What constitutes “good” youth ministry? If I were to ask that question in most churches today I’m sure I would get a variety of responses, many of which would include such things as magnetic programs and charismatic personnel to keep our youth away from the worldly culture, Bible study, missional service, adding new youth to our numbers and training them to be leaders of tomorrow’s church. While it isn’t my intent to give you a “step-by-step” method to insure good youth ministry in your congregation, I do hope to share with you some approaches to help drive your goal to focus on what I consider to be the most important, and crucial, ministry today–that of ministry to our youth.
I think all who are involved in youth work always desire to improve that ministry. We could, and some of us do, spend a lot of money on books and resources to apply to our programs. While they may work and provide some short term results, a better idea is to focus on one’s congregation, assess needs, and establish a solid foundation on which to build one’s ministry.
I was recently at a conference where the speaker told our group that while the purpose driven youth ministry approach was a helpful one, it was a 70’s model. While it is certainly program driven, the relational element that Doug Fields espouses in his model warrants discussion. Certainly Fields offers an approach that is New Testament purpose driven, with a focus on evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry; however, most churches tend to focus on one or two of the purposes and neglect the others. If your ministry is program-driven, and many today are, then this model will still work well for you. In fact, its emphasis on creating a purpose statement and constantly evaluating programs on this statement will, as Fields states, create a healthy balance which can certainly affect growth.
However, what about the contemplative model that Mark Yaconelli encourages? After all, we are living in a postmodern world. Isn’t this approach a better one? Certainly we would all agree with Yaconelli’s statement that “today’s youth are more isolated, alienated, and left to fend for themselves within the molesting arms of the corporate media culture.” While we have learned through classes, workshops, and resources how to entertain kids, market to them and test and measure them, do we really know how to be with our kids and model for them how to be with God?
Often, perhaps too often, the church identifies youth ministry by the things youth do rather than an opportunity for students to become transformed. If this model is one you prefer, then your foundation must be one where youth are empowered to learn, reason, love, listen, and ask so that they can engage as Christ-like presences in the world. Such empowerment fosters authentic seekers of God’s kingdom and enables them to live in this world and still seek the way of Christ in their own lives. While “programs” are still an integral part of the contemplative youth ministry model, the focus is on contemplative prayer and moving toward creating a presence in the youth by helping them engage with God and by creating circumstances where they can remind the world of hope and justice. Camps, retreats, and other experiences help create life-long character traits such as integrity, personal responsibility, and discipline that endure throughout adulthood.
So, what’s the best approach to “good” youth ministry? Is it purpose-driven, contemplative, or perhaps a combination of both? Hopefully you can discern by now that there is no one way to approach ministry. As the “expert” in your congregation, it is imperative to lay a foundation for youth ministry that is best suited to your needs. A solid foundation involves knowing your congregation and the needs of your youth. It is about building a solid, Biblical, balanced foundation for reaching and discipling youth. It is a program that incorporates the entire congregation to serve as role-models and mentors to youth, one that embraces the youth and allows them to be leaders now, not tomorrow. It is a program that views parents as team members and maximizes their role to help their kids reach their spiritual potential. It is also a foundation that finds volunteers and develops them into fellow ministers. However, most importantly, it is a foundation that is based on perseverance and consistency. It realizes that youth ministry is based on relationships, and relationships require time, patience, forgiveness, discipline, and a sense of adventure!
While different ministry approaches will always be available and offer new opportunities for programming, they are merely the means to achieve the goal. Let your goal be to establish a solid foundation on which to build a youth ministry that is Christ-centered and will endure the “tides” of time. After all, a foolish person builds his “house” on the sand but the wise seek to establish their ministry on the solid rock foundation of Jesus Christ.
Published August 2008