Saturday, February 18, 2006

the 8th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt measure success by numbers

This is one of those commandments that every youth worker has to face. They have two choices, capitulate or contend. Most capitulate. But first a caveat. Numbers can be a determinate of the success of a ministry. For many people hearing the gospel of grace by faith alone is a good thing. However, what if the message is not biblical or if there is hardly any message at all? And many people still show up? We have to come to grips with the fact that we cannot only judge the success or lack thereof by how many kids show up for Bible Study.

This is what seperates us from retail establishments. It is good business to do all you can to get people in your store. Because the more people you get in your store the more chance you have to sell them the product you are hocking. Makes sense if you are Wal-Mart. We are not Wal-Mart. We are the church of the living God. We give away the most valuable thing in the world...the gospel. And this is but one of the ways we are different from retail establisments. We must worry about things like "means" and truth and love. We cannot dress up the gospel with anything save our love for another. We teach radical, offensive stuff that will be sweet soul music for some and the death-knell for others. So numbers might be an indication of a ministry being blessed by God and maybe not. But we must not assume that the blessing will only be large numbers. Perhaps it will be belssed with a particularly small number for his purposes known only to him. Perhaps he will withdraw his favor in concert with false doctrine and the numbers will grow by the hundreds. Spurgeon who was hugely successful in gathering large crowds once said, "truth is often in the minority." This needs to be recognized. For there is such pressure for youth ministers to point to their numbers so as to boost their persoanl capital in the church. No one looks at a non-growing youth group and sees success. This is because we have got to the point where success is only measured on a linear scale. And I just wanna know, "Are they growing in faith"? Do they know what it means to be justified? Sanctified? How well do they deal with suffering? Do they know what it means to be adopted? Are they growing in faith? This is the question hardly anyone ever asks.

If anyone asks me how things are going in the youh ministry, all I have to do is tell them how many we are having show up in comparison to last year. And they will be statisfied and will not ask any further questions. Let me say though that I am in an unusual situation. I am in a new youth ministry to some degree. I can do whatever I want most of the time and I have the support of oh, just about everyone. I also have a unique job title, Pastor of Student Discipleship. This was by design as they wanted something more than a "program director." They wanted a discipler. That is what I do, I disciple kids in the gospel. Most youth workers are program directors in the minds of parents and elder-boards and diaconates. They may not want to be a program director but they are seen as one and that is why their success will be judged by numbers.

How do I break this commandment?

Counting sheep. I made a terrible mistake at one Wednesday night Bible Study. I only had 4 show up. I do not remember why but I had only been here about 6 months and I was getting real frustrated with my kids. They were sporadic and could not get it into their thick skulls that we meet every Wed. night unless I am out of town or I am bleeding out of my eyeballs. Well, I only had 4 kids and I was pretty frustrated after preparing a killer lesson. So I told them since we only had 4 we would just hang out and not do this lesson till next week. That was assinine...emphasis on the first syllable. There I had 4 eager students expecting to hear the gospel through an intense passage in Romans and I pretty much told them I needed more kids to dignify my efforts. Well, I apologized the next week publicly in front of a much, much larger group. It was humbling. But I told them I would no longer not teach beacuse of numbers. It betrayed not only a lack of belief in the Providence of God but it betrayed my lack of love for those 4 kids. Don't count sheep it makes you look like a donkey everytime.

Talk it up. I tell everyone I can all the time how little I care about our growth and our numbers. The kids and parents and the Session at my church all know that I will not measure the success of Westminster Youth Ministries by numbers. I will teach the same things in the same way. This way I am never pyschologically balckmailed by someone not showing up beacuse they do not like the subject matter. Crazy? Not really, there are youth ministers out there who do not teach certain things beacuse they are worried there will not be enough butts in the seats next week.

I propose that we use only numbers to gauge how many actually heard the gospel. Thats it. It should not be a diagnostic. Paul justified his ministry by how much he suffered. Our fame may not be as much an indicator of success as our infamy.

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