Why Every Youth Pastor Should Get a Job (Part 2)

By James Racine October 20, 2014


You can read Part 1 of this post here and Part 3 here.

I love to work on cars—bloody knuckles, grease under my fingernails, and sweat on my brow. Why? Because within a matter of hours I can see remarkable results. Not so with discipleship. In ministry, we rarely see immediate results.

One of my former students comes to mind. Perhaps you know her as “that girl.” The one your adult volunteer loses sleep over. The one who erupts in tears at every retreat. She can be found jumping up and down in worship in the morning, and posting incriminating photos of herself on social media by night. To my surprise, this student of mine turned out remarkably well.

On the other hand, we all know of star students who, within a year of graduating high school, fell flat on their faces. By junior year of college, they renounced their faith altogether.

Student growth often takes one step forward and two steps back—if it’s moving at all. But we keep at it, praying that our ministry makes a difference. One of the ways we have reconciled this mystery of ministry is by paraphrasing Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I plant the seed, someone else does the watering, but God ultimately causes the growth.” Though we are not so quick to admit it, we seem to believe that success in student ministry is a mysterious thing, largely out of our control.

It took the marketplace to show me how wrong this is.

It was our second consecutive month of not meeting our sales goal. Our manager called us into her office on Monday morning. “Guys, what’s going on?” she demanded. Immediately my associate and I offered our best explanations. We told her that the economic downturn was hitting us hard. We explained that the current promotion was not incentivizing people to come in. We were on the verge of convincing her of the futility of our task—we could just feel it—when she dropped a bomb: “You are on suspension. If you don’t make this month’s goal, you will be ineligible for compensation.” In short, do your job or work for free.

What I learned during my time in the marketplace is that success is rarely mysterious. Goals are either made or they are not. Though obstacles prohibit an organization’s success, employees are paid to solve problems, not make excuses. People who succeed in their jobs are promoted; people who do not are replaced with those who do.

So we have to ask ourselves, Is disciple-making really out of our control? Or is that just an excuse we use to make ourselves feel better?

In the marketplace, success is measurable because it looks like something: increased profits, decreased losses, new customers, improved communications, new product development, employee satisfaction. These are indicators of success. Believe it or not, making disciples is not so different. Our student ministries are either working or they aren’t. Luke describes the success of the earliest church community in Acts 2. He reports the early disciples meeting regularly; sharing their possessions; worshiping together; gathering in homes; eating meals with one another; displaying a spirit of joy, awe, and generosity; experiencing the favor of the community; and growing in number daily. Despite the challenges the early church faced—persecution, heretical teachings, small budgets, lack of educated leaders, and the complete absence of social media—the church was successful in making disciples.

What is it that prevents us from making deep disciples in our ministries? Here are three things I see as barriers to our success:

1. Excuses. The first barrier to success in ministry is excuses. Like my coworker and me in that office looking for someone or something to blame, we often waste our time lamenting the reasons we are not successful: they cut my budget, my pastor doesn’t trust me, my volunteers don’t care, the church down the street has better events, my students are too busy. We give so much credit to the forces working against us—as if we don’t have the Spirit working for us.

2. Aimlessness. The second barrier to success in ministry is aimlessness. Defining what success looks like is critical to achieving success. We need to ask the question, “What does successful discipleship look like for our students?” You might be surprised to find that there are many indicators of a good, healthy, and successful ministry that produces deep disciples (just ask Luke). Clarifying our intended outcome will help us to determine where our students are currently, and where God is calling us to lead them.

3. Prayerlessness. Perhaps more than the first two, prayerlessness is the biggest barrier of success. For it is here, in our regular prayers, that we discover the greatness of our God, we are convicted of our excuses, and we gain a vision of where God is leading us. Without prayer we are at the mercy of external factors. Thankfully, God hears us and provides for us in the places of our need.

One side note: In talking with hundreds of youth pastors from large and small churches, I have never heard a single one say, “I don’t want my students to grow.” Yet I rarely hear them articulate into what.

That is why I am so excited about a new tool LeaderTreks has created for youth workers: Know Growth. After scouring the Scriptures, our team has compiled the indicators of a true disciple, putting them into a tool allowing youth workers to assess and track the growth of up to 10 students—not in some kind of mathematical equation, but organically, by looking at the fruit your students are producing. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re curious, just order one and take a look for yourself.

I pray that you don’t have to get a job outside of ministry to discover that success in student ministry is not so mysterious. Jesus told us to go and make disciples. He said that he would always be with us. So, what excuse do we have?