Youth ministry is a fairly vast field that includes a wide number of skill sets, mission fields, opportunities and challenges. Serving in a field so open to God’s calling can be a blessing, but it can also throw us for a loop if we aren’t careful. As ministry leaders, we have to be constantly re-evaluating ourselves to ensure that what we are doing is in-line with the needs of our youth, the priorities of our organization, and (most importantly) our calling. When we learn to not feel pressured to expand into activities, events and focus areas that are not really aligned with our ministry’s calling, it may be surprising how God works it all together as a part of His plan.
Keep the ‘Main Thing’ the ‘Main Thing’
Growing up, my father used to always encourage me to “keep the ‘main thing’ the ‘main thing’.” He was trying to make sure that his sons were always aware of not only what they were doing, but why they were doing it. This is a proverb from a North Carolinian businessman that has found relevance time and time again both in my role as a ministry leader and in day-to-day life.
Depending on what your particular ministry is set up to do, your ‘main thing’ may be different from my ‘main thing’. This is a lesson that has taken me a long time to learn. (I blame my tendencies as an engineer to over-simplify everything.) Someone who is leading a youth ministry aimed at underprivileged youths is focused on fundamentally and theologically different things than someone leading a more discipleship-driven ministry. Some ministries are large and resourced enough to go after multiple disciplines in multiple mission fields. Mazel Tov.
Regardless of what our ministry is set up to do, it’s important to avoid the temptation to be the ‘everything’ ministry that is all things to all people. Even though what the youth ministry down the road or across town is doing may seem attractive and dare I say “sexy” (can I say that in church?), that doesn’t mean God is calling us to participate in those same events, reach those same people or garner that same attention.
The world placed different levels of attractiveness on different activities and the simple truth is that not all ministries or ministry leaders are called to be Billy Graham or Samaritan’s Purse. Some of us are called to far more humbling mission fields with far less glorious labors… and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Part of keeping the ‘main thing’ the ‘main thing’ is realizing that others may have different opinions or may have a tendency to chase edgy youth trips and ministry trends. If we look past the glitz and the glamor the world placed on certain ministry activities, are those activities really focused on the ‘main thing’?
Acknowledging Different ‘Main Things’
Realizing what our ‘main thing’ is and acknowledging that other people may have different ‘main things’ is healthy and even beneficial. God uses different people differently to see His master plan come together.
Let me give an example from my own community. I was in a discussion recently with a church member who was talking about some of the more seeker-based activities another youth ministry was pursuing. Their model is very much of the kind where you hold tremendous numbers of events and give away a lot of prizes for the purpose of attracting seekers or those who currently have little interest in God. The church member was, in the most polite way possible, asking why we didn’t do more of the same. I actually had to stop for a second and get past my naturally competitive side which wanted to shout, “Yeah! Why DON’T we do that?! We can totally do that!” Fortunately, I have begun to become a decent practitioner of thinking before I speak. I was able to come up with a much more coherent, and I think Biblically accurate, response: different ministries are called to different mission fields and we have to make sure our focus is on pursuing where we think God is calling us. If that means their social media page looks “cooler” than ours, so be it. Being “cool” has never really been a huge motivator for me over the last 30 years, so I don’t know why I’d get bent out of shape about it now.
Fortunately, I have begun to become a decent practitioner of thinking before I speak. I was able to come up with a much more coherent, and I think Biblically accurate, response: different ministries are called to different mission fields and we have to make sure our focus is on pursuing where we think God is calling us. If that means their social media page looks “cooler” than ours, so be it. Being “cool” has never really been a huge motivator for me over the last 30 years, so I don’t know why I’d get bent out of shape about it now.
You see, our youth ministry isn’t necessarily one where the program is directed at seekers. Our focus has been on training up our youth to be the missionaries which reach out to the seekers. Part of that involves cool events and activities, but it focuses much more on ‘going deeper’ events where we really explore faith, evangelism and what it means to live with the character of Christ. That’s our ‘main thing’. We disciple teens and provide opportunities for the teens to reach the seekers. Does that mean that the youth ministry down the road is doing things wrong? No, it just means they don’t have the same ‘main thing’… and that’s okay.
The only ‘main thing’ that we all have in common is that we seek to further the glory of God no matter our station, our resources, or our mission field. Whether we are placed in a situation to minister to youth who have attended church their entire lives or are working with inner-city teens desperately searching for the Savior they may not even know exists, we are all workers in the fields sowing and harvesting the crops God has waiting for us. So long as our ‘main thing’ is found in the Will of God, we should hold no conflict for those who seek to support their calling to a different field. (Romans 8:1) Though our tasks may differ, the glory of God unites our labors into one divine plan.
Benefiting from Each Other’s ‘Main Thing’
As someone who prides themselves on being a fairly conservative and stubborn hillbilly, I can still respect when a diverse group of people or collection of organizations gather together to achieve great things. During a community leader’s meeting, I spoke with someone who leads a community-directed youth ministry in a very underprivileged part of our county. Due to the home situations and spiritual needs of his mission field, his programs are distinctly more ‘outreach focused’ versus being focused on discipleship or attracting seekers. He takes those who are mature in their faith and focuses on how to get them out into areas of need, working in the name of God. I was, and still am, a huge fan of everything this very young individual is doing to serve the kingdom of God.
Let’s contrast that with my somewhat more traditional youth program. We are just now hitting the point where some of our students are spiritually mature enough to put their faith to the test. Some are ready and looking for opportunities to express their faith through sharing the character of Christ (service) and the Good News of Christ (evangelism). Because our program is so geared towards discipleship, it would be a fairly disruptive pivot to our resources and personnel to create our own outreach overnight for these students. Even if we did pursue this sort of pivot, it would require a non-trivial amount of time to establish the relationships and infrastructure to support a meaningful level of community outreach. If only there were some way to find people whom God is already calling to perform outreach… oh, wait! My friend on the other side of the county is already focused on outreach and because we view ourselves as partners in God’s much larger plan, we already have the relationship to work together, without worrying about egos or ‘swimlanes’ and do some amazing things. All that it requires is for us to take the perspective that we are not competing nonprofit organizations, but rather workers with different ‘main things’ that can benefit from each other’s labor.
It all goes back to that age-old theological saying: creation is rigged. God has a plan and He’s seeing it through. We have the freedom to pursue God’s calling or not follow God’s calling and that extends into how we run our ministries. If we listen to God’s ‘main thing’ and allow him to sync up our ‘main things’ with other people’s ‘main things’, we might just be surprised to learn that God had a plan the entire time. The only thing that God required of us is that we listen to what He is telling us and avoid the temptation to branch out into things we are not called to do. For those of us tempted to extend into new and exciting things or who feel pressured by those in the community to do ‘more, more, more’, take heart in knowing that God’s plan is more divine than anything we can cook up and that so long as we are following His calling, we have no cause to feel rushed or judged by the world around us. God has a plan. He has a ‘main thing’ and His ‘main thing’ will reign supreme.
So long as we keep our ‘main thing’ aligned with His ‘main thing’, He will ensure that the Only thing that really matters leads, guides, and protects us in our ministries.
Joseph Pack is the student ministry coordinator at Bowling Green Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Virginia. Joseph’s emphasis with students is drawing distinctions between faith as the world sees it versus faith as is taught through the Word. In his day-life, he is an aerospace engineer for the US Navy. Joseph’s messages, commentaries, and contact information can be found on his blog at SAVETHEGENERATION.COM.