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Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

Godly Leaders

Here is the second mark of a healthy student ministry:

A healthy student ministry has people who are godly leaders.

We cannot bypass the principle of godly leadership and still expect to see God’s blessing. Holiness is the primary ingredient for leaders in the church.

It is staggering to consider how many churches–and youth ministries in particular–select leadership. A man (or woman) is not to be a leader in the church because he is the best businessman, has innate leadership ability, or has a large bank account. In student ministries specifically, leaders aren’t chosen because they can snowboard or play Halo or whatever. Those with worldly gifts and talents are not God’s best tools; God wants and uses righteous instruments.

Godly leaders are those with deacon qualified character. When Timothy stayed in Ephesus, he had the responsibility of bringing the church to spiritual maturity. The apostle Paul knew Timothy couldn’t do it alone and that he needed godly leaders beside him.

Titus faced the same challenge in Crete, and Paul gave him similar advice. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 Paul gives a profile of the kind of people that are to be leading the church. They are to be:

  • above reproach
  • devoted to their wives
  • temperate
  • prudent
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • able to teach
  • self-controlled
  • not self-willed
  • not quick-tempered
  • not pugnacious (not a punch-throwers)
  • not contentious
  • gentle
  • not materialistic
  • managing their household well
  • having a good reputation among unbelievers
  • lovers of good
  • just
  • devout
  • and not new converts

Those are the qualifications given in Scripture for leaders in the church. They indicate the kind of people God wants to lead His church. A church should not accept just any volunteer; it should elevate godly ones. While not everyone on the youth staff will be an elder or deacon/deaconness, these are the spiritual characteristics that must be promoted and pursued.

Godly leaders are also those committed to sacrificial service. This involves their:

  • time
  • talents and
  • treasure

The sacrificial service of a leader is above and beyond the sacrificial service of a non-leading Christian. And since every Christian follower is called to lose their life, giving up everything to follow Christ (cf. Mark 8:34-38), how much more the leaders.

This above-and-beyond commitment is alongside of responsibilities to family and work. The family is not equivalent to the church, so serving one’s family is not synonymous with one’s “ministry.” Neither is a person’s vocation equivalent to the serving the body, regardless of the spiritual opportunities provided by the position itself.

There are other ministries in the church that someone can serve in, even “deacon” in, using their spiritual giftedness, discipling, while following Christ that will cost a person less than serving in a leadership position in a student ministry. But we should stop making apologies for how much is asked of leaders. We ultimately answer to God (and to a lesser degree, to the elders, the parents, and even the students themselves), therefore, it is not a responsibility to take lightly. We show how valuable we think the ministry is by how much it costs us to serve. Ministry that doesn’t cost anything isn’t very precious.

The consequences of our work are eternal. We’re engaged in a spiritual fight. Our work demands commitment. If a youth ministry doesn’t have leaders who measure up to God’s standards, there will be problems from the start. So we must labor to make sure that our leaders (staff and students) are biblically qualified and clearly identified. Leaders don’t just appear with the push of a button.

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He Will Build His Church

Leaders of the Flock – What (else)?

It is always beneficial for us when our vision is in line with God’s vision. By using the word vision I am not referring to some supernatural dream from God, but rather to the target and scope of our work. And God’s revealed target for His shepherds is an open letter challenge to any and every specialized ministry.

The vision of a New Testament leader should include the entirety of, and diversity in, the Body. Various gifted men have been given to lead and teach and “equip the saints for the work of ministry until we ALL attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12). Note that leaders/shepherds are to be concerned for “the WHOLE body” and “EACH part” (v.16). They are to “be on guard for…ALL the flock” (Acts 20:28).

These descriptions are devalued if only applying to a family or ‘specialized’ ministry. In fact, focused leadership energies toward particular cultural sub-groups, age groups, or gender groups is short-sighted at best and self-defeating at worst. This is ESPECIALLY so when these organizations or ministries operate outside the watchful oversight of the elders in a local church.

Please understand me. I am NOT saying that every small group or Bible study should be as diverse as humanly possible, or that there can be no ‘little-er’ groups at all. I am not against some reasonable grouping of similar people for the purpose of concentrated shepherding and discipleship. Since discipleship cannot take place except on the level of the individual and since much discipleship occurs in the context of regular relationships, it is natural that some separation will occur anyway.

But I am most intensely against leaders intentionally isolating themselves and their sub-group of choice away from the church or even from the rest of the body within a church. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Call in a fellowship; call it a crusade; call it an agency; call it a parachurch group; call it your family; you can even call it a ministry. Call it whatever you want. The reality is there are many members in one body–and amputating some parts away from the others for extended periods of time will result in losing the limbs entirely. We will not survive divided.

Of course, your obvious question at this point should be, “If that is what you believe, how can you be a YOUTH pastor? Isn’t that completely inconsistent with what you just said?” There is an answer. I’ll see if I can find it by tomorrow so I can keep my job – or at least so I can do it with a clear conscience!

