What is it about youth ministry that makes it seem like it’s always a game of shadows for so many of us? I just went out to finally see Sherlock Holmes 2 with two of the guys from our middle school ministry. After begging my wife to go with me since it came out, I finally gave up and took initiative on my own. As a side note, in case my wife reads this, it’s not her fault she never took me up on it as my invitations were always unplanned and spontaneous, and that doesn’t really work with an eight month old child. All this, however, is simply semantics. The movie was as good as I had hoped it to be, but as I drove home after dropping off the two guys it hit me: I’m pretty sure I’ve been involved in a game of shadows in my youth ministry this past year.
I’ve really discovered a lot over the past few months. One of the biggest discoveries came recently when it hit me that I’ve been sucked into the most common traps of youth ministry this side of the Mississippi. It started without even a warning. I simply looked around at all the programs, exciting events, and cool activities going on within our church and thought, “Wow, that’s what positive ministry looks like”.
I began brainstorming, and watched as ideas poured forth from my head onto my white board. Each one looked more brilliant then the last. As I did this, I convinced myself that my motivation was right. I thought, “These shiny new programs and events are what will help create the opportunities for relationships and sharing Christ.
Truth is, all I really did was fill up my plate-as well as the plates of those who VOLUNTEERED to minister along side of me. At the end of the year I found my self chasing hard towards an impressive looking ministry. The problem was I would leave at the end of these events wondering, “is this really the way it’s supposed to be?”. Sure, there were tons of students, lots of growth, and loads of fun, but for what purpose?
I look back and wish for the opportunity to do less, but mean more! I am determined to change things around. This game of shadows will confuse me no more. I am resolved to have a ministry driven by purpose. Not just any purpose, but the ONE purpose to which I am called. A Mathew 28 purpose.
Here’s the point: it’s so easy to get trapped by the pace of ministry, the lure of a dynamic program, and constant increase of numbers. It’s good to have a paced ministry, but be sure that the pace is one that ministers not only to students but also your family and yourself. It’s great to have a dynamic program, but understand, it’s not about you, your job, or your own personal success. It’s about making Christ’s name famous.
Lastly, let’s talk numbers. We hear this stuff all the time, and I realize that, but had it not grabbed me so easily I wouldn’t talk about it.
The reality is, Christ will draw people to himself, and He doesn’t need our help. He has invited us into his work, and wants us to be a part of it, but it’s His show. Listen to this carefully, numbers are a sign of positive Christ centered ministry, but not the sign. The power of the Gospel will draw students to it so don’t be so enthralled with numerical growth that it becomes the driving factor for your decision making as a leader. Let the Gospel of Christ lead, and be thankful for the way in which He uses you! Don’t be distracted by the youth ministry game of shadows.
Eric Upton is the Middle School Pastor at Bridgeway Christian Church and you can follow him on Twitter or roll over to his Tumblr here if you dare.