Paul had an interesting approach to (youth) ministry. He left it to run itself!
Admittedly this was not entirely by design. On his missionary journeys he would enter a new town, preach the gospel and gather together those who responded, spending as much time as possible with these new believers before leaving in face of the imminent arrival of those who sought to kill him.
It was not an ideal strategy but something very interesting happened to these churches made up of new believers. Despite facing persecution from learned teachers intent on convincing them of the error of their new ways (e.g. Acts 17:1-8; Acts 19:23-20:1), they survived! As Paul travelled back through the towns on his way home we read how he strengthened and encouraged the believers, (Acts 14:22, 15:41; 16:5; 16:40; 18:23; 20:2) and even more surprisingly on occasions, belatedly appointed leadership (Acts 14:21-23).
The question that comes to mind at this point is why did he not appoint leaders earlier? Perhaps because no obvious leader was evident when he left, but even so who would teach and provide direction to these new converts in his absence? Perhaps the believers asked the same question of Paul and from his writings we know what his answer must have been: “Christ is the Head of the Church – He is your Leader” (Colossians 1:8 and Ephesians 1:22,23a, 5:23b). This was no doubt impressed upon them deeply before His departure.
That’s not to say Paul was implying that human leadership was unnecessary. In appointing leadership Paul was not expecting them to usurp Christ’s role. He was simply formally recognising what had become apparent in His absence: that the Leader of the Church had been raising up individuals to take on certain leadership roles.
So the first point in allowing God to lead through you is to recognise that He is in fact the real Leader and you, through no merit of your own, have been called to exercise certain leadership gifts which He, by His grace alone, has conferred upon you (Romans 12:3-8). When we truly understand this it alters our whole approach to leadership making us humble and dependent upon Him.
The second point in allowing God to lead through us is the realisation that Christ, the Head of the Church, lives in us by His Holy Spirit. When those early disciples faced life without Christ they were fearful and confused, both denying Him (Luke 22:54-60) and deserting Him (Matthew 26:31). Yet something changed fifty days later on the day of Pentecost. They heard the rushing wind and saw the tongues of fire and immediately they were empowered to boldly proclaim Christ as the Messiah, no matter the consequences (Acts 2:1 – 4:22).
What made the difference? Christ had come to live in them by His Holy Spirit. But what we can easily miss here is that this was not some academic understanding they had come to. Nor was it some powerful “zap” they had received. They simply knew that this same Jesus who had taught and inspired them for the past three years now mysteriously had returned to live inside them! Now they could do the works of Jesus (or more accurately, could not stop themselves doing the works of Jesus – Acts 4:20) because Jesus Himself was in them wanting to continue His work through them.
“Christ in us” was central to Jesus’ teaching in John (John 6:56; 14:20; 15:4; 17:22,23,26) as well as in Paul’s teaching (Colossians 1:26,27; Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Ephesians 3:14-19 etc.). We would do well to make more specific his statement that “It’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) and state “It’s no longer I who lead but Christ who leads through me.
Now when the Head of the church lives in us and we are determined to allow Him to lead through us of what value are great resources? Of what value is an understanding of culture? Some might say “of NO value” though I would disagree for the same reason I would disagree if someone was to say “of what value is training?” Resources, understanding and training are all “useful” but their value is limited next to the resources available to us in Christ and through Christ. The moment we start to forget this is the moment we begin to lead out of our own strength and understanding.
In short, if I had to choose between a well trained, well resourced, and cultural savvy youth leader and a youth leader who relies on God to lead through them I will choose the latter every time.
This leads on to my third point. Leadership in youth ministry is according to the principles of divine Life – not human knowledge (Proverbs 3:5,6) There is a way that seems right to us but it doesn’t necessarily produce spiritual life (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25). Spiritual Life can only be produced by spiritual resources – not human. If we are to see Life and fruit in the lives of those whom we lead we had better be determined to do things His way by allowing Him to lead through us.*
What does this mean in practice? In subsequent posts we will look at this question in detail in six key areas.
* For a more detailed reflection on the principles of divine Life, see our book “LIFE The Missing Dimension in Discipleship” available as a paperback or digital download.
Next in part 3: My priority