Recently I had the privilege of meeting the new British monarch, King Charles III. I ended up having a two minute conversation with him where he asked me about the work of Growing Young Disciples and developing young leaders in particular. In the course of the conversation, one of the questions he asked was ‘Are you having much success in your work?’
I wanted to say ‘Well to be honest – it’s pretty hard to gauge and you’ll need to come back and ask me in about twenty years.’ However, I didn’t think that was particularly appropriate – for a number of reasons!
It does beg the question though, how do we measure success in youth and children’s ministry? There are a number of different ways to answer that question – but surely one of the main barometers of success is that we are seeing young Christians grow into mature Christian adults, who are living faithfully for Jesus over the long haul.
Perhaps another barometer of success, however, is that we are developing godly young leaders in our ministries. Over the years, this has been something I have been keen to do. It is very much at the heart of what we are seeking to do at GYD. We want to see young leaders raised up who will serve Christ and His Church faithfully for decades.
When I was employed in a local church, I was always been keen to look out for teenagers who might be called to full time Christian service. One of the great joys of my life has been seeing young men and women answer God’s call to serve him full time in His Church. Below are 5 things to look for when seeking to ascertain whether this might be true of a young person in your youth group:
1. A Growing Hunger for God’s Word. Every so often in youth group, I had some young people who had a voracious appetite for Scripture. They ate it up and couldn’t get enough of it. They listened attentively, they took lots of notes, they asked perceptive questions, they read the Bible for themselves, they were eager to read it with others. When you have young people like that, pay very careful attention to what God might be doing in their lives. It may well be that He is growing them in their love for His Word in order that they might one day teach it to others.
2. A Growing Love for the local Church. Oftentimes one of the traits that accompanied a growing appetite for the Word of God was a deeper love for the people of God. In particular, a growing appreciation that they had been saved into the Church – and that Church was much more important for their spiritual development than youth group. This is a really good thing for young people to grasp. In my own ministry, one of the ways that I knew young people were really getting this was when they got up out of their beds to come to an 8:30am prayer meeting before Church on a Sunday morning. Their appetite for God’s Word was accompanied by an appetite to pray with and for God’s Church.
3. A Growing Evidence of Godly Character. No one is called to ministry if they do not appreciate the call to godliness and holiness. Therefore, we ought to be looking for evidence of spiritual fruit in the lives of those to whom we are ministering. In my youth group, I used to observe who would be keen to help do the dishes at the end of the night, or who would help put chairs away with any qualms, or who would make sure that newcomers were included, or who make sacrifices in order to be at youth group. We aren’t expecting folks to be fully formed by any stretch of the imagination – and all of us are very much works in progress when it comes to sanctification. However, if someone is really called to ministry then we should be able to see evidence of the Spirit of God shaping them more into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. One of the ways to observe this is to listen closely to how people pray. Do they have an awareness of their own sin? And just as importantly, do they have a growing awareness of and appreciation for the grace of God?
4. A Growing Desire to Serve. Ultimately, Christian ministry is about service. In fact, it is about being sacrificial servants in an increasingly self serving culture. When ascertaining if a young person might be called to gospel ministry, one of the things to pay attention to is whether or not they are looking for opportunities to serve. Are they eager to be involved in their school SU? Are they willing to serve at Holiday Bible Club – and do some of the jobs and tasks that others don’t want to? (An old leader of mine used to say ‘You know when you have a good team when you have a queue of people wanting to clean the toilets!’) Are they interested in doing summer teams or going to camps? Most of all, WHY are they enjoying service? Do they love getting to share Christ and His Word with others? Is HE at the centre of the desire to serve? This is one of the distinguishing marks of someone who might be called to gospel ministry.
5. A Growing Evangelistic Zeal. This is often underrated – but I think it is a crucial aspect to consider when seeking to ascertain if a young person might be called to ministry. Much of the research on Gen Z tells us that they tend to be risk averse, prone to lying and lack confidence and conviction when it comes to objective truth. Teenagers who demonstrate evangelistic zeal are likely to those who buck the trend in their generation. They are to be tremendously encouraged and supported. If a young person shows an eagerness to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ then it is because the Lord is at work in their heart. By the same token, if a young person thinks they might be called to ministry but shows little to no evangelistic zeal or intent, then I would want to ask questions as to why that is the case. This is part and parcel of being a wise youth worker – learning to ask the right questions with the gentleness and patience of the Lord Jesus.
‘Are you having much success?’ asked the King. It can be such a tricky question to answer in youth ministry. However, one of the ways to gauge that is if we are seeing the Lord call people to Christian ministry as we hold out the excellencies of Christ to them. Let’s pray that He will be doing that in our youth groups – for the sake of His Church and the glory of His Son.
Peter joined Growing Young Disciples in September 2021. Prior to this, he spent 12 years in local church ministry in Northern Ireland working with children, young people and families. He is passionate about helping local churches to raise the next generation for Jesus and is particularly burdened to help people teach the Bible creatively and clearly to children and teenagers. Peter has taught on youth ministry at Union Theological College in Belfast, Moorlands College (NI), Irish Baptist College and is currently a tutor with Crosslands Seminary.