Balancing the Seesaw of Youth Ministry

Balancing the Seesaw of Youth Ministry

When I was a kid, one of my favorite playground activities was the seesaw. There is something brilliant in the simple physics of that wonderful contraption! We used to run across the playground before all the good seesaws were taken, and soon we’d be launching one another up into the air and back down again. The up-and-down was fun, but every once in a while, with the right concentration, we could find the perfect equilibrium and balance one another in mid-air. That was the most difficult achievement—finding the perfect balance, the perfect weight-to-counterweight ratio.

Youth Ministry is not much different, and though the variables seem far more numerous, it’s really wonderfully simplistic. The big picture of Biblical ministry is a seesaw with “shepherding the flock” on one side and “reaching the lost” on the other. H. Dale Burke wrote, “In a real sense, Jesus has given every leader in the church two full-time jobs: 1) care for the flock, and 2) go after new people for God’s kingdom.”1

Unfortunately, any honest evaluation of American Christianity will find us heavy on “feeding the flock” and light on “reaching the lost.” If you doubt this, just check out any “Best-Sellers” list of Christian books. You’ll find titles focused on personal growth, finance, marriage, devotionals, prayer, theology, and even some semi-heretical fiction. But you probably won’t find a single title focused on evangelism. Our seesaw looks like a large adult with both feet on the ground on one side, and a small child with feet dangling in the air, desperate to get to the ground, on the other side. Can we find the equilibrium that Jesus urged us toward? Can we get it ALL IN?

Here are three tips for finding balance on the seesaw of Biblical ministry:

Remember that community flows out of mission. You can’t read a book about youth ministry today without reading about the importance of community. The point has been so well stated that community has become the main goal; God’s mission has been lost and having a youth ministry “family” has become of prime importance. Here’s the problem—Jesus didn’t focus on creating a community. He focused on God’s mission, and community was a natural byproduct of that mission. Learn to prioritize the mission of God. Community will happen as you go.

Call students to carry their cross. We have become slaves to individualism, and our youth ministry methods may have more to do with personal prosperity and low cost discipleship than authentic Christianity. There is a real sense in Scripture that following Jesus should be challenging, costly, and demand fundamental change in our lives. If the hardest thing you’re challenging your students to do doesn’t involve real tangible sacrifice, you’re not calling them to Biblical discipleship.

Equip the Saints for the work of the ministry. Students must be challenged and equipped to carry forward God’s mission of seeking and saving the lost on a regular basis. This is what Jesus did with his disciples. He took them with him and trained them in his ministry. He didn’t wait to get all their issues worked out or for them to show themselves as truly devoted. On the contrary, he trained them as they were (including Judas, who would eventually betray him). Jesus gave the distinct impression that true discipleship includes evangelism; they are not as separate and distinct as we tend to believe. As E. Stanley Jones said, “The converted convert, or they don’t stay converted.”2

1. H. Dale Burke, How to Lead & Still Have a Life
(Harvest House Publishers, 2004).
2. E. Stanley Jones, Conversion (Abingdon Press, 1959).