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He Will Build His Church

Leaders of the Flock – What?

Yesterday we took a brief look at some of the implications of who New Testament shepherds are and where they do their work. Today I’d like to quickly consider one distinctive of what biblical leaders do.

Shepherds in the church have a distinct kind of work–it is spiritual, eternal work. Leading the church is not the same as managing a business, coaching a team, building a network of friendships, or securing good public relations with the community. But today’s Christian leaders seem more familiar with these temporal objectives.

I keep re-reading Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Some of his beginning thoughts summarize this idea about the spiritual nature of shepherding. Think about these few quotes:

The political and religious atmosphere of the world pushes us–if we have ears to hear–relentlessly toward the unprofessional center of faith and ministry: the brutal, bloody, hideous, heaving, crucified God-Man Jesus Christ. We are driven more and more in these years to say with the apostle Paul, ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified….Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). (p. ix)

Insulated Western Christianity is waking from the dreamworld that being a Christian is normal or safe. More and more, true Christianity is becoming what it was at the beginning: foolish and dangerous. ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). (p. ix)

the center of Christianity and the center of pastoral ministry is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ More and more, He must become the issue. Not a vague, comfortable, pleasant Jesus that everybody likes but the one who is a ‘stumbling block’ to Jews and ‘foolishness’ to Gentiles. The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious. (p. xi)

The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions….We are most emphatically not a part of a social team sharing goals other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).” The love of popularity and acceptance “kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world (p. 3).

This is what I don’t get about typical youth ministries, many churches, and certainly most parachurch groups. I don’t get how games and fun and entertainment and comfort and self-esteem and popularity and status are consistent with the biblical picture of Christianity which includes dying to self, living as exiles on the earth, abstaining from passions of the flesh, killing love for things of the world, and thinking it gain to die.

And I believe it is a slippery slope when we begin borrowing organizational structures from the world for our Christian organizations. Positions such as (parachurch) “ministry presidents,” “C.E.O.s,” or men with other similar titles are not equal to the leaders of the body of Christ. The church is not a corporation with a board of trustees and committees and executives that carry out memorandums. These other terms apply more to corporations and businesses rather than the organism of the Body. Leaders of the flock are not equivalent to professionals.

And not only must we be careful with our titles, we must be careful about our goals. Our goals are not marketing goals. Our aim is not to sell a product, increase our market-base, promote our company, etc. Our mission is not to make buddies and make everybody happy and win the game. We do not judge our success by numbers and respect and position.

Instead, our purpose is to “present every man mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Our emphasis is on commitment, not success. Our expectation is to receive no greater treatment than they gave our Master (Matthew 10:24-26). Our priority is on the unseen, eternal things and not the visible, transient things (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We will not win the world by becoming like the world. We should stop thinking that is what will happen. And we should stop thinking that is what God’s leaders do.

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He Will Build His Church

Leaders of the Flock – Who? and Where?

We are back again to consider the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and today I’d like to consider the fact that local churches always had leaders who were spiritually gifted and qualified, who were identified with individual local churches, and whose charge included the entire flock.

In the New Testament leaders are identified as elders (also addressed as pastors, overseers, and shepherds) as well as deacons in local churches. Both of these offices and their qualifications are described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And as I mentioned in the chosen channel, Paul charged Titus to “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).

As with the truth that NT churches are identified by geographical location, the fact that NT churches had recognizable leadership also has some important implications.

First, notice who the leaders are. Actually, I really want you to notice those who the leaders were not. Fathers were not the ones addressed by default as the leaders of the churches. Though undoubtedly fathers have spiritual shepherding responsibilities for their families, “fathering” in the home is not equivalent to shepherding over the church. Fathers shepherd thief families–elders shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Though elders are oftentimes fathers, not all fathers are elders. (I suppose this may seem painfully obvious, but we should not take it for granted.) This means that church leadership is not equal to fatherhood (contrary to typical “house church” teaching).

This also serves to make the distinction between families and churches that we took into account on Monday.

A second major implication relates to where leaders lead. That shepherds in the NT are associated with definite flocks is quite clear. Elders (and deacons, though deacons are not by definition equivalent to shepherds) are identified with particular assemblies. They expend their energies in the endeavor to feed and protect the sheep in their own field.

This means that they are not gatherers of misfit or misplaced sheep from multiple other flocks. hey are not charged with creating or overseeing para-flock groups to reach all the brown-spotted firstlings or all the black-speckled females, etc.

Instead, they are called to “be on guard…for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This directive from Paul to the Ephesian elders is both narrow and broad. It is broad in that they were to oversee “all the flock.” We’ll consider tomorrow how this broad element has implications for what leaders are to be doing.

But take in the significance of how narrow their calling was. They were called to concentrate on the flock “among” them. And who determined where they were and what sheep were present? The Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit not only gifts certain men to be leaders, but He also providentially puts those leaders in particular places for the particular purpose of shepherding particular people. This is just a different way to say the same thing, namely, that leaders of the flock work with just one flock at a time.

More to come.