I hope we are in agreement that the most important aim in youth ministry is fruit—real, solid, true fruit. In youth ministry this can be seen in a number of ways: love, discipleship, conversion, the development of long-term followers of Jesus, the list goes on and on.
However, there is another list of fruit that I must warn you is unhelpful. The trouble with this kind of fruit is that it looks so tasty and tempting. This is the “fruit” of numbers. Numbers are so intoxicating and attractive. Think about it, would you visit a youth ministry of 12 youth or 42 youth to observe and learn from? Most would pick the latter. Bigger is seen to be better in our churches and in our youth ministry. I must warn you that we must be very careful about seeking to plant and grow a crop of harmful fruit. This is a crop that, while it may appear tasty, will leave a very sour taste in your mouth.
Let’s consider an obvious example, you work for a church that expects you to “put something on” each Friday night for the local youth in the area. You know the drill; it is the usual assortment of games with a short message about Christ, followed by a snack. This has been the tree planted by of youth ministry all over the Western World. Well, imagine that you are running this program and you have a good number of youth showing up. Everyone is happy and your job is secure. Now think about what happens if the kids stop coming. They get bored, they grow up, they move on, who knows why … the numbers simply dry up.
Suddenly the “fruit” (that is, kids coming and having a good time) is gone. What happens next? Does the church decide that it is time to plant another tree? Nope, they decide to get rid of the farmer and bring one in who can raise up more of this Friday night fun fruit. Many, many youth leaders have felt the bad taste of a plant that they never should have planted and certainly should not have tended.
This fruit demands that the farmer keep producing the same results, numbers. Is this the picture of a healthy youth ministry? A youth ministry that is built on Biblical foundations? If you are this farmer, there is reason for you to have some degree of fear as this fickle fruit (numbers, especially numbers due to a social program) is not one that will “keep you healthy on the inside”. It is time to cut that tree down and sow a new crop.
Remember, we must aim for a garden that produces true fruit. And, one that doesn’t eventually devour the gardener.