Competition is one of the heart-breaking realities in youth ministry today. Youth ministries are tempted to compete with other youth ministries. Comparisons are made between churches, examining the personality and popularity of the leaders, the size of attendance, and even the effectiveness of outreach. Which church is growing the fastest? Which youth group takes the most mission trips? Which youth minister is the best preacher? Youth ministers and youth leaders feel the pull of this competition and may even find themselves competing. And this is heart-breaking.
Youth ministries are not meant for boasting. They do not belong to the current leaders or the current youth group. They are meant for the Lord’s glory and they belong to the Lord.
Paul also ran into competition within the church and immediately recognized the division that followed. He addressed both when he wrote the church in Corinth:
For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12).
The fellowship within the church family had become personality-driven. This led to quarreling and divisions. Praise the Lord for Paul’s leadership, discipleship, and correction, for he pointed the church back to truth:
Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?...What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. (1 Corinthians 1:13; 3:5-7).
Healthy ministries recognize that Christ is the head of the church and the head of the youth ministry. This allows leaders to submit all they do to the Lord and to minister in such a way that they dedicate the next generation to the Lord. Youth are not numbers or measurements of a successful program. They are a blessing from the Lord to be dedicated back to the Lord. This is a biblical principle highlighted in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel.
The first chapter introduces a family: Elkanah and his wife, Hannah. Hannah had no children and she wept and would not eat. Scripture describes her as “deeply distressed,” and it is in this desperation that she prayed to the Lord. She prayed for a child and made a vow to the Lord that if God would give her a son, she would “give him to the Lord all the days of his life” (v. 11). One author notes, “What Hannah is doing here is consecrating her son for his entire life. When Hannah takes this vow, it means she is giving up all claims to her son in order to let him live in the temple and serve God.”
Hannah had prayed for years, but this prayer of dedication was different. She submitted any future child to the Lord before she was even pregnant. One commentator identifies the uniqueness of this prayer:
“She was finally set free from her bondage to the idolatry of family. Hannah still prays for a son, but her tone is altogether different: ‘God, I’m still asking you for a son, as I have hundreds of times before. But all my life I’ve asked for you to give me a son to make up for some deficiency in my life. It has always been for me. Now, I’m asking for one for You. You are my sufficiency and my treasure, and if you give me a son, he will belong solely to You.’”
Hannah fulfills her vow as the Lord answers her prayer. Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son, named Samuel. She praised God, declaring, “For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:27). Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord for his entire life.
This heart to dedicate the next generation must continue in youth ministries today. Youth leaders must continue to protect their ministries from being personality-driven. We cannot allow our ministries to become all about numbers or competition, and we are called to trust any youth around us in the hands of the Lord for his purposes. Dedicating the next generation to the Lord means we celebrate God’s will for our youth ministries and our youth. We submit all people and all plans to the Lord. It is his church. It is his ministry.
Jonathan Williams is the founder of Gospel Family Ministries, the author of Gospel Family: Cultivating Family Discipleship, Family Worship, and Family Missions, and the senior pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, TX. He lives in Houston with his wife and three children, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Family Ministry through the School of Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel, (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference, 2016), 42-43.