The Long View

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From YLO87 | By Doug Ranck, Free Methodist Church, Santa Barbara CA

Editor’s Note: This month, as we all get in the back-to-school groove, we’re featuring articles from previous Youth Leaders Only Resource Books — articles that hit on some of the fundamentals of student ministry. We picked these articles because we know that “Back to School” is also an important time for your youth ministry as you incorporate new volunteers, new students, new systems, and new ideas. From all of us at interlinc … Welcome Back to “Normal”!

People in ministry know about the circle. The circle is where you often sit with other ministry teammates. In the circle, you go around and share. On this day we were sharing, or more correctly, presenting our ministries. The assignment of the moment, “Tell us about your youth ministry.”

What youth pastor/leader, to some degree, has not dreaded this time? In these conversations we hear about the amazing things God is doing at other churches while we fidget, knowing the reality of our ministry, and wonder if we are the right person for the job after all.

Whenever we sit in the “circle”, we tend to compare. But when we compare, we lose. We either become proud, or we wallow in martyrdom. The root of this problem is usually found in our need to be successful. We want others to know we are capable and have something great to offer. If we cannot present a positive front, our biggest temptation is to then produce a successful “spin.”

What is your definition of “success” in youth ministry?

Is success having a full youth room on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings? Is it having the biggest group at your winter camp? Is it having growing and active small groups with students who carry a Bible/notebook and are eager to learn? What do you talk about when people ask you to describe your youth ministry? What would cause you to feel like your youth ministry is effective?

Our descriptions, lists, and profiles mostly focus on the “here and now.” For too many years, I defined my success only in terms of temporary fruit. I believed if youth said they wanted to follow Christ and were actively living their faith that we had succeeded and could now move to the next “project.” I also believed the inverse of those kids who rebelled and made a stand against participating in the youth ministry and following Christ. This thinking, I now understand, was shortsighted. We limit ourselves with “small picture” thinking while God is only interested in the “big picture.”

After twenty-nine years of youth ministry there are many times I feel that I know less than when I started, but one thing I do know: there is a “long view” to youth ministry. Keeping my eyes on a teenager beyond high school into adulthood gives me a greater glimpse of God’s perspective.

Here are three tentative conclusions (with accompanying comments) I have made which helps me navigate a healthy evaluation of success and failure in my own ministry:

This is not my ministry.

My role is to be a faithful servant/shepherd and to offer opportunities for youth to begin a relationship with Christ, grow in their faith, and serve Him.

I cannot make anybody do these things or be a Christian. God completes the work as people choose to follow Him.

There are many different scenarios in the faith journey of youth.

  • Youth may be great Christians throughout their time in the youth ministry but reject it in the college years.
  • Youth may be growing Christians through middle school and reject it in high school.
  • Youth may not follow Christ at all through their teen years, but come to Him later in life.
  • Youth may do one of the first two scenarios and come back to the Lord in college or later in life.

No program or even a fully invested relationship can guarantee the path of a teenager in his or her relationship with the Lord. What works for one may not work for another. We are all different, and we have the freedom to choose to follow the Lord. We must accept these different journeys as a part of the youth ministry profile and remember this is God’s ministry.

Long view = Hope view

Opening my eyes wide to the possibilities of God’s work in a person’s life, at any time, offers me a whole new frame of reference to assess the “successes and failures” of ministry. I have learned after all these years (twenty-five of them in the same ministry) to never give up hope.

Some will measure their success by how many former students are now in full-time ministry, missions, etc. To hear them speak of those youth we would naturally guess they were active, growing Christians in their teen years; carefully groomed and nourished through the loving investment of youth leaders. However, over half of our youth who now serve God full-time in ministry or missions were not even Christians through most of their adolescent years!

The next time you sit in the “circle” and wait for your turn, in the moments that you are tempted to second guess your “success” – may God remind you that His work is not yet done. May He affirm in you the passion to continue your walk with youth beyond high school graduation into the rest of their lives.

Want to pass this article along to your adult leaders or volunteers? Download the PDF here.


Every edition of Youth Leaders Only includes great articles like this one. Learn more about YLO Membership.

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