In one of my first blog posts 'What is Christian youth work?' I asked, What are we trying to achieve in youth ministry? What is our goal as a youth pastor or Christian youth worker, whether we're paid or a volunteer? I suggested four insights which have helped me in charting my own course in youth ministry. You can read them here. I'm firmly convinced that the main goal of Christian youth ministry is making disciples.
'So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That's why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ's mighty power that works within me.' Colossians 1: 28-29
However, it's easy to fall into the 'numbers' trap. Wishing my youth group was bigger. Designing programmes to attract more young people. Dreaming of what it would be like to have a 'mega' group and the accompanying status from our church and peers. Haven't we all thought like that from time to time? I know I have. I purposely use the word 'trap' because following the numbers agenda can so easily distract us from our primary purpose of disciple making.
Discipling young people is time intensive and a huge investment. It takes time nurturing young people to bring 'each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ.' Now I'm not saying there's no space for fun stuff and crazy games, young people aren't just 'souls on legs', they have physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs (just like you and me), but we need to stay laser-focused on our goal.
What do we think of when we think about discipleship? A programme? A curriculum? A confirmation course? Finding a process which is helpful to the spiritual growth of your young people is important, but I want to suggest we also reflect on the outcomes. What do we want to see? If our goal is spiritual maturity how do we measure it? What does a spiritual mature person look like?
Well, maturity is more than just doing the right things. Maturity is to do with our character and the way Jesus influences and rules in our lives. Of course, there is a sense in which we can never become fully mature – this side of heaven. No one can say I have it all, I'm perfect. Paul sums up his journey towards maturity when he talks about running the race and striving to win the prize. We all need to be in the race and so do our young people.
Ross Farley, an Australian youth worker, lists five qualities of a 'spiritually maturing' person, in his book Strategy for Youth Leaders, Scripture Union 1991. I've have found them a useful guide in trying to understand and measure the process of spiritual maturity in the young people I have worked with over the years.
1. An understanding of the Gospel. This is the beginning of spiritual maturity. To know, understand and accept what Christ has done for me in his life, death and resurrection.
'For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.' John 3: 16-17
2. Commitment. An understanding and desire to see Jesus as Lord of my life. A commitment to holy living with Jesus in control.
'And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.' Colossians 2: 6-7
3. The fruit of the Spirit. Desiring and experiencing these 'Christ-like' characteristics in my life.
'But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!' Galatians 5:22-23
4. A servant attitude. A desire to serve others in my youth group, church and wider community. A desire to do good works in the name of Jesus.
'Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.' Philippians 2: 3-4
'For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.' Ephesians 2:10
5. A devotional life. Communication is essential to the growth of any healthy relationship. If I stopped talking to my family then obvious consequences would flow from that action. So it is in our relationship with God through Jesus. Communication is vital.
'Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.' Colossians 4:2
For myself, I'd rather see a handful of young people who demonstrate
these qualities, who make lifelong commitments to a mission-focused
lifestyle, who have real influence and leadership in their churches and
with peers, than have 'mega' group of young people who visit for a
season and then disappear. But that's just me. How do you want to invest your time in youth ministry?
Every week I plan to add more youth ministry resources and personal reflections on youth ministry and leadership. May I encourage you to subscribe to INSIGHT and you won't miss a thing.