by: Trey Bradley
I believe that student ministers today are much under-appreciated within the church as a whole. Many student ministers get merely coined as the “Youth Guy” and are seen as just someone who comes up with games and takes teens to Six Flags. The truth, however, is that youth ministry for most involves so much more that goes unnoticed. Student ministers today face a great deal of pressure to be relevant within a culture where kids have no biblical worldview whatsoever and families are broken. This often leaves youth pastors feeling beaten down, discouraged, and defeated. I have composed five lies that the enemy wants all youth pastors to believe.
1. "Quantity Over Quality"
First of all, I am not against big youth ministries. I am not one of those people who say that numbers aren’t important. Anybody who says that is just not being honest. Of course numbers are important as we should strive to reach as many students as we can. However, when that becomes our primary focus and takes the place of authentic relationships and long lasting discipleship then we have a problem. This is a trap that every student minister faces. You take your fifteen or so students to camp and you meet these other youth groups with bus loads where the first question you get from other youth pastors is: “How many kids you got with you?” People in the congregation want to know where the big numbers are. Why is our youth ministry not as big as the church up the street? Why does the kid who comes on Sunday morning with his/her grandma go to youth at the other church? The finance committee won’t increase the budget because there “wasn’t enough numerical growth in the past year,” even though they look over the spiritual growth and changed lives that have taken place. People in the church aren’t there for the conversations, the text messages at 2:00 am, or the time invested into the relationships. They just want to see on paper a higher number than last year. This makes it very tempting for a student minister to have their focus taken off what is most important. Satan wants you to believe that just because your youth room/building is full that your ministry is successful, while this may not always be the case. Likewise, he wants you to believe that just because your student ministry is small that you are a failure and this also may not always be the case. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that bigger is always better. It is a pit and will leave you feeling discouraged and alone!
2. "Youth Don’t Care About Solid Bible Teaching"
This is another false assumption and I cringe when I hear people say that youth just want to be entertained and really don’t care about theology. The enemy wants you to believe that they really just don’t care about that stuff; they just want to have fun. Of course with some this may be the case but in my experience, most are striving for something more. They actually want some depth when it comes to their faith. Once again, I am not against having fun or doing entertaining things. In fact I am all about creativity and utilizing media, drama, or whatever as long as Jesus is front and center. The problem is when the gospel or the word of God becomes something that we just work in instead of being the primary reason we gather in the first place. I am all for games and entertainment as that is how youth leaders/pastors can develop those relationships, but youth today are searching for truth and I believe they find it refreshing when we are real with them and they get something different than what they get otherwise in the world. I have discovered that the more we expect out of students, the more we will get out of them. If you establish a Six Flags tone then that is what you will get. The bottom-line is students need the word of God! They need to know who Jesus is, what sin is, etc….Make it fun, put it on their level, but the word of God needs to be THE PRIORITY!
3. "You Gotta Keep Up With The Youth Ministry Down The Street"
Every town has that church that is always one step (or several) ahead in the game. They have the most students, the bigger budget and resources, and seem to be doing everything right. Now I am not criticizing this at all, but the problem is when every other church automatically assumes that to be successful they must mimic everything that church is doing. I do believe that churches can learn from one another and borrow ideas, but we must be careful that we don’t substitute what God has specifically called us to do just to try and “compete” with the other churches. Every youth group will have students from different areas and backgrounds so the circumstances will not always be the same. Also the real danger here is when your minister ceases to become a person following God’s vision and becomes a person just trying to outdo the other youth groups. No longer are we trying to expand the kingdom but are giving into pride and jealousy, which will take us down a road that we don’t want to go down.
4. "Don’t Partner With Other Churches, Or They Might Steal Your Students"
My heart in student ministry has always been to see youth groups work together. I have seen this take place in my hometown and the results have been many changed lives. Unfortunately in my experience as a student pastor, getting youth ministers to work together has been like pulling teeth. It has always been puzzling to me, but the only reason I can think is that they are afraid that their youth may like other youth pastors or ministries better and leave. The problem here is that many churches see other churches as competitors when we are all on the same side. It’s not about reaching “our youth in our church,” it’s about working together and combining our resources to see God do amazing things in our community and the body of Christ as a whole. When we catch that vision, the enemy goes on the defensive and God is honored. It’s not about us and “our church” it’s about the body of Christ.
5. "If A Student Leaves, Then It Is An Automatic Reflection Of Your Failure As A Leader"
The enemy loves for youth ministers to believe this one, because he can paralyze them for months or even years. Sometimes youth are going to come and go for a variety of different reasons, and the enemy wants the youth pastors to pin the blame on themselves. The same could be said if a student (especially if they were a leader in the youth group) had a moral failure or fell into any particular sin. The lie is that the reason they fell or left is because of something the youth pastor said, did, or didn’t say, do. For the record every youth leader should be willing to examine themselves and their ministry because the leader establishes the tone in the youth ministry. In some cases they could discover that they are the root of some issues going on. However, ultimately they cannot allow themselves to feel responsible for the decisions that students are individually making. Every person is ultimately responsible for their own choices and will give an account for those choices. What this can lead to is every student pastor ceasing to be a person led by what God is calling them to do and instead doing what they feel will keep everyone happy. At this point the student ministry is just following the status quo and not really making an impact for the kingdom and Satan loves that. This is once again a pit that every student pastor can easily fall into, and the only solution is to keep all eyes on Jesus and His call/vision for your ministry.