“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Several years ago, I helped launch a youth movement in our city involving dozens of youth and young adult ministries from all around our region. What followed were annual conferences, combined nights of worship, and citywide prayer gatherings where students were pleading with God to work powerfully through them in their schools for His fame.
What was even more exciting than witnessing God’s work in our students, was His work amongst their leaders. Competition with one another was being replaced with genuine care. Suspicion of each other gradually turned into service to each other. Leaders who were unaware of each other’s existence developed deep, lasting friendships around the gospel that continue to this day.
Jesus is the Vine who bleeds life into His branches.
The prophetic declaration of Hosea “like people, like priest” proved true. The unity that was forming between youth pastors was having a trickle-down effect into our students, who had begun collaborating on mission in their schools with the result of many more meeting Christ!
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy. Building a strong relational network between youth pastors from different churches with different philosophies of ministry took a lot of prayer, grace, time, and coffee. It was difficult, but it was worth it.
The following are four very practical encouragements for youth pastors who desire to strengthen relationships in their city to better spread Jesus’ fame:
1. See them as a fellow servant to be loved, not a standard for you to be measured against.
True unity begins to form the moment you intentionally become more interested in them than their numbers. To build a youth movement in your city, start by pursuing genuine friendships with your brothers and sisters who are serving in the trenches with you.
Being more interested in the number of people in a service than the servant of Christ sitting in front of you reeks of self-absorption and insecurity. Playing the ‘numbers game’ is a #fail for everyone whose arrogance or anxiety purchases them a ticket to this event.
You all know the game I’m talking about right? The Numbers Game is the art of subtly finding out how many people another ministry has, while inserting your own numbers into the conversation with ninja-like deftness, on the condition that you have more than them.
Are numbers in ministry important? Of course. Every number represents a name, which represents a person, who is created in the image of God.
But are numbers the basis of how we are to relate with other servants of Christ? No. Never. Not ever. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)
Instead, ask them about the vision God has given them for their young people. What are their dreams? What is Jesus doing in their family? What are they wrestling with in the Scriptures? How can you pray for them? Share the struggles of ministry with one another and point each other to the Great News of what Jesus has done!
When the basis of our relationships with other youth leaders moves from a focus on our performance, to the performance of Jesus on our behalf, we are liberated from the snare of fruitless comparison into joyful, encouraging, grace-grounded friendships.
2. Pray for other youth pastors and the students they are leading.
And not just privately either. Pray for them publicly and intentionally with your team when you gather. The moment we start to pray for other ministries, we stop seeing them as enemies or competitors and instead see them as brothers and sisters on the same mission. Put a reminder in your phone to take a few minutes each day and lift up others who are faithfully serving Jesus and students in your city.
3. Small encouragements make a big difference.
There’s no “easy button” for youth pastors. Although the work is joyful and rewarding, it can be taxing and exhausting. Finding small ways to encourage other youth pastors can go a long way in propelling them forward.
Paul’s desire for others who were faithfully serving Jesus was, “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:12) In fact, Paul later goes on to link encouragement with endurance. Never underestimate the place of encouragement in the race of endurance! What if God hasn’t just placed you in your city to be a blessing to your church, but to be a blessing to His Church?
Never underestimate the place of encouragement in the race of endurance!
Here’s a few practical ideas for providing encouragement:
- Shoot them an encouraging text.
- Invite them out for coffee.
- Celebrate them on your Facebook or Twitter.
- Bless them with a gift-card to a nice restaurant.
- Recommend a helpful book you’re reading.
- Tell them to their face that you appreciate them and are thankful for them.
Youth leader, never underestimate the place of encouragement in the race of endurance!
4. Keep the main thing the main thing.
At the end of the day, unity isn’t the goal; Jesus is. If you pursue unity as an end in itself, the result will be shallow friendships, bad doctrine, and an impotent uniformity that is powerless to change anything. But when we seek unity in the eternal Christ rather than ecumenical compromise, we can engage our distinctions without being distracted from our mission.
A.W. Tozer describes the stark contrast between being ‘united to one another’ and being ‘united in Christ.’ He says,
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
Jesus is the Head who holds the body together and causes it to grow. Jesus is the Vine who bleeds life into His branches. Jesus is the main thing that we can and should and must unite to! His mission! His fame! His renown in our cities!
When our boast is in Him and not ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:5), when our hope is in Him and not our performance (2 Corinthians 1:10), when our conversations orbit Him and not our successes (Hebrews 10:24), only then will we know the joy of true unity that is built upon the Gospel.
This article was originally written for The Resurgence, and can be found by clicking HERE.