Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series on a new project initiated by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) Student Ministry offices, called Excellence in Youth Ministry (EiYM). This project is designed to encourage and unite youth pastors around a set of shared biblical values and the pursuit of personal and ministerial excellence.

I asked her, “Have you ever been a part of a Bible study like this one.” She thought for a moment and then said, “We’ve tried a lot of things in our youth group, but they don’t usually last.” I asked, “Do the students get bored or just stop coming or what?” She said, “No, but our leaders do.”

It is sobering to consider that nearly 70 percent of all students, ages 12-18, in Oklahoma are not in church on Sunday mornings. It is even more sobering to think that it’s possible this is true, not because of a lack of student interest, but because of a lack of fervor and commitment on behalf of those charged with reaching them. I refuse to let this happen. Failure is not an option.

In the early fall of 2014, God began to burden my heart like never before for the youth ministries in our state. Questions of effectiveness flooded my mind.

  • Were youth pastors working hard to reach and teach students?
  • Have we really considered the consequences in a student’s life if they do not come to know and love the Lord?
  • Have our youth ministries become more about a cool place to meet rather than a person you can’t afford not to meet?
  • Is youth ministry treading water or training saints?
  • Are pastors investing in their youth pastors for longevity and success or are they satisfied to hire and fire until the right people are satisfied?
  • Are our churches asking for child sitters or world changers?
  • And what about me? Have I done all I can as a state leader to encourage, train, and lead youth ministries to excellence? Am I willing to let mediocrity rule the day as long as I’m not called to account?

Later in 2014, I gathered a group of church leaders together to tackle this issue. The result was something called Excellence in Youth Ministry (EiYM). Much prayer, discussion, and work has gone into creating this project, which is a way for youth pastors to be unified and encouraged in their work and ministries and for pastors and/or church supervisors to invest in their youth pastors.

Individual youth ministries do not all look or function the same. A youth ministry in a small town may look very different than one in a large city or from one in a very rural community. Individual churches have different histories, different financial resources, different leadership priorities, and different operational processes. There are many things that could be noted as individual distinctives from church to church and from youth group to youth group. One group may focus on community missions, while one may be more evangelistic. One group may minister to a particular subset of people or ethnic group, while another may minister more to families. Although there may be many unique methodological characteristics among the totality of youth ministries in Oklahoma, there are some basic values which the scripture indicates should be a vital part of all youth ministries. These shared values are the foundation of EiYM.

These values are based on Jesus’ command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Our team created a ministry correlation for each of these areas.

  • As a result of loving God with all our heart, we need to LOVE people better.
  • In loving God with all our soul, we should INVEST well in others.
  • To love God with all our mind means we should faithfully and accurately PROCLAIM the Word of God.
  • And to love God with all our strength is to demonstrate great PROFICIENCY in our work.

Each of these areas (LOVE, INVESTMENT, PROCLAMATION, and PROFICIENCY) have four or five value statements associated with each one. A commitment to these values constitutes the heart of EiYM.

Paul said in Phil. 2:1-2, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” May God unite us around His Word and purposes with great fervor!

(Coming in Part Two: On THIS We Can Agree)