The Need to be Needed

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By Lee Rogers, District Youth Director

There is a great danger that limits the impact of young youth pastors and leaders; it is both subtle and debilitating. It’s an intoxicating and addicting phenomenon that cuts short the Biblical purpose and scope of ministry for many who follow God’s call. Very few see it coming and—once it engulfs a person—it can be challenging to shake. It’s not moral failure or compromise, it’s not burnout or conflict. It’s something far more subtle and deceptive: the need to be needed.

It feels good to be needed, and when you serve in youth ministry, there’s a real sense of fulfillment when teenagers are dependent upon you. Teenagers depend on us to give them the Word, provide worship, share the Gospel with their friends and meet their general pastoral needs. This is called a dependency model of ministry. When someone depends on us for all of this, it can feel good and even contribute to our self-worth. Here’s the problem: we are not called to develop teenagers into perpetually needy spiritual-children who are dependent on us but mature believers who know how to depend upon God. We are called to equip teenagers to do God’s work and build one another up until we all become mature in the Lord.

Youth pastors and leaders are particularly susceptible to this trap because adolescence is a needy time. However, we must strive for better for both the students’ sake and for our own. As Greg Ogden wrote, “Underlying the dependency model of ministry is a distorted and unhealthy means of seeking value.” To the contrary of this dependency model, Ephesians 4:11-12 teaches us an equipping model for ministry. “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the shepherds and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” Each of us, whether we have the gift of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd or Teacher (APEST), are to do one thing: equip the people of God to do His work and build up the church.

Are you an equipping youth pastor or leader? Or have you unknowingly fostered a culture of spiritual infancy through a dependent model of youth ministry? Are the APEST gifts in operation to equip God’s teenagers?

Here are some simple assessment questions to help you determine whether you have a dependency model or an equipping model:

  • Do our students study the Scriptures and pray on their own?
  • Do they worship God with their everyday lives or mostly just in church services?
  • Do they know how to hear from the Holy Spirit and respond?
  • Do our students readily serve and love those around them, including
    their lost friends?
  • Do our students share the Gospel? Are they even prepared for that?
  • What changes do we need to make to move in an equipping direction?
  • In what ways should our APEST gifts contribute to an equipping ministry?

To read more about the dependency/equipping models of ministry, check out Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God by Greg Ogden. (Zondervan, 2003)

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