!