Tag: Youth Ministry

Foundations in Youth Ministry: Making Mission Part of Your Mission

Panama Mission - Making Concrete

Foundations in Youth Ministry:

Making Mission Part of Your Mission

By Daniel Griswold

(This is the first copy of the article published in The Advocate, UMC Publication in the South Carolina Conference)

When first starting a ministry to youth, mission may not seem like a huge priority.  There is a budget (or lack of) to wrestle with, relationships to build, schools to visit, parents to meet, programs to run, volunteers to lead, and a new pastor to get to know.  That’s a small fraction of the to-do list, and wrangling a team together and convincing them to pay good money, or fundraise to travel and be inconvenienced by the unpredictability of travel seems like a hard sell.  It would be far easier to do some quick local service projects, we all can feel helpful, and we sleep well at night knowing our kids can work hard.

There is a small problem though.  I’ve yet to see local service projects have the same personally transforming experience that a week and a half serving others in a foreign situation can.  Why is that?  I think that there are a few factors that come into play that bring about a huge transformation in young people.

First, being inconvenienced and having to convince oneself that serving others is worthy my time, money and effort creates a self-sacrificing atmosphere.  Youth can often be idealists, so speaking about the good that can be done and showing the people that we can serve with builds not only compassion, but camaraderie with peoples around the globe.  Once the team is on the ground, they can already be an oiled team who has met the challenges of fundraising, getting passports, doing paperwork, and learning the local culture and possibly language.  Once on the ground, it is assumed that the projects will be hard, that everyone will have to step beyond comfort, and because of this, everyone is stretched.  It is in these situations of stress that we can learn who we all really are.

Second, young people need to see that God is alive and is working through the hearts and hands of people all across the globe.  Sometimes we accidentally fall into the mentality that we, the privileged, can go and serve among the unfortunates who need our help.  This is dangerous thinking because it sets us in a caste above those we serve.  I’ve always been able to experience excellent teams who realize that we are going to serve with and among good hard working people, and partner with Christians and missionaries already on the ground.  We become part of a continuum.  We bear our own weight and don’t expect more because of our lifestyles back home, and we worship in the styles and culture of Methodists here and there.  In this we begin to see a glimpse of the future multi-national, all-cultural unity of the Kingdom of God.  Those who see it tend to get over some of the petty cultural battles that disengage the church from its true mission to spread the Gospel through action and love.

Throughout scripture, in the Old and New Testaments, God calls out to His people and says “Go”. “Go where?” I don’t know where God will lead you and your young people, but it is clear that it is in the midst of going out that we begin to fully understand what it must have been like for Moses to leave Midian to save his people, or for the apostles including Paul, who went out and became missionaries to all people who would listen and come alongside them.  Our youth groups need someone with leadership and vision enough to take on the challenge and say, “We need to listen to God and go out.”

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission constantly run great trips.  Salkehatchie, with 48 camps across the state, has been amazing for our youth group as well, and allows for in-state but still out of comfort trips uniting many churches with one mission.  Talk with your church’s mission committee or to those who are passionate about mission opportunities and to ask them, “How can we get young people serving alongside you?”  It may take some time to build the chain of trust with working adults and retirees, but the resulting intergenerational opportunity will break open misconceptions of all sorts and show the world that our God is not someone who segregates us by culture, race, age, geography or whatever separates us.  We are all children of the same God, and we are all in need of the saving Love of Jesus Christ.  Your youth group may or may not grow in numbers, but you’ll likely produce a few world changers.  Pray about it and meditate a bit on the Great Commission at the end of Matthew.  Jesus said, Go.  Let’s get going.

