Pulling A Zero in Your Youth Ministry

By Jesse Criss, Fresh Ministry Consulting. 

Back in my early days of youth ministry, I pulled my very first zero—as in zero kids came to youth group. I had planned an event, bought supplies, advertised to students and parents, and then, no one showed up. Admittedly, I had a very small group of students at the time. However, that left me feeling even more discouraged because every student could be accounted for. Between a wedding, sickness, homework, being grounded, and the classic, “My friend’s not coming so I’m not coming,” I knew where everyone was.

And they weren’t with me.

To be honest, I felt like a zero that night. Zero students meant total failure in my eyes. I was failing as a youth pastor, and students did not want to come to youth group, so therefore, students were not being saved. At the time, that equation made total sense to me.

But here’s the thing: That zero became an entry point for the enemy to get into my heart and mind. I immediately felt like it was my fault—like I had done something wrong. That quickly led to experiencing feelings of worthlessness and failure, which was followed by a fear that I would lose my job as a youth pastor. I was carrying the burden that the salvation and the faith of these students was something that I was responsible for completely on my own.

The enemy saw an opportunity to plant a seed of doubt, and it was taking root. But the good news for me is that Jesus was on weed-pulling duty in my life. God used pulling a zero to teach me the most important rule in youth ministry:

It’s not about me.

Pulling a zero taught me that I don’t save people. Jesus does. I would even go so far as to say my ministry doesn’t save people either. God uses me and gives me the opportunities to influence and speak into the lives of students, but I don’t save them. That role clearly belongs to Jesus, and if I’m honest, I like it better that way. It frees me from the burden of not being enough because in reality, I could never be enough for that job.

The best part about realizing the truth that it’s not on you to do what only Jesus can do, a world of opportunity becomes open to you. See, that’s when you realize that being a youth pastor doesn’t save you either; only Jesus can do that (but that’s another story for next time).

I think a great reminder of this truth is found in the New Testament where Jesus says this:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

God didn’t send Jesus to Earth and then say, “The rest is up to you guys!” No, God sent His Son to save us and then, to work through us to reach others. When we as student pastors operate from this truth, it makes a zero of any kind feel a lot less heavy a burden on our shoulders. Why? Because we know that at the end of the day, Jesus is the one who saves.

I want to challenge you to think about this: How can we best reflect this truth when it comes to experiencing a “zero” in our youth ministries?

Orange Conference 2018