Good Growth vs. Weeds in Youth Ministry

I was recently blessed with the opportunity to teach a group of young ministry leaders and youth pastors. We used the parable of the sower (Matt. 13), and of course spoke about the different kinds of soil. The main point was that while the soil was different, in each case the seed was always good. God is always going to sow good seed, however we have to make sure the seed is planted in the right soil for growth. As I was finishing up the teaching the thought continued in my mind that while the soil is key, we also need to watch out for the wrong fruit that looks like good fruit—the weeds. Sometimes in youth ministry we think that all growth is good growth, but only time can really tell if the fruit is good or if it is just weeds. Here are some thoughts to be mindful of.

My pastor would warn us about quick growth, because swelling is different from growth. Something that swells isn’t healthy. It is a sign of injury or infection, and over time you will see the difference. As a result we have to watch out for the growth of weeds in youth ministry. I believe that God has called for everything to grow, and God expects growth in some way throughout our ministries. At the end of the parable in Matthew 13, Jesus lists the amount of growth, making it clear that growth is supposed to happen, but the growth is different for everyone—some a 100, 60 or 30 times what was sown. However, we need to watch the growth and not assume that quick growth is healthy. Oftentimes it is tempting to push for rapid growth, and while this kind of growth isn’t always a problem, we must watch it to make sure it is good growth and not a weed imitating growth.

For us the key is to expect growth in our youth ministry, but watch for the weeds or unhealthy growth. Good growth will produce the right fruit and will also reproduce. Bad growth will look good but soon after die, and it won’t produce more growth. Your youth ministry is healthy when it produces consistent growth, and when the growth that you see now can also be seen months or years from now. Students are seeing and learning about God in new ways that cause them to make faithful changes in their lives consistently. Good growth can be seen up close and far away. Your youth ministry should have growth that you can see, the parents can see, and even those in other communities can see. Not only is good growth consistent, good growth also reproduces itself. When was the last time you saw or heard a story of a student in your ministry who didn’t just invite a friend to the ministry, but is actually walking with that friend to disciple them toward Jesus? When you have good growth in youth ministry it produces on its own. My pastor would say, “Good meat makes its own gravy.” As leaders of our youth ministries, we should be encouraging good growth and sustainable growth that will be around well beyond our time in the ministry.

How is your youth ministry growth?

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Russell St. Bernard
Russell St. Bernard

Russell St. Bernard is the director for ministry operations at Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the founder of After the Music Stops, a full-service youth ministry company as well as founder of Ministry Pivot, a company dedicated to assisting leaders and churches seize opportunities for growth.