10ST – Promoting Talent Over Integrity

10ST is an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
Marking the mid-point of our excursion through 10 Stupid Things is the promotion of talent before the reinforcement of integrity. Short version: if you make a habit of ignoring character flaws in the people you’re working with, you’ll cripple your ministry.

In youth ministry, this is every bit as dangerous as it is in the rest of the church. It’s so easy to put that shining star student out front in some leadership capacity without critically thinking about where they’re at spiritually. It’s easy to ignore the evidence of serious issues when we don’t want to believe that evidence. But we may be short circuiting God’s refinement and reconciliation process when we do so. And we’re certainly playing with a fire that will cause a lot of damage when the lack of integrity makes itself publicly visible. (It always does.)

At this point, I want to back up a little bit and address the issue of growing a youth ministry. We’ve been talking about things we do that may keep our ministries from growing, but this issue of integrity brings up the fact that there are some things that we could do that would actually grow our group numerically that are still, in fact… stupid. One of those is the subtle misuse of talented students. We know that there are certain kids that, when they’re put out front, will draw in other students. Even if the lack of integrity induced train-wreck never happens to derail the involvement of our super-student and his groupies, we need to be careful to not use our students for our own gain and ego strokes.
Some of the most important aspects of youth ministry are helping students discover how they can contribute to the kingdom, working with them to make the most of their abilities, and crafting moments of opportunity for them to put their gifts to use. But when our focus subtly shifts from equipping them for God’s work to getting their friends ‘hooked’ into our ministry, we are on dangerous ground. Youth ministry is not a place for an ego that needs bolstered by a bunch of teens that we treat as the players in “our” show.
Here are a few questions to ponder when asking your kids to step up to the “microphone” (or some other leadership capacity):
  • Is promoting this student into this leadership role going to help her grow, or just help me get more kids to report on an attendance list? Don’t take the short cut to growing your group. Plain and simple: it’s a type of exploitation that has no place in your ministry.
  • Does he have the kind of character I’d want my own sons to develop? Someone is always watching and modeling themselves after your leading students. Are they finding character worth emulating?
  • Is the talent I’m asking him to employ more important to the student than Jesus is? An all consuming ability can easily morph itself into an idol – and the most insidious idols are those that are hidden in the garb of church work.
How do you personally make sure you’re not exploiting the students in your ministry?

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