As I sat down with the board of pastors and lay people that would eventually determine whether or not I was fit for ordination, they asked me a question:
What makes a good pastor?
I answered back... "The fruit of his ministry."
They answered back, "The longer we've been in ministry, the more we've come to realize that the only way to define success when it comes to being a pastor is: faithfulness."
Their churches weren't growing and neither was their district. It was no surprise to me that "faithfulness" was how they decided to measure themselves. I wondered what it would look like if professional sports teams and fortune 500 businesses simply wanted their leaders to be "faithful" or "brand loyal." I know the church isn't the same as the secular world. And trust me, i'm not suggesting that we run our churches or our youth ministries like a business. However, I do think we need to make goals, track wins and losses, and hold our leaders accountable.
I'm going to let Tim Keller take it from here:
(from the introduction to his book "Center Church." Headings added for clarity and emphasis.)
"Once we embark on a life of ministry, it is only natural to ask, "How am I doing? And how will I know?" One answer for ministers today is success. Many say that if your church is growing in conversions, members, and giving, your ministry is effective... ministers who can create powerful religious experiences and draw large numbers of people on the power of their personal appeal are rewarded with large, growing churches. That is one way to evaluate a ministry.
In reaction to this emphasis on quantifiable success, many have countered that the only true criterion for ministers is faithfulness. All that matters in this view is that aminister be sound in doctrine, godly in character, and faithful in preaching and in pastoring people. But the "faithful - not succesful" backlash is an overcimplification that has dangers as well.
The demand that ministers be not just sincere and faithful but also competent is not a modern innovation... Charles Spurgeon pointed out that it takes more than faithfulness to make a minister:
'Certain good men appeal to me who are distinguished by enormous passion and zeal and a conscious absence of brains; brethren who would talk forever and ever upon nothing - who would stamp and thump the Bible and get nothing out of it at all; earnest, awfully earnest, mountains in labor of the most painful kind; but nothing comes of it all...'
As I read, reflected, and taught, I came to the conclusion that a more biblical theme for ministerial evaluation than either success or faithfulness is fruitfulness. Jesus, of course, told his disciples that they were to "bear much fruit" (John 15:8). Paul spoke even more specifically. He spoke of conversions as "fruit" when he desired to preach in Rome... Paul also spoke of the "fruit" of godly character that a minister can see growing in Christians under his care. This included the "fruit of the Spirit"... Good deeds, such as mercy to the poor, are called "fruit" as well..."
Pastors, youth workers, leaders, don't make excuses. I gladly concede: There are times when outside circumstances affect the health of our youth group no matter how faithful and competent we are. If your obstacles are "run of the mill" for most youth ministries and your youth group is suffering - the best response that you can have is honesty, teachability, and the pursuit of God. If you're failing to be faithful, you are not a good youth pastor. If you're failing to be competent, you are not a good youth pastor. If you're not seeing fruit, there's a good chance that you are not a good youth pastor. If you're unwilling to recognize your failures and shortcomings then you will have no hope of ever becoming a good youth pastor. A pastor of a failing youth group must be honest with themselves about the cause and must be teachable.
This isn't the whole story. Some youth ministers don't see fruit because sometimes spiritual fruit is invisible and doesn't get shared with us. Some youth ministers don't see fruit because they haven't been there long enough. A suffering youth group is something we must take seriously and we cannot be quick to point the finger away from ourselves.
Take a moment in the comment section to pushback, voice anger, agree, add your two cents, or ask questions. I'd love to hear if you think this article is fair or not. I'd love to hear if you have more reasons as to why youth ministers don't see fruit. I know what I wrote might be provocative but let's try and keep things as civil and as loving as possible.