Hi, my name is Jim Britts and I've been the youth pastor at New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA for 7 years and in full time youth ministry for ten. Over the past year and a half I've changed more in how I do youth ministry than all my other years combined.
It all started on a 70 degree day in the Spring of 2008 (it's always 70 degrees in San Diego) and I was sitting in our church's prayer room. I'm not sure why but I broke out a black piece of paper and started writing down all of the past student leaders that we had graduated from our high school ministry since I had been there. These were students that had led small groups during high school and lived out their faith with authenticity. I created three columns for where I could write their names down on my paper. 1) They were still walking strong with God, 2) They were not still walking strong with God, 3) I had no idea (but I guessed they were not). Twenty minutes later I was completely broken as I realized that just over half of the 60 student leaders that we'd graduated were in either column two or three. I was literally crushed and wondered what the heck I had been doing the past half decade. And these were my "Student Leaders."
Over the next two weeks God directed me to three verses/passages that have come to define what our ministry is all about. As a ministry we've pulled tons of implications from them and would just love to share each one with you briefly.
On a weekend retreat with several other local youth pastors a few days later, a verse that I had read dozens of times before just jumped off the page and slapped me in the face.
John 15:16 says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name."
Jesus doesn't command us to just bear fruit, but to bear fruit that lasts. The success of our ministries should be seen more in how are students are doing 5 to 10 years after they graduate, not just how many are coming each week now. When you think about it, "How does fruit last?" Fruit in and of itself is supposed to be perishable. Nobody holds up a 3 year old banana and takes a bite out of it. The only way that fruit lasts is when it reproduces itself. The only way we bear fruit that last is when we develop disciple makers. So we transformed our ministry into helping students be fruit that last and it's been a journey.
The next passage that wrecked my ministry was the great commission.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Now I had this passage memorized and had taught on it countless times before but I think I missed it. I'd used these verses to challenge my students to invite their friends to church. Now that's a great application but it's a far cry to what Jesus is saying here. Just read it, He's calling anyone who considers themselves a disciple of Christ to, 1) make disciples, 2) baptize, and 3) teach. Instantly I had to ask myself some really tough questions. Where are my student's discipling others? Have I even taught them or resourced them to disciple others? How often are my students getting to baptize others? Answer never, because I was hogging all the youth baptisms? So we revamped our ministry to train up and resource our students to disciple their peers and when the person they are discipling wants to get baptized, guess who does it? They do….and it's been awesome. Not only am I seeing the faith and excitement of my leaders sky rocket but we are baptizing and discipling more students than I've ever seen before.
Finally, the last passage was the parable of the four soils. I won't write out the whole story but I think I had it wrong all these years. I think we all agree the seed that falls on the path represents to people that hear the Gospel and reject it or are not interested. I think we mostly would agree that the second seed that falls on the rocks are people that at first receive the Gospel but soon after turn away from God because their faith was too shallow. Now I used to think that the third soil on the thorns was just another version of the rocks but I don't think that anymore. Jump ahead to the fourth soil for a moment. How is the good soil described? It's not if you go to church or read your bible or even serve. The good soil are those people who multiply themselves 30-60-100 times. Which makes me totally rethink the third soil. What if those on the thorns are not people who start to follow God and turn away because of the pressures of life but are really just "Christians" who are a fraction of what God intended them to be. The scary thing for me was that I think the majority of my ministry was on the third soil. If were honest I think you could make a case that most of the American Church is on the third soil. So we as a ministry made a commitment to do everything we can to graduate students on the good soil. It's impacted so much of what we do.
I'd love to share more but I'm out of words. Let me just say over the past year we've done about a C- job in terms of really raising up disciple makers. I'd also say that it has been by far the best year of ministry we've had and for me personally the most fulfilling. I can't wait to see what God does when we actually get good at it.