Christ is the founder of youth ministry, the goal of youth ministry, and the one who should shape youth ministry.
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch say it this way: “It is Christology (the exploration of the person, teachings and impact of Jesus Christ) that determines missiology (our purpose and function in the world), which in turn determines our ecclesiology (the forms and functions of the church).” Therefore, a goal for youth ministry might look like this:
Teenagers who, for the glory of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, spend a lifetime embracing the supreme majesty of the Son, responding to His majestic reign over all of life, inviting Christ to live His life through them, and joining Him in making disciples among all peoples.
That simple statement carries many implications. Youth leaders who picture their ministry drenched in Jesus might have these goals:
- Teenagers who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
- Teenagers who love others more than they love themselves.
- Teenagers who know their identity is in Christ and their purpose is to know, enjoy, and share the glory of God.
- Teenagers who grasp more and more of the grandeur and majesty of the Son, enthroned at the right hand of the Father.
- Teenagers who worship with awe intertwined with intimacy.
- Teenagers who abide in Christ as branches infused by the vine.
- Teenagers who embrace the spiritual disciplines and who pray in running conversations with Jesus through the day.
- Teenagers who invite the Holy Spirit to fill their lives.
- Teenagers who increasingly die to self and invite Christ to live through them.
- Teenagers who know they exist to reflect Christ’s sovereign rule and to join Him in bringing His kingdom on the earth.
- Teenagers who joyfully serve out of gratitude for the gospel and Christ’s completed work—who love Him because He first loved them.
- Teenagers who feel no need to earn what already is theirs.
- Teenagers who so love Jesus that they introduce others to Him.
- Teenagers who increasingly become like Christ, thinking His thoughts, sharing His worldview, and demonstrating His sacrificial compassion.
- Teenagers who make disciples who make disciples.
- Teenagers who risk everything—comfort, possessions, security, family, and their very lives—to be abandoned to Jesus and to make the gospel known among all peoples.
- Teenagers who have an allegiance to their King that far transcends their allegiance to the culture.
- Teenagers who know how to search and interpret the Scriptures to discover more of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
- Teenagers who can articulate, defend, and live out the faith that is in them for a lifetime.
- Teenagers who look forward to adoring and reigning with King Jesus forever and ever.
But that’s not the criteria for measuring youth ministry effectiveness in most churches. Instead, three other criteria are more common.
Senior pastors, deacons/elders, personnel committees, parents, and other powerful people often evaluate the effectiveness of youth ministry based on attendance. Some youth ministers say, “Since I am not evaluated on any other measure than how many posteriors I put in chairs, then that is my primary focus whatever I plan.”
Accolades and Absence of Complaints
Some key leaders in the church choose not to give the time that genuinely evaluating youth ministry would take. Instead, they tend to form opinions about effectiveness based on whether members come to them with compliments or complaints. This can be dangerous in two directions. Member compliments (or just the absence of complaints) about a ministry that in reality is failing to build a sustainable faith in teenagers can anesthetize any need for change.
On the other hand, member complaints can lead to negative pressure against a ministry just beginning to move in right directions. For example, parents whose off spring are missing the entertainment-only approach of the previous youth minister might complain often enough to convince an uninformed pastor that something is wrong with the current ministry.
Comparison with Area Churches
Some powerful people in the church (including parents at times) evaluate ministry only as it seems to compare to area churches.
“Well, our youth attendance is down, but that is what I am hearing from the other churches. I guess it is to be expected.”
“I see no reason for us not to have the same size youth group as my sister’s church across town.”
“Other pastors talk about their on-fire youth ministries, and I have no stories to tell.”
Similar to the issue of accolades and criticisms, simply comparing ministry to other churches can lead to “false positive” and “false negative” evaluations. One youth ministry that appears to be the biggest show in town may consistently be producing teenagers who vaporize from the community of faith when the excitement of youth ministry is over. Another youth ministry may get pounded in superficial comparisons but in reality may be producing teenagers madly in love with Christ and committed to His purposes for a lifetime.
In many sports, the coach says the same thing, “Keep your eye on the ball.” Though it can be stated various ways, the ball—the goal—of youth ministry should be something similar to: