Youth Ministry in One Word

By Guest Contributor November 7, 2014

By Chris Maxwell

Portions of this article are from Chris’s new book, Pause for Pastors: Finding Still Waters in the Storm of Ministry.

Let’s face it: youth ministry is complicated. From interactions with volunteers, students, and parents to the different hats you have to wear—speaker, business administrator, counselor, visionary—it’s easy to get lost in the minutia, to forget what it’s really all about. Thankfully, Jesus faced this same issue. He led a ridiculously complicated ministry, but was able to take the disparate pieces and bring them all together into a unified focus.

He knew the skills of communication. He taught through confrontations and illustrations and explanations. He used stories and Scriptures and symbolism. He preached to crowds, to disciples, to prostitutes. He dealt with money, miracles, masses. He covered a wide range of truth in his many lessons over the course of his ministry.

So, how did he simplify this complex formula for successful ministry? How could he summarize his commandments, laws, warnings, and promises? After debating with religious leaders about dollars on earth and marriage in heaven, he roped these vastly different thoughts together into a single, essential word:


“If you love God completely and love others like you love yourself,” Jesus said, “you’ve got it.”

He said that nothing was greater than that. Jesus took 10 commandments, 613 laws, 39 books of history, philosophy, poetry, prayer, and prophecy, mixed in his unique knowledge of the Father’s will, and boiled them down into a single idea with two expressions: Love God. Love people. That’s it. Everything else falls under one of these two categories.

oneword_quote1This love isn’t about romance, pleasure, gratification, self-seeking, or self-promoting. It’s based on the love that God shows us, especially the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.

With this priority of Jesus’ in mind, I’d like to humbly offer my own interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 in the CMV (the Chris Maxwell Version), worded especially for youth pastors:


If I speak in public with excellence, and teach students with brilliance, but I fail to love them, I’m of no value.

If a prophetic utterance flows through my mouth, if my dynamic training educates and motivates my volunteers, if my written words impress other youth workers, but I fail to love them, I’m of no value. My recorded talks should be erased, my books burned, and my files deleted.

If I give away the things I treasure, if I die proclaiming the gospel, but fail to love others, I lose. No one wins.

What is this love anyway? We hear so much about it and claim to want it, but do we know what it is?

Love enjoys this life journey, whether you’re leading the youth program of your dreams or toiling in a tiny ministry; it endures, refusing to quit. Love says the right words the right ways to the right people at the right times and for the right reasons. Love doesn’t allow emotions to take charge, but it also doesn’t let them stay hidden; it merges confrontation with kindness, truth with trust, honesty with optimism. Love doesn’t get back at others—for undermining you or lying about you or ignoring you—or push others back so you can do things your own way. Love doesn’t seek to stay at the front; it lets others cut in line. Love also lets things go.

oneword_quote2Love refuses to allow damaging habits to continue. Love listens. Love asks. Love learns. Love laughs and cries. Love stays alive when that initial excitement of a new ministry or initiative dies. Love forgives those who ask for forgiveness and those who never catch on to how much wrong they have done.

Love longs to see others succeed, not fail. Love looks for moments to show care, while hoping no one knows who gave that care. Love fights for who students will be in five, ten, and thirty years, not for your own status as their hero right now. Love lives in everyday life. Love refuses to give up. Love chooses to grow up.

When few things make sense, when hurt holds us back, when former failures refuse to go away, love rises above. It keeps at it. It refuses to quit.

We need faith and hope and love. Faith is crucial: only through its lens will students see the invisible. Hope is vital: only through its flavor can students find purpose, endurance, reason. But love ranks at the top. Through love, faith and hope find expression in our lives. So, let us love.

By valuing love, our lives and our ministries have value.


So, when we’re overwhelmed by the complications and frustrations of youth ministry, let us lead with the wise foolishness of love. For God, for ourselves, for our families, for our volunteers, for our students, for life.

CC Image courtesy Chris Blakeley on Flickr.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More