The Power of One

October 4th, 2009

There’s a new breed of youth worker emerging—hep, arrogant, self-assured, and “unashamedly committed to reaching this generation.”

While I believe the intentions are good, I’m concerned about this new zeal. Because integral to it are three not-so-comforting credos:

1. Big is better than small. Youth workers today seem obsessed with big numbers. The modern youth ministry landscape is littered with slogans like “strategies for reaching a generation,” “techniques for having a national impact,” and “ideas for capturing a culture.” (If I hear the word mega one more time, I’m gonna puke!) Evangelism is synonymous with large which is synonymous with effective which is synonymous with reaching the entire world quickly and painlessly.

What’s the matter with us? Have we completely lost our bearings?

We’ll never win the world with the “my group is larger than your group” mentality. We’ll never win the world through power and intimidation. We’re wasting time and money and squandering our windows of opportunity with young people by sponsoring gigantic events that have few, if any, significant results. I believe the large crowds we’re attracting are actually distracting us from the one strategy we know works—the strategy of Jesus.

The power of one.

If Jesus had to choose between 99 and one, he chose one. If Jesus had to choose between the mob or one seemingly hopeless adulterer, he chose the adulterer. If Jesus had to choose between a whole town’s business interests or a screaming, slobbering, mentally unstable wild man in chains, he chose the wild man.

We won’t win the world by majority rule. We won’t win the world by pointing to our size. We’ll win the world by following Jesus to a cross—not to a platform; by trusting the insignificance of mustard seed faith—not the significance of mega youth ministry.

2. Noise is better than silence. First we attract a crowd, then we crank up the rock ‘n’ roll from the latest I-love-Jesus-but-I-still-look-cool Christian musician, add another bank of computer-driven strobes, call in the giga-neat speaker, and hey, Jesus is in business!

The arguments seem to make sense. These are mtv kids, right? How else are we going to get this generation’s attention?

How about with silence?

Instead of overloading young people’s already maxed-out ear drums and retinas, why don’t we cut back on the noise and the fireworks? Or get rid of it all together? Suppose youth ministries abandoned noise as a strategy and instead went for what’s quiet, encouraging kids to listen to the thin silence of God? Instead of programming God into kids’ lives, what if youth workers gave kids space to discover the presence of a God who’s been whispering to them all along? Maybe, if we’d take the time to help young people listen to their souls and recognize God’s voice, they’d really start hearing.

3. Nice is better than not nice. Most churches and denominations require youth ministries that portray Jesus as an enhancement to modern life, not a threat. This view claims Jesus exists to get young people a bettereducation, a higher standard of living—and most of all—make them nice.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Youth ministry based on the Jesus of the Bible is disruptive, threatening, risky, dangerous, frightening, unstable, and unpredictable. Introduce your kids to Jesus and their lives will be forever ruined—gloriously ruined.

That’s why, if your students meet Jesus, you can expect to be criticized by parents and church leaders. Maybe even fired. Look at the disciples: All of them quit their trained professions, disappointed their parents, cut off their financial securities, and ended up respected by almost no one—except Jesus. In fact, most everywhere the disciples went, people either wanted to kill them or run them out of town.

Now that’s successful ministry!

May God help us to do the unthinkable in the next few years. Let’s commit to abandoning what’s big, turning off the noise, dismantling the institution of youth ministry, and making a run for Jesus. Let’s reach just one kid.Let’s listen instead of program. Let’s abandon the Titanic and swim for the lifeboats, where we can spend time with a few kids so we can all hear Jesus’ life-giving promise:

You are my beloved.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.