I had the privilege of co-authoring a book entitled “Everybody’s Urban” with my friend, Leneita Fix. Leneita always provides me with great insight and perspective when it comes to how to measure “success” in my youth ministry. I wanted to share with you some things I’ve learned from her.
Have you ever experienced one of the following scenarios in youth ministry?
• The student you have poured your heart and soul into makes a devastatingly poor life choice.
• You are forced to send a student home from a mission trip after discovering they have not only brought drugs with them, but are sharing with their friends.
• You have a constant nagging feeling that apathy is impossible to conquer, and that you’re constantly taking five steps forward and six steps back with your few.
We have all been through these scenarios or similar ones. If we aren’t careful, it can leave us disgruntled, disheartened and wondering why on earth we are even trying to invest in these adolescent years. Far too often, we feel as if we’re failing more than building the faith of our students. There can be a tendency to cling to the one kid who graduated and fits our mold of having “made it.” We think it’s all right because at least there was one. However, is that really the way the Lord wants us to look at it? What if our job was only to be the instruments used to introduce our students to Jesus and to encourage them to develop a healthy relationship with Him? If that is so, then what does successful youth ministry really look like these days?
In order to redefine success, you must…
1. Search Their Hearts
When the students are asking questions that cause them to wrestle with who this Jesus is to them, it is powerful. They may still not be making the best life choices, but do they want more? Can we see a spark that tells us the Holy Spirit is working?
2. Check their Attitudes
Sometimes we are so focused on the future of a student we forget to look at the small strides they are making. This is the student you have a deep conversation with, they appear to not listen, and all of a sudden you see something starting to transform in the way they see life. Look for a new attitude in process as a sign the Lord is changing their hearts.
3. Look for Signs of Interest
Part of adolescence is to appear aloof. Typical adult give and take conversations cannot be expected. So it’s easy to overlook the signs that they are interested in the discussion. Mere eye contact may be a win for some of your few. For others, you may ask yourself, are they asking questions? Do they pull me aside and want to know more? Do they confide in me about mistakes they are making? It is a major push forward when our students desire to know more about who Christ is and how to know Him past their time at church or youth program.
At the end of the day, we can never forget to celebrate each and every victory, no matter how big or small. You’re running a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time and enjoy each moment.