Not too long ago I read the book, Simple Church, Return to God's Process for Making Disciples, by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger. To my surprise, this book helped me realize an unfortunate truth about how I thought of the church and youth ministry. It was something I know I did as a young youth worker, and I know many others have done and do it even now. We don't do it on purpose, but sometimes in the excitement of "building" our ministry we make the dangerous decision to do it our way. When we do it our way, it doesn't take long to discover you are now on the youth ministry island.
When I was still young and cutting my teeth in student ministry, I read, The Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, by Doug Fields. Doug helped to reshape how I did ministry. He shared 5 purposes that my youth ministry should have. It was a great book! To this day it's still one of my favorite books.
Upon completing of the book, I immediately began reformatting my entire ministry. Everything was effected by the overhaul. Some programs were scrapped. New programs were launched. There were trainings held for my leaders, parent meetings to introduce and explain the changes, and clever promotional tools created to wow our students. It was a very exciting time.
Now, I didn’t think anything of it then. But as I look back I can see the danger of NOT aligning the direction and purpose of the student ministry with the ministry and direction of the church. In a very real way, I created a division between what the church was doing and what the student ministry was doing. We had a separate purpose statement, a separate vision, and a separate way of doing things. Essentially I created a church within a church. And for the sake of the church, that isn’t healthy.
What would happen if instead of creating our own purpose statements, we worked to understand and support the church’s purpose? Instead of separating our ministry from the church, what would it look like if we aligned our efforts with the direction of our church?
There are a couple of things I thing we need to be aware of when we get excited about new avenues of ministry.
We are All One Body.
- Your youth ministry is part of the larger body of Christ. I don’t think any church governing board ever said, “Hey, let’s hire some guy to come in and work with our students so we can focus on the more important things of the church. We’ll give him some space in the basement, a couple bucks as his budget, and whatever he can do will be fine for us.”
No, I think church leadership want a student ministry that adds to the ministry of the church. And so, we as the youth worker, need to learn, understand, and work within the context of ministry in our church. We are part of the congregation, an extension of care for a small population of the larger church. Thus we need to support and align ourselves with the mission, vision, and strategy of the church.
Be Aware of a Consequence of Separation.
- One topic found in youth ministry headlines is the absence of twenty-somethings in many churches. Even churches with incredible student ministries are wondering where the students go after they graduate from high school. It’s not a new dilemma. It’s a problem that’s been around for years. What get’s me is, how come we haven’t pin pointed the problem and come up with a solution to remedy the situation?
There is a dangerous consequence when we build our programs to be separate from the ministry of the larger church. We have created the student worship service, the student mission trip, and the student activity calendar. Some churches go as far as holding separate worship times for students and adults, splitting the family during a time when the family should worship together. The consequence for these actions is a generation of students who do not know how to worship or serve within the life of the church.
For all of their high school career, many students are separated from the life and ministry of the church. They never learn how to worship with adults. As youth workers, we cater to our students interests in style of worship, use of media, instrument selection, and drama. We create a show that students love, and may truly be effective in impacting their lives for transformation, however, how often do they find the same worship experience beyond our youth worship? On more than one occasion I have heard college students say, “I just can’t find a church that worships the way we worshipped in youth group, so I don’t go to church right now.” Ouch. That comment should cause all of us to shudder.
It’s Not for the Glory of Us.
- As a young youth worker, I looked up to the “big guys.” These were the guys who were leading seminars and writing books. They were sought after as teachers and called the “experts.” I would listen to these brilliant men and I would want to be just like them. Worse, I wanted my ministry to be just like theirs. I want the kids that they talked about. I wanted to share stories like the stories they shared. I wanted to tell of the great God-Events that changed lives just like they did. But the problem was, I was more into being like them and less into being like Jesus to my students.
We are in youth ministry because God called us into youth ministry. He called us; the weak, the broken, the flawed, the scarred, the awkward, the uneducated, the overwhelmed, the inadequate...because in our smallness, God’s BIGNESS is seen. You see, we serve to bring glory to God not ourselves. And I don’t think we glorify Him when we separate ourselves and our ministries from the work He is doing within the larger community.
So what can we do? How do we bring our ministries with students back into alignment within the church? These are good questions with answers worthy of another article. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the youth ministry island.
How do you structure your ministry? Who’s vision are you casting? What’s your strategy? Are you aligned with your church, or are you doing your own thing? If you are aligned, what does that look like for your ministry? What’s the visioning and strategy planning look like when you align yourself? How involved are you with the pastoral leadership when it comes time to plan and dream about ministry?
I’d like to know, and I promise to respond to all your comments and thoughts. And I will be back with a few additional thoughts of what we need to do as youth workers to better integrate our ministries with the ministry of the church.