 

Youth Director at Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC

Hilton Head Island, SC   Twitter:  @Dannonhill     EmailDanielGriswold@Gmail.com 

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Beginning in Youth Ministry: Remaining in Adulthood and Maintaining Boundaries

Beginning in Youth Ministry:

Remaining in Adulthood and Maintaining Boundaries

By Daniel Griswold

 (This is the original copy prior to publication in The Advocate Newspaper of the United Methodist Church in South Carolina)

You are at a retreat with an audience of young people, ages 12-17.  Their expressions have no emotion whatsoever, and it is clear that the group is assessing whether they’re going to trust you or not.  You haven’t been a pre-teen or teen for a long time, and you’re a bit terrified.  Earlier, you had thought about some of the most memorable moments in your growth in faith, and for some reason nothing much came.  You’ve searched the scriptures and no word searches for “Youth Ministry” bore fruit.  It is clear that the parents of the church wants you to connect as soon as possible, so you’re going to do what generations of youth ministers have done before you – something stupid is about to happen.

Will you climb some impossibly steep cliff to wow them?  Will you eat a mixture of Tabasco sauce, dog food and Hershey’s syrup to prove your undying love for their souls?  Will you take a paintball for the team? Will you give them permission to jump out of the car in traffic or allow them to investigate a corner where someone swears they saw an alligator?  Will you laugh at crude jokes, or sneer at one group to gain favor with another group?

I’ll tell you, all of these things are stupid things, and I’m not sure what it is about youth ministry and our innate desire to fit in that short-wires the ability of some folks to remain acting like adults.  As youth workers, it is clear we need to be mindful of a theology of wisdom.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:9)

While I believe that there is a place for a bit of controlled chaos and creating memorable experiences that bond the group, it is also important that the leader of a group be exactly that, a “Leader”.  The leader or leaders are responsible for not only safety, but also the deep growth of a group.  A youth ministry mentor of mine, Dean Borgman, often says, “You can’t lead others where you haven’t gone yourself.”  So we have to ask a few questions that have deep implications for us as adults ministering to the young.

(1) What is our purpose as ministers to young people?  I believe it is to nurture lifelong disciples of Christ.  We partner with the Holy Spirit to grow young saints who will impact the world and better it by engendering the Gospel. Then,

(2) If young people reflected my actions, who will they become?  In the Youth Ministry textbook, “Starting Right,” there is a call to discern your “Theological Rocks” which build a foundation for your young people as they try out the Christian life.  Is your ministry Jesus focused? And is nearly dying falling off a cliff to impress and entertain, one of them?  Probably not.  Jesus didn’t do that – He was very intentional.

Maybe you’re not that young stereotypical crazy youth minister, but perhaps you’ve compromised on something that you knew wasn’t right.  You may also be running a “self” centered group based on your own personality rather than the awe of God.  It might be time to take a few moments to align yourself with God’s spirit.  Ask yourself, if I really believe that Jesus is with me, right now, and that he is among us when we gather with our youth, then how should we act and what ways will we live out this high calling as Christians?  Is there a new covenant we need to make between our young people and ourselves?

Personally, I’ve discovered a love for good games of Ulitimate Frisbee and dodge ball (which incidentally blew out my shoulder for 8 months last year), but we do it after prayer, a meal, and a devotion probing the scriptures.  I’ve found that most kids get deep discipleship over time, that I’m not just their youth leader and fellow journeyman on earth, but I’m also their prayer warrior, their conversational theologian, their listening counselor, and I take seriously the call to be their protector.  That means implementing a Safe Sanctuaries policy and adhering to it, that means keeping them off the roof of the car, and that means we’re modeling the fullness of life they can have in the future.  Let’s take the long road and build a foundation of stone.

Interesting Article: Youth ministry at Clemson UMC: more than fun and games (repost from the SC Advocate)

Revolution Bracelets

Youth ministry at Clemson UMC: more than fun and games

By Ken Garfield

(reposted here)

This was first published in Faith & Leadership, http://www.faithand leadership.com, and The Advocate Newspaper for the SC UMC.

