Two weeks ago, I began a series to help you know if you are in a good church. There are many ways you could approach knowing if you attend a good church, but I find the most compelling way is to look where no one wants to look: the youth ministry. What goes on in youth ministry is what goes on in “big church.”
We have already looked at a good youth ministry (and therefore a good church) will have Bible Teaching and have Biblically-Driven Music. Today I want to consider two more:
3. Maturity of Leadership
There are a lot of bad youth leaders serving in youth ministry. The reason they are there could take up a whole blog post, but if I were to narrow down why there are so many bad volunteer youth workers, I would say it is because (1) the youth pastor needs help and they will take anyone who is even slightly interested; (2) youth workers have no clue the purpose of ministry generally and therefore have no clue about ministry to teenagers, (3) youth workers are not qualified by God to serve the church in a leadership position, and (4) the church has not set a biblical standard for its leadership.
Note carefully: youth workers is a leadership position in the church! Think about it: a typical youth worker is an adult who is imparting wisdom (hopefully God’s wisdom) into the lives of teenagers. They spend time with students and they get to know the students, all for the purpose of being a model of Christ to them. They make a contribution to the youth pastor as He leads the whole ministry. And they are an influence upon the students. If these aren’t leadership qualities, then I am not sure what is.
The point is that whatever qualifications a church has for their leadership will be seen in the leadership of the youth ministry. Of course, the qualifications for being an elder is only for a few men (1 Tim 3:1-7). But the Apostle Paul also gives the church another leadership role that is much broader. These folks are called Deacons.
A deacon is simply a servant in the church who have the same quality of spiritual life and character as elders. The difference to elders is that eldership is an office, elders must only be men and they must be able to teach and make a priority of teaching the Word to the church. A deacon, on the other hand, does not have to teach, does not have to only be a man (1 Tim 3:11; Rom 16:1), and must focus on serving the church through administration, shepherding, and caring through various forms of service. Deacon, as it is in many churches, are not just the guys who keep the church property pretty (though that may be part of it of their role). They are godly individuals who want to serve their local church in any way they are gifted in order to allow the pastors/elders to focus on the teaching and preaching of the Word.
At this point I am not going to get into a looooong discourse about what I just stated above on the theology of deacons. You are sensible and can go study the whole issue for yourself (here, here, and here are good places to start). The point being made is that God has set a high standard for the leadership in the church. They are to be blameless, respectable, honest, etc. And since this is the qualification for the church generally, then it must be the qualification specifically in youth ministry. And a church that does not have deacon qualifications for their youth workers probably doesn’t have them for their church either.
So go down to the youth department at church. Are the youth leaders men and women who are above reproach, blameless, honest, pure, respectable, dignified, faithful, etc.? They should be because that is what God calls leaders to be in the church. If they are not, then you have reason to believe that the church does not prioritize qualified church leaders. And that should raise a large red flag!
On this point, my dear friend Darren made an excellent point this past Tuesday: “If you demand excellence from the start, those who should be serving the church (and not just those who can) will put in the time and effort necessary. Make it hard to be involved in leading … Engrain in your ministry the mindset that serving and being [involved in ministry] is a privilege.” And his final comment is gold: “It’s hard to remove people from ministry once they’ve been given the platform, so make sure they’re qualified before they go before the people.”
Look to the youth ministry’s leadership and you’ll know the church’s leadership as well.
The church must come to grips with the fact that there are a ton of unsaved people in the seats. I think too many pastors and leaders of the church assume that if people come to church and stand/sit at the right time and sing the songs a little and listen to them preach, then they all must be saved, just not mature. This is an eternally deadly mistake.
Do you not remember that Jesus said, “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7:13-14) In other words, true Christians are in the minority. Now you may say that Jesus was generally talking about everyone in the world and not the church. Well, let me challenge you to keep reading into v. 15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” So there are false believers and teachers in the church; in your church.
The Apostles picked up on this too:
1 John 2:19 (in speaking about unbelievers), “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
2 Peter 2:1, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you…”
2 Tim 4:3, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passion.”
The point: not everyone who sits in the seats of the local church is a child of God. Therefore the church must be gospel-centered, that is gospel-preaching and gospel-living. This includes the youth ministry.
In my philosophy for youth ministry, I have communicated to the parents and the church the following:
“First, I begin with the assumption that the majority of youth ministry is directed towards evangelism. Many students may have prayed “sinner’s prayers” in the past and think they are truly saved, but only God’s work in their lives will tell if they are truly saved. Therefore, it is necessary to take every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ; both corporately and individually.
Second, the Holy Spirit is the only One who changes lives. The Christian’s job to get the message of the gospel right for the spiritually dead individual. Sometimes God opens the listener’s ears immediately and other times it will take consistent teaching, admonishing, and seeing the gospel lived out until they repent and believe. Either way, the message of salvation and its effect must be proclaimed regularly and clearly.”
Youth ministry and church ministry must be gospel-centered. They must proclaim the excellencies of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its transforming power in salvation and sanctification and proclaim it at every opportunity. Sure, the gospel message is not in every passage of the Bible, but as ambassadors of Christ, the leadership of the church (including youth ministry) must make the gospel appeal at every occasion.
Unfortunately, many youth ministries fail here. Yes, they speak of the very basics of the gospel message, but seemingly only at emotional camp fire meetings or retreats. In a typical week, youth ministries tend to emphasize games over gospel, fun over spiritual fitness, relevance over reliance on Christ, and entertainment over identity. They are not gospel-centered. And if this is the case in youth ministry, I can almost guarantee that the church is not gospel-centered either. So look to youth ministry.