On it’s face it sounds like a stupid question. “Of course we should be reaching sinners, that is what the church is for!” But I have had too much experience in reaching sinners to know that too many saints or too many sinners changes the programming of a youth ministry, gets us in trouble either way, and in the end we could be left with a disaster of a youth program.
An insurgency of too many kids who do not know Christ and you hav one kind of program, a glut of inactive saints and we have another. The question of investment of time, energy, and money will dictate the kind of program we wind up with. So, which will it be, sinners or saints? Or both?
Seth Godin offers companies and small businesses some advise about where to spend their time and energy to gain business and I am wondering if the church/youth ministries could extract a few tips from this nugget:
Until you do the math. The math makes it clear that the people who go to the theater regularly are often the ones who fill the seats, pay the bills and spread the word. It turns out that activating people who already like you is far more productive and profitable than it is to spend time and money yelling at people who are ignoring you. -Seth Godin
You can read the whole post HERE for the context about plays and theaters.
I can remember, early in my ministry, where our youth ministry was blowing and going with reaching new kids. A young lady kindly confronted me that night with a plea for deeper teaching/preaching. I explained to her that I felt like the crowd we were currently ministering to were not ready for it. I cringe to this day when I remember those words.
That young lady was a regular attender who was asking me, her Pastor, for deeper stuff on Wednesday nights. I should have listened to or at least extended the conversation with her but I was too immature and I really loved having all these new kids who were, for the most part, not followers of Jesus. I had only been at this church for for 18 months and had not quite worked out my discipleship strategy. Excuses aside, I should have paid more attention to her and here’s why:
She had a vested interest in what was going on
This young lady was not some fly by night student with a gripe, but she was not a leader either. She was consistent. She cared about our group and about what she was learning. She could have been more involved but I spent more time trying new ways to reach people who did not care about out youth ministry or our church.
She could have become a bigger voice for the program and the Lord
I am not saying we should not reach sinners, it’s pretty much a mandate, but in my enthusiasm to reach sinners I forgot that the mandate was not just to reach more sinners but to make disciples of them (Matthew 28). I could have invested more into this young lady and some of the other students like her and they could have been the greatest evangelists we had. I wouldn’t have had to worry about meeting a pastor’s expectations because a core croup of mature believers would have already been doing that.
Here is another statement Godin makes that we all should take to heart when we think about who we are paying attention to and investing in when it comes to our students,
This one shift, a shift to building relationships between and among the core audience, to make plays for your audience instead of finding an audience for your plays, is the golden lesson that applies to just about every organization.
I could have designed deeper more fulfilling messages and programs for the kids who cared about our youth ministry rather than thinking up the stuff that would have attracted students who did not care about who we were and what we represented, but I didn’t. Thankfully, I have become a better listener to the Holy Spirit those voices who care about what kind of youth ministry we are creating.
It’s the age old argument of chicken and the egg. Do we reach sinners and make them disciples or do we raise up deeper disciples who reach sinners?
What does your youth ministry look like in regards to reaching the lost vs making deeper disciples who reach the lost?
Have you made some errors in who you were reaching and why? Tell me about it (it would make me feel better about my own mistakes)