The youth ministries room at Clem- son United Methodist Church in Clem- son, S.C., still has an old sofa, the type that teenagers typically occupy on Sunday evenings far and wide across the faith landscape.But that’s one of the few vestiges of the past in a youth ministry work-ing to educate young Christians in a deeper way. Believing that the role of the church is to mold young people into serious students and devoted disciples, the 1,000-member congregation, located a mile from Clemson University, has shifted the focus of its work with youth.Leading that effort is a Duke Divinity School student who is convinced that his charges are capable of more than fun and games.“It’s about giving students credit for being able to be theologians,” said Jad Taylor, Clemson UMC’s director of youth ministries. “It’s helping students understand their part in this wonderful story.”Taylor, 26, is part of the first class in the Master of Arts in Christian Practice program, a two-year degree track at Duke Divinity School with an emphasis on educating youth pastors and other lay professional ministers serving local congregations.Jeff Conklin-Miller, assistant profes- sor of the practice of Christian formation and director of the MACP program, said the idea is to share this model of pas- toring with youth ministers who aren’t theologically trained so that they, in turn, can help youth understand their role in the broader Christian story.

The old youth ministry model? Order pepperoni pizzas, update the kids on the ski trip, bring up a sensitive topic like dating, toss out a few applicable Bible verses, then repeat, with a different topic, the following Sunday evening.The new (actually, quite ancient) model that MACP is teaching Taylor and the 25 other students in the program?“What is the Christian church about?” Conklin-Miller said. “What is discipleship? What is baptism? This is an invitation for youth to see themselves as part of the narrative of God’s redemptive work in creation.“Suddenly, they have a different way of thinking about what it means to be youth in the church. What’s most important in youth ministry isn’t someone who’s, quote unquote, good with kids but someone who is deeply committed to the church’s ministry of formation.”
Insights from the Youth AcademyThe MACP program and the vision of youth ministry that it seeks to foster draws heavily on insights gleaned by the Divinity School over 12 years of operating the Duke Youth Academy. There, each summer, high school students and counselors gather on the Duke campus for two weeks of worship, classes and dialogue aimed at helping youth appreciate their role in the Christian story. Launched with a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the youth academy It’s about giving students credit for being able to be theologians.– Jad Taylor Clemson UMC’s director of youth ministries“embodies the philosophy at the heart of the MACP program. The academy’s vi- sion statement puts it this way:“Authentic Christian communities do not isolate or ghettoize youth in a hodgepodge of lock-ins and pool par- ties. Instead they welcome youth into their very center as they seek to embody faithful life and worship before God.“The same graceful means that have sustained God’s people historically – worship, sacrament, serious study of Scripture and theology, prayer, service with the poor, hospitality, self-denial, spiritual direction and accountability – are what youth hunger for today.”In this spirit, Conklin-Miller said, the youth of the church belong in the sanctuary pews on Sunday mornings, and not on those old sofas in the youth room.At Clemson UMC, the young people in the youth ministry sit up front in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, just below the pulpit, said the Rev. Keith Ray, the church’s senior pastor.“It means they are integrated into the whole of the congregation,” he said. “It’s one of the things we value at Clemson. We feel the youth learn a lot by being with the older folks, and the older folks learn a lot from them.”
Taylor, a native of Columbia, graduated from Clemson in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biosystems en- gineering. The son of an optometrist and a nurse, he was planning on becoming an eye doctor like his father – until the first summer he spent as a counselor at a Christian camp in Colorado changed everything. There in the Rocky Mountains, he fell in love with the idea of shaping youth and being shaped by youth.“I felt like my gifts and talents and passions were all being used,” he said. “That’s a hard feeling to shake.”The spring of his senior year, a few weeks before graduation, the Rev. Lane Glaze, director of the Clemson Wesley Foundation and campus minister for Clemson UMC, told him that the church was looking for a youth pastor.‘Where I need to be’That very moment Taylor told him- self, “That’s where I need to be.”After another summer at the camp in Colorado, he went to work at the church, in August 2008, and started in the MACP program three years later, intent on infusing his passion with scholar- ship. Clemson UMC is paying his way in return for Taylor’s commitment thathe’ll remain there for at least three years after he graduates this summer, until 2016. This is how a self-confessed “crazy-haired” youth pastor has come to devote himself to Clemson UMC youth in grades 6-12. With his blue jeans and sandals and a mop of curly hair, Taylor looks the part. Conklin-Miller talked about Taylor’s outgoing personality and how he ends his emails with “much love.”
