Through personal searching and profiling, I came up with a series of 10 marks to critique my youth ministry against to know whether we are healthy and growing. Last month, I posted the first five marks of a successful, healthy youth ministry. This is part two. In some way, I hope these marks are helpful for you and can start some discussions in your friendship circles and ministry teams.
Mark #6: Equipped and Empowered Parents
The Bible is clear the passing down of faith is a God-given responsibility to families. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to: Love the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind (Mark chapter 12, verse 30). This commandment was originally given in the Old Testament, followed by a direct encouragement for families to share this truth with their children wherever they walked and wherever they went (see Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 5–9).
Statistically, no-one has more of an influence on the faith development of a young person than their parents. This is true regardless of culture, religion, family make up or social class. We need to equip and empower parents to put their beliefs into action.
In his book Family Ministry Field Guide, Timothy Paul Jones writes there are two reasons why parents don't disciple their children: lack of time and lack of training
Healthy youth ministries don't just partner with parents they equip them to be their first line of disciple makers.
Mark #7: Intergenerational Community
This line from Kenda Dean inspires me:
Only in the Church do young people begin to see themselves through the eyes of people who try to see them as God sees them: beloved, blessed, called.
Healthy youth ministries allow this crucial identity and spiritual formation to happen by having one church community, rather than several splintered ones. In an interview on Carey Nieuwhof's leadership podcast, Kara Powell beautifully defines what intergenerational community is:
We put children in one part of the church, youth in another section and adults in the main room of the church. As a result, high schoolers graduate from the youth ministry and don't know the church; they've never experienced the church...
...It's not even about getting kids in the same room as adults, it's about the relationships that are built. We learnt in our Sticky Faith research that there is a difference between multigenerational ministry and intergenerational ministry. In m multigenerational ministry, we have everyone in the same room but what happens is that all the senior adults sit together, all the middle-aged adults sit together and the teens sit together but they never talk to each other.
It's a placebo for what we ultimately want which is intergenerational community, where people of all ages know each other, pray for each other, know each other's names and are connected...
Intergenerational community fosters and builds up relationships between people of all ages and stages, where the oldest member in your congregation is praying for your youngest one and the business leader invests in finding out how the rowdy teen with messed up hair is going with his trouble at school.
There is a place for being and learning in age-appropriate contexts, but when this becomes the main context for worship and community for youth the entire church misses out on fellowship.
Mark #8: Leadership
Leadership in any ministry is vital, because leadership ultimately comes down to character. In their excellent book, Credibility, James Kouzes and Barry Posner argue people follow leaders because they see a quality of character and credibility worth trusting in. People respond to this quality of character.
If this is the case, leadership in healthy youth ministries is less about what you do and more about who you are. It means Christian leaders are not called to a place, a role, or a ministry. Instead, they are called to live their lives pointing people to God, wherever they find themselves.
Healthy youth ministries have a strong focus on character in leadership, holding each other accountable for who they are and how they are living their lives. They also build and encourage these character traits in their leaders and those desiring responsibility.
Mark #9: Personal Faith
Healthy youth ministries are filled with leaders passionate about Jesus and committed to cultivating a relationship with God. This relationship is the single most important aspect of being a youth pastor or leader.
Jesus himself said:
"Abide in me and I will abide in you, as the branch cannot produce fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, apart from me you can do nothing" (John chapter 15, verse 4)
Healthy youth ministry starts with you and God: waiting on him, praying to him and being led by him. God does not need us, he wants and desires us—this is a huge difference. Outside of his influence and power, there is nothing we can do in the lives of teenagers.
Teens need role models to look up to and follow, even as they follow Jesus himself. Just as Paul said "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians chapter 11, verse 1), teens need to see what it looks like to pray, what it looks like to read the Bible, what it looks like to love the community around you, what it looks like to share the gospel and what it looks like to follow Jesus even when you feel disheartened.
One of the most discouraging things for a teenager is for them to have their eyes and hearts opened by God to follow Jesus, only to find no-one is walking ahead of them as a guide. In many occasions, they will either fall in line, or run from the hypocrisy. Neither is healthy.
Mark #10: Longevity
The average youth pastor in America will last three years, and the Australian statistics are similar. Growing up, I had six different youth pastors or teams leading the youth ministry in my eight years as a young person and youth leader.
One of the best things about the Bible is its brutal honesty—it pulls no punches and leaves no rock for people to hide under. In Jude we find one of the most honest descriptions of leaders who do not last:
They are like wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has already been reserved (Jude chapter 1, verse 13).
Leaders like this are shooting stars, streaking onto the scene with excitement but just as quickly fading and disappearing for good. They show short-term gains but the long-term health of the ministry is compromised.
Healthy youth ministries know strong relationships build over long periods of time and they stay the distance. They don't talk about being there for a couple of years, but for an entire generation. They encourage their leaders to have friendships with teens as long as they can, leaving legacies instead of train wrecks.
These are my 10 marks of what makes a successful, healthy youth ministry. What would make your list? What have I left out?
Jimmy Young is a writer and youth pastor from Melbourne who loves the church and youth ministry. This is part two of a two part series for Christian Today. You can view the full article here on his personal blog, the Radical Change.
Jimmy Young's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jimmy-young.html