One of the on-going themes for me in youth ministry has been numbers; counting young people like beans as a measure of success, whatever that means. I’ll have to be honest and say that a big driver for this has been the smallness and lack of the usual marks of success in my ministry. Don’t misunderstand me; I work with some absolutely wonderful young people who I have known for the last three and a half year and of whom I have become very fond. It’s just that my youth ministry doesn’t look like Mike Pilavachi’s. My young people don’t spontaneously run prayer all-nighters, lead worship at church, go to extra bible studies or any of the other things I hear about from other youth ministers. Plus, for quite some time there has only been a few of them, and that is the most significant fail of all! I don’t get 150 young people to my youth camp, or take 75 of them to Soul Survivor. But this doesn’t mean that it has been a failure or that the wonderful young people I have come to know in the last three years haven’t been worth it all and more. It’s been one of the things I have muttered about though…I’ve made pleas to other youth workers to think about what effect they’re having when they boast about the size of their ministries, and on one occasion had a rant to Pete Ward without realising it was him*! (It was at a Greenbelt Youth workers breakfast but that’s a whole other story)
However, recently things have started to change: young people are coming more regularly, and they are prepared to get involved in discussions about God and Jesus and stuff! And there’s another change, and this is where my problem is…because of a promise I made to myself, I can’t tell you about it. But I have to confess that I very nearly did. I was so pleased about it that I nearly forgot the things I said to myself when times were thin. But isn’t it interesting how deeply ingrained it is in Christian culture to use only numbers to assess what we do? Can you see how I’m tying myself in knots not to say the thing that you’ve probably guessed already?
The discipline is paying off though, because the effect of it is to lead me to some important realities. The reality is it’s not my youth ministry, and they aren’t my young people and success and failure aren’t dependent on me. It’s God’s youth ministry, and just at the moment we are having a season of blessing** for reasons I don’t completely understand. And they are God’s young people, and their own, and just at the moment they are choosing to show up at my door, but taking the long view (and I do, I’ve been in youth ministry for more than ten years) they might choose to move on to something else, and this will probably be nothing to do with anything I do or don’t do.
My job, or calling to say what it really is, is to keep faithfully “holding out the word of life” (Phil 2:16) to the young people, by my actions and my words, and to pray for them. If I’ve done that then I’ve been obedient to my calling and I’ll have to leave the success and failure thing with God.
*Pete Ward is a major youth work icon and has been for many years…what he doesn’t know about youth work…well, you get the picture. And I had the temerity to have a rant at him about this! Personally I think he should have introduced himself at the beginning of the seminar then I might have been awed into silence.
**I know that sounds a bit twee but I don’t know how else to say it