The kids at Clemson UMC clearly embrace him. Charles Withington, 16, mentioned the fall retreat when the entire youth group came together to explore God’s story in some out-of-the- box ways. To express the joy of Palm Sunday, they danced. To ponder Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, they spent time quietly in a garden. At night, they gazed at the stars. Whether at a retreat or the Sunday night gathering, or whenever he needs someone to talk to, Charles always knows where to turn.“I can tell Jad anything,” he said. Another Clemson youth, 18-year-old Hunter Smith, offered similar praise.“Jad is really accepting of any person he comes into contact with,” he said. “To me, his faith is overwhelming.”His ever-present smile notwithstanding, youth ministry is serious business for Taylor. On a rainy evening, the final Sunday before Lent, his upbeat purposefulness came across in a gathering devoted to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and what that means to teens navigating life in the complicated 21st century.Following a dinner of red beans and rice, church member and New Orleans native Jill Evans talked about Mardi Gras traditions as the youth devoured a king cake, the colorful pastry identified with pre-Lenten revelry.
Several teenagers then read aloud the story from Matthew 4:1-11, how Jesus rejected the temptations of the devil and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus’ wilderness experience, Taylor told the youth as they fiddled with their Mardi Gras beads, reminds us that we are not alone, no matter the temptations and pitfalls we face. He shared what he called his own desert experience, the death of his grandmother and having to see his mother suffer.“The deserts we’re going through, Jesus has been there,” he said. “It’s OK for us to enter into deserts together.”Later, in small groups, the high school boys talked about what they could give up for Lent. Some suggested video games and speeding.Taylor again gently turned the con- versation inward. Our earthly pursuits, he suggested aloud, turn us into some- thing we’re not. They hide what’s really in our souls. By giving up something, during Lent and beyond, perhaps we reveal our vulnerabilities in a way that strengthens us. “Weakness is not un- cool,” he told the boys before the group of 35 came back together to sing a final song. “Being vulnerable is good.”
Intense at the DYAThe MACP program combines intensive, on-campus seminars and Web-based distance learning that allows the students to remain in full-time youth ministry in their home churches. One of the most intense of those intensive on-campus sessions happens at the Duke Youth Academy each summer. During two weeks in June, 45 rising high school juniors and seniors from across the nation unite at Duke to worship, pray, serve, and share meals and conversation. The students participate in service projects, hear faculty speakers from Duke Divinity School and meet daily in small reflection groups. It is all meant to inspire teens to take a fresh look at God, the church and themselves.The experience must be compelling, since youth flock to the DYA, even with the 7:30 a.m. wake-up call each day.The MACP students also attend the youth academy, but not as “campers,” counselors or other staff.“We are intentional about that,” Conklin-Miller said. “They are ‘participant-observers’ and members of the worshipping-learning-serving commu- nity of DYA.”Last summer, Taylor and two youth from Clemson UMC were part of the youth academy. Raven Howard, 18, a senior at Daniel High School in Central, S.C., remembers focusing on the story of God as seen through the five C’s – Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church and Coming Reign.“You learn a lot about how the story of God relates to our story,” he said. “I think it is our story.”Howard loved how they were encouraged to view the youth academy’s daily communion as a thanksgiving dinner filled with conversation and laughter.
Less laugh-producing was the worship service his group was asked to plan.“It was interesting but kind of stress- ful,” he said.Through it all, Howard said, Taylor was there, just as he is each Sunday evening, stirring conversation, listening and, most of all, accepting.“Jad doesn’t force what he thinks on people,” Howard said.‘What ministry will it be?’What’s next? Taylor is committed to Clemson UMC through 2016. Knowing that part of his vocation is working with teenagers, he’s thinking through whether or not to seek ordination. The MACP would qualify him to seek ordination as a deacon in the UMC, but he would have to go back to school and get an M.Div. to pursue ordination as an elder.“The entire question of ordination is new and still unfolding for me,” he said. “Five years ago, I did not suspect that I would be working in a local church, much less considering a call to lifelong, full-time parish ministry.”
For now, Taylor is content to walk beside youth as he works toward his MACP degree online and on campus. He frames his future around a question that Fred Edie, the youth academy’s founding director and now an associate professor of the practice of Christian education, likes to share at the academy, where he still serves as a faculty adviser.“The question is not, ‘Will it be ministry?’” says Edie, “but, ‘What ministry will it be?’”“His words stay at the front of my heart, mind and soul each and every day,” Taylor said. 

