Building a Philosophy of Youth Ministry
Khufu’s pyramid in Egypt was a limestone masterpiece that originally stood 488 ft, towering on the skyline and impressing people with the weight of its magnificence. A people do not undertake such a massive project without knowing a few things about how to build or without a guiding philosophy about what needs to be accomplished. Obviously there needs to be a strong foundation for such a heavy structure. As the tower of Pisa highlights, when you build on soft ground, eventually what you build will be in danger of falling over. If the structure is too top-heavy, it will collapse under its own weight. Not to mention that you have to have access to stone and the relationships and leadership and labor to pull off such a massive scale project.
So what makes us think that we can go into such an important construction project like Youth Ministry without having a strong foundation and a vision for its growth? Many have walked in with the mantra “Fake it ‘til you make it,” though that’s hardly ever a formula for true success in ministry. There has to be clear guidelines for your leadership, your team, your students and the destiny of your ministry. Remember that you are building for eternity in the hearts of young people. Their lives will continue on in an everlasting line, and the trajectory of your ministry will be a strong parallel in their spiritual growth. Like a good football coach or architect, you have to have a game plan to execute.
Take a few moments and vision out the goals of your ministry and build a framework based on biblical principles for how you’re going to accomplish your goals. I begin with a simple purpose statement (see Doug Fields, “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry”), and ours is simply “Saint Andrew By-The-Sea’s youth ministry exists to create lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.” It gets to the “Why” of what we are doing together. Next, I dug into the scriptures, studied youth ministry a bit, and prayed through my passion to reach families and youth and discovered five principles that would guide our ministry.
A Short Youth Ministry Philosophy:
(1) Our ministry is Theological and Discipling in nature (Matthew 28:8-20). We need to encourage reflection on God’s work in the world (past, present, and future) and help students to live engulfed in God’s Word. (2) We are a relational/incarnational presence in youth’s everyday lives (John 1:14). (3) We are a family centered, equipping ministry (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). Parents are important to us, and by ministering to the whole family system, youth are better off and equipped to be strong and succeed in their faith journey. (4) We are a life enabling and counseling as a community (John 13:34-35). By connecting youth and families to one another, and by listening to the needs and concerns of all, we gain a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here and now. (5) We are a team based ministry (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Love is spelled T-I-M-E, and it takes a lot of it to build a relationship with a student and more to walk with them in faith. Because of this, it is impossible for one Youth Worker/Leader/Pastor to reach out to all the students deeply, and simultaneously.
So what does your youth ministry foundation look like? It may look a bit different. Take some time and seriously consider what heights can stand on the foundation of God’s glory.
(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)