Characteristics of a Healthy Youth Ministry: 1. Christ-Led

The ministry intentionally seeks to discern and follow Christ’s leadership and can give examples of how He has led.

Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. (Colossians 1:18)

As youth pastor, towards the end of each year, I would begin approaching people who I believed could make effective small group leaders and shepherds for our young people.

I recall talking to two young women who, quite independently, shared a sense of call to work with young people but in both cases said that the young people they felt called to serve were not the sort of young people who came to our church.

While we were a largely white middle-class church we had established a community trust and were working in a lower socio-economic suburb. The needs of the young people in this community were great and it was to these young people our two prospective leaders felt called.

Sensing that somehow God was at work, I invited them both to join our youth leadership team and to begin praying for God to allow them to begin building a ministry.

Each week they met with our wider youth team and listened as our leaders shared what God was doing in their small groups – something neither of them had! Yet they continued to come and to pray that God would provide a way ahead.

It came a few months later when I received a phone call from a visiting ministry team who had held an outreach in our city which had led to two young girls responding to an invitation to receive Christ.

Both were from the community in which our church was serving and both fitted the profile of the young people our two leaders felt called to reach.

Within weeks, a ministry to these girls and half a dozen of their friends was underway! By the end of the year, we’d added two more leaders and the numbers attending had grown.

This example is one of many I’ve seen in which God has led us to undertake initiatives and move in directions that were beyond our capacity to see or plan.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Christ’s Headship of the Church is more than a theological truth that applies to the Church universal. It is also a practical reality that applies to the local church and its ministries. This means that when it comes to embarking on a new initiative, our job is not to dream one up but to look for evidence of God at work and invest in what He is doing.

I call this evidence the “fingerprints” of God and the more you intentionally look for these and expect them, the more apparent they will become.

Similarly, when it comes to making decisions in youth ministry, only Christ, the Head, has the authority to make these decisions (Colossians 1:18). Our role, as part of Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 12:27,28) is to discern what the Head is saying and work to make it a reality as we obediently follow His will in building up the rest of the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).

This need for discernment means that prayer becomes a key component in the activities of any youth leadership team.

When you are facing decisions as a team, pause, pray and spend time listening to God, sharing Scriptures that come to mind along with other insights and impressions. As you do so a growing sense of rightness and unity will emerge from your conversations.

This may happen quickly, or it may take several weeks of deliberation and debate both within the team and with key people outside the team such as church leaders and parents.

When you are faced with decisions, try to develop a unanimous sense of God’s leading. Avoid taking a vote and acting on what the majority thinks. God is not divided and while voting makes for a quick decision it doesn’t necessarily lead us to the right one. Furthermore, the process of discussion and eventual agreement can bring a team together, whereas a quick vote can easily create resentment and disunity.

As leaders commit to praying together and seeking God’s will, agreement will eventually come in the form of deep and perhaps unlikely convictions shared by several people, if not immediately, then over a period of time.  

I once had an idea to start an outreach programme aimed at intermediates and thought our year two intern would be the ideal person to lead it. Unfortunately, when I shared the idea with her she was less than enthusiastic and had no sense whatever that this was what God wanted her to do. I left the suggestions with her and a few weeks later she came back to me and said, “I’ll do it!”. God has been at work and a few things had happened to change her mind.

One of these things was a random and unsolicited comment made by an 11-year-old in our church that she would love to see such a programme started so that she could invite her friends. The ministry began and is still running successfully to this day.

This is a second way in which God leaves his fingerprints: through circumstances that occur at just the right time. When these circumstances align or when “coincidences” occur, be prepared to believe that God’s providence may be at work.

Another way we see Him at work is through unexpected conversations. For example, perhaps you’ve been praying for more leaders and you find yourself having a chance conversation with (an unlikely?) person who expresses an interest in involvement with the youth ministry. Rather than dismiss the conversation, press in a little further. It may well be evidence of God at work. 

I recall one such conversation with a woman in her forties who expressed an interest in being involved “in some way” with the youth ministry. I met with her in her home and we explored together the possibility of her being a part of one of our small groups as an adult mentor. Sitting alongside her were her two teenage children and when she said to me, “I’m not sure if I’d be very good at that”, both children responded together, “Mum you’d be awesome!”. Needless to say, she joined the team and made an outstanding contribution over the next few years.

Whenever you suspect you are seeing these fingerprints, remember there is no need to push or make things happen on your own strength. God is at work; allow Him to do His work in His time as you talk with people and watch events unfold.


  • A leadership team exists and meets regularly to discuss decisions related to the direction of the youth ministry.
  • Whenever it meets, the leadership team devotes time to praying for the youth ministry and discerning what God is saying.
  • When faced with a decision, team members collectively seek to hear God’s voice, sharing Scripture, insights and impressions as they come to mind.
  • Important decisions are made after consulting widely with a range of people.
  • Where possible and practical, decisions are made unanimously rather than by voting.
  • The leadership team intentionally looks for God’s “fingerprints” as indicators of His possible leading.
  • Opportunities that arise at opportune moments are taken as indicators of His possible leading.
  • Conversations that occur during which answers to a need become apparent, are taken as indicators of His possible leading.
  • When there is a sense of God’s leading, care is taken not to rush ahead on one’s own strength but allowance is made for Him to work out His purposes in His time.
  • Evidence can be cited of God revealing His will in the past through what appeared to be His “fingerprints”.