A Word on Temple Run, Vision and Hope

Temple Run 2

Temple Run app shows we have the power to make things better in life

By DANIEL GRISWOLD
danielgriswold@gmail.com
Published Friday, February 1, 2013
in “The Island Packet” Bluffton ed.

 

Last year a young person borrowed my phone and when she returned it, I noticed I had a new app.It was called Temple Run. This game came to mind because recently its sequel came out, and it has the same premise. You take a precious artifact, Indiana Jones style, and a giant apelike creature chases you through all sorts of traps from fire to holes. If you trip, you’re caught, and you must try again, and again … and again. I found it addicting, and as I played, I pondered the premise a bit.In the game, I am holding something that is precious. I cradle it to protect it and I have to exert all my mental and physical attributes to bring it into society for anthropology, for admiration, for the arts or for the common good.

It seems to fit into the old Protestant ethos: “If I work hard enough, good things will happen.”

With 6 million downloads in the first 24 hours of this game’s release, it seems to have struck something within us. Perhaps it is a need to have a purpose, to have an adventure, to do something good.

Do you remember in social studies class, when the class talked about the great voyages that circumnavigated the globe and the people who had to contemplate the cost of these voyages? The risk takers often had to convince the wealthy that the risks of adventure would pay off the debts the adventure would incur. Lives may be lost, great ships may be sunk, and fortunes lost.

To grow, eventually one has to take a leap of faith that goes beyond reason — because there are always reasons for and against all good things. Imagine if we had not made it to the moon, or if no one were willing to try out the first vaccinations.

So what risks are we supposed to take now? How cautious must we be as we look around the corner of the future? How big are we going to dream? How hard are we going to work to achieve these goals?

I want to see a cure for AIDS and the odd possibility of space colonies. I’d also like to see more understanding and nurturing for special needs people, as well as more cooperation among the peoples of various nations. I’d like to see children born into a world that wants them, and that gives all of them a chance for success and the support they need to achieve their own dreams. What are you reaching for?

True happiness and contentment does not come from more leisure and new games and gadgets. Even the pursuit of knowledge and all the work we do to earn a living — while these are good things — they ultimately do not fill us with hope.

Only by experiencing something bigger than ourselves, and accomplishing something that we once thought was impossible, are we going to shout with the joy we desire. I like to step outside of myself and seek the perspective of someone greater to guide me. I pray for a future that does not stagnate in what could have been, what isn’t or what can’t happen. I struggle but remember the words of the Apostle Paul, when he said: “I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the one who makes me who I am.”

