Updated: Jan 27
In my previous blog post I identified three symptoms that can mislead us regarding the state of our youth ministry’s health. The question that begs an answer then is, “Can any measure truly determine a youth ministry’s health and sustainability?” Is it possible to examine a ministry and make an accurate assessment?
My answer would be yes, but with qualifiers.
In future posts we will look at those assets worth striving for in assessing a youth ministry , but first let me deal with four objections to the idea of measuring health and sustainability and attempt to illustrate why each objection is flawed.
1. Health and sustainability are too complex for us to accurately assess
Ask any doctor and they will tell you that the issue of physical health is a complex one. There is no one single marker to assess health but this doesn’t stop doctors making an assessment. Instead of looking at just one area, they carry out a general examination by running a number of tests. These results are then assessed and a diagnosis is made.
In making a diagnosis, a person may be deemed healthy on nine out of ten markers but if the tenth marker is one that truly compromises their overall health, threatening their “sustainability” that person is said to be “unhealthy”.
In other words, just because the state of one’s health is complex and is made up of a number of contributing factors, doctors don’t shy away from diagnosis. They just make their diagnosis more sophisticated by examining a range of markers.
2. Health and sustainability are subjective terms that mean different things to different people
This second objection has some validity. Even in medical assessments there can be a degree of subjectivity in diagnosis which is why second opinions are often sought. Similarly it would be foolish to assume that subjectivity did not exist in assessing youth ministry health.
I may think that one factor is essential for youth ministry effectiveness whereas you might see it as having limited value. Equally, I may think I’m doing well in one area but you look at it through a different lens and are not so sure.
Yet again, we make a mistake if those factors cause us to stop making an assessment. Just because doctors may disagree on symptoms and treatment doesn’t mean we should not consult them for their opinion. It simply means we are cautious in drawing firm conclusions when we encounter areas of disagreement.
3. There is no fully reliable measure of health and assessment
This objection is related to the previous one, yet again it has its flaws. In medicine, measures of health and assessment have changed over the years and no doubt will continue to change. Yet such changes don’t mean that we throw out all medical science. Many assessment criteria are well proven and so we hold firmly to these criteria and more lightly to those for which irrefutable evidence is lacking.
In youth ministry we must similarly recognise that there are some tried and true observations that remain consistent markers of youth ministry health. In other words we can say with both accuracy and authority at times that, “Most healthy and sustainable youth ministries exhibit this trait.”
Furthermore, unlike medicine we have more accurate data to rely on than observation. We have God’s wisdom as revealed to us in Scripture. Many reliable measures of health and sustainability are based on the teachings of the Bible. A desire to be led by God’s Spirit, leadership that equips the saints, concern for the individual – these are all Scriptural ideas that, if implemented, enhance health and sustainability.
4. Health and Sustainability Cannot be Reduced to a Formula
This essentially was my third point in my previous blog. I noted, “God is not bound by formulas.” Yet I also made the point that He works according to certain consistent principles in leading and guiding us.
This objection reminds me of the debate around preaching. Should we trust God to produce results when we preach, or should we work hard and do our very best in preparation so that what we present is excellent?
The answer of course is both! Saying, “I just trust in God to lead”, may sound spiritual but it is not entirely Biblical. Scripture talks about the value of planning, and of careful thought and reason, leading to measurable goals and strategies. The story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem is one of many illustrations of this.
Placing reliance upon Scripture and observation doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of reliance upon God. Rather it recognises that God has revealed His will for the church through the Bible and through history and speaks to us through these avenues while still leading us dynamically from year to year.
To summarise then, I acknowledge the objections offered and accept that each carries for us a caution, but none of them should cause us to retreat to a style of leadership that simply “trusts God” and ignores the wealth of insight he has to share with us through His Word and observation.
Interested in reflecting on the health and sustainability of your own youth ministry? See our free assessment tool on our website in which we ask seven critical questions.
Sign up for our newsletter that includes helpful resources, links to articles, ministry opportunities and more.