WHAT DOES A SUCCESSFUL YOUTH MINISTRY LOOK LIKE? This is far too important a question for us not to chew on and come to some place of understanding. I offer the following three pictures of a successful youth ministry, as a starting point for all of us to begin a conversation, in each of our churches, on what constitutes success in our ministry with youth. A few years ago, I was having lunch at a café with my wife.
At the next table sat a young man who looked like he was about 16 years old. He was reading his Bible. Soon, he was joined by another boy slightly younger than him. Observing the two, I soon realised that the older boy was discipling the younger boy, reading the Bible and discussing it together.
This is the first picture of a successful youth ministry – where youth disciple other youth. We must not belittle the capacity of our young people. We should heed Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12)
The second picture is that of a father walking with his daughter. As they walk, they are talking about life. As we zoom in on the two and overhear their conversation, the father is sharing with his daughter how God is relevant to our lives. We turn to look at the daughter and we see the face of a child who knows she is loved, given attention by her parent, and able to receive faith lessons from her father.
This is the second picture of a successful youth ministry – where parents take hold of the wisdom in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and understand their responsibility for faith transmission. Where parents embrace the reality that they are the primary “youth workers”, and the church as a faith community works to encourage, support and facilitate parents as the primary ministers of faith to their children. The third picture in my mind, which I witness in our churches from time to time, is of young people worshipping together and serving alongside adults in the church. They are present as ushers, musicians and tellers. They are present in camp and ministry committees. They help out both in the children’s ministry and in the seniors’ ministry. They are as present as the adults in community outreach.
They take their place in the worship service, in the small groups, and in the life of the church. They are not separate, but they are in full communion with the rest of the church. They know that not only do they belong in the church, but the church also belongs to them.
This is the third picture of a successful youth ministry – where young people are integrated into the life of the church.
These three pictures are offered not as a comprehensive answer to the question posed by this article. Instead, I pray this will serve as an encouragement for all who care for and minister with youth, to engage with this question intentionally today. We do this because we all desire to “present everyone fully mature in Christ”. (Colossians 1:28)
The Rev Bernard Chao is Pastor at the Holland Village Preaching Point (Barker Road Methodist Church), Assistant Director of TRAC Board of Youth Ministry, and Associate Director, Ministry in Schools.