On your mark, get set…now where’s the starting line?
Ok, let’s be realistic, starting a youth ministry is a lot of work. Leading a youth ministry can be similar to running a race in which you have no idea where you are running or why you’re in the race at all. We can do all things in Christ Jesus, yet at times we just don’t know where to start. We don’t have lots of time, everyone is really busy, and there is so much to get done. The harvest is ready, but the workers are at sports, at work, and busy doing other activities.
God has called us, His chosen people, to share the gospel and serve one another. Many Christians, young and old, have been called to serve in the youth ministry of their local church. We label these fun loving, high energy, and ready to change the world folks “volunteers.” Are you one of these wonderful volunteers?
I was blessed to serve in my local church as a Director of Christian Education for eighteen years, focusing on junior high and high school students. Now that the Lord has called me to serve as Director of the Compassion International’s Leadership Development Program, I too am a volunteer in my church’s youth ministry. Working as a volunteer in youth ministry has taught me a lot about how new and seasoned volunteers can start a dynamic and lifesaving youth ministry program for a congregation.
The Apostle Paul calls us to run the race with endurance, but we need to know a few running tips for the big race. Here are a few of the tools I have picked up over the years.
First, you must claim the promise that we are all on the victory lap!
In Christ, we have victory and we possess the resurrection power of God to serve our living Lord and organize a quality youth ministry program. “Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)
Seek God’s help. Draw on His power and wisdom. Pray with anyone who will join you. Set up times to seek God’s help, energy, and power to start and lead a youth ministry program. Too often, people try to work on their own energy and therefore miss out on His blessings. Those who choose to join you in prayer are those most likely to be on your leadership team. Pray for help, and you will most likely receive it. The Lord will place a burden on the hearts of those He wants to be on your team, with a common purpose for the youth ministry program.
Second, your must determine the purpose for your youth ministry program!
As God’s people we can either wander in the desert, running toward a cool looking oasis, or we can be very intentional in where we lead young people. Too often, youth ministry volunteers wander aimlessly, unsure about where they are heading, wondering why no one is joining them on the journey. Volunteers also tend to ask the wrong questions of youth and other volunteers. Before beginning a youth ministry program, the team of volunteers needs to diligently work on developing a clear, “everybody-knows-it” purpose statement. Taking time for a day retreat can help clear everyone’s minds to discern God’s voice. A purpose statement doesn’t need to be complex and showy. It can be as simple as, “God is calling us to minister to teens in our local schools.” Or, “Our purpose is to offer a safe place for teenagers to hang out.” Once you have a statement, post it, memorize it, and make a big deal about it. People will join you and put time and resources into a ministry with clear purpose. As volunteers, we have limited resources, so we must choose wisely how we are going to use our time, energy and money. Invest in a clear, Godly purpose.
Third, you must design a strategy map.
A strategy map lays out a strategy plan of how you are going to accomplish your purpose as a youth ministry program. Ask helpful and productive questions as you set out to develop a strategy map for your program. Questions such as, “What do you want to do? What sounds like fun to you?” don’t help a team discern the direction for a youth program. Instead, ask, “What can we do to help accomplish our purpose?” If your purpose is to be student led and share the Gospel, all activities and programs in your strategy map should be designed to move you toward that ultimate purpose. When a particular event is posed for consideration, ask the question, “How will this activity support our purpose and move us forward?” A strategy map also helps keep people from burning out and wasting a lot of valuable resources.
Fourth, you and your team must develop a “Whose Doing What Spreadsheet”
Developing a “Whose Doing What Spreadsheet” can be the most enjoyable part of your race as a volunteer. Once you identify the activities or programs you plan to put in place, you and your team need to work together to decide who will take responsibility for each part of the program and its events. It is helpful to develop a spreadsheet such as this for general program tasks: publicity, outreach, recruiting, fundraising, etc. It is additionally helpful to develop a spreadsheet for each individual project. If a car wash fits into your strategic plan, you must decide who will bring the soap, the bucket, the hoses, etc.
As you kneel in the starting blocks, be sure you go one step at a time, and know that you are not running this race alone! Depend upon God, and He will bless your prayerful efforts to establish a youth ministry program in your congregation. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6) And surely, we can “do everything through Him who gives [us] strength!”  (Phil. 4:13)
Published October 2007