Sometimes we get tired. It is good to rest for a while, but eventually we have to get up and do new things. With the confidence of knowing we are put in motion by the one who created each of us with purpose; start something new or continue to work toward the possible impossibility that good things still happen because we were made to make them so.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.
Temple Run 2
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Revolution: An Amazing UMC Youth Group Retreat – Our Group’s Report

Amazing-Revolution

Revolution 2013 Youth
Growing with God this Weekend in Columbia, SC
14 of the Surf and ACDC Youth set out on an adventure to Columbia to the USC Coliseum for a Revolution.  We joined thousands of youth from Methodist Youth Groups from around the state there for an amazing time of worship, challenging talks, and amazing arts meant to inspire and grow our faith.
We knew it would be a great weekend when the entire stage erupted with a Youth Group version of the Harlem Shake, with youth ministers and youth from all over running up and dancing for about 30 seconds.  This was definitely going to be an energy packed weekend.  Watch the video – its a bit crazy ;D
Harlem Shake at Revolution SCUMC
Harlem Shake at Revolution SCUMC

Then the big worship started.  The Digital Age began us in songs of hope, worship, and love of God with a sonic envelope of amazingness.  All our young people ran up front and they can be seen in many of the conference pictures taken from the stage worshipping, laughing, enjoying the entire experience.

From Hip-Hop (SPF on!) to worship through dance, amazing choir singing from Claflin, and a country performance by a local young person – we were inspired and wrapped in the love of a God who gives us talents and abilities to lead and point everyone back to His amazing presence.
All weekend long our speaker Mark Oestricher challenged us in our faith to “Build and Reconstruct” ourselves looking to Christ as our center.  He talked about the Stupid things we do, and how sin can effect our lives and hurt those we care about.  We learned how we are all misfits who are in desperate need of being rescued by God.  He pushed us to think about living a life of holiness, centered on Him alone.  He talked about being like a baby eagle who makes a journey from the nest and has a mother eagle who teaches us how to fly making sure that we don’t hit the ground when we are dropped and learning how to fly.  He challenged us to take risks in faith and to live it in an action packed way.  The main scripture verse John 10:10 wrapped it all up, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  I could see the eyes light up, and faith grew this weekend.
 In the midst of the conference we grew closer to each other, as we got to know each other better in the hotel, chilled and ate meals together, served together picking out good potatoes from the nasty ones for a local food back (40,000 lbs of potatoes were sorted and bagged for local families).
God has done an amazing thing in this group, and it is my prayer as a youth minister, that their inspiration will translate to transformed lives in the people around them, and they would feel a boldness to spread the light, the goodness of Jesus Christ to anyone who will listen.  Just ask one of our participating young people, and you will find the seeds of a faith that is alive and ready to reach others in love.
-Daniel Griswold, Director of Youth
Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC
 For more information about Revolution check out the website: 

Beginning in Youth Ministry: The Art of Perseverance

never give up churchill

Foundations for Youth Ministry: Perseverance

Albert Einstein is quoted often, saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”  He may have been a physicist but it seems that he knew a bit about youth ministry too.  Youth Ministry is cyclical and many elements remain the same: our core truths and teachings, the liturgical calendar and the repetition of the cycles of middle and high school and then graduations.  We are often doing the same things over and over (though in varying and extremely creative ways).  Case in point: I’m so sick of pizza, but each generation of young people seem to gravitate towards it.  It blows my mind!

Here is a modification: “Youth Ministry: doing the same things over and over again, expecting wildly different results.”  Each person ministered to, whether part of a large or small youth group, over time will own their faith in sometimes extreme variations. I’m always surprised by the energy that explodes from empowered young people, and I love (absolutely LOVE) seeing their ideas become reality.

But the hard part of that same principle is the “doing the same things over and over.”  There is a repetition to ministry, and to relationships in general.  How many times do you ask “How are you doing this week?”  “What’s up?”  “How’s the family”  “What are your plans for the holidays?” “Who are you going to be?”  “How can I help you make your dreams reality?”  “Where is my phone?”  “Seriously! Who took my phone? …and my backpack …with my laptop?!”

Monotony and the ordinary challenges of this ministry (the almost parental worry; safety during events; the many awkward conversations; walking with the teen who has thrown off their faith), means that there is a serious burn out risk in the first year to 18 months of ministry.  Notice earlier that I made a correlation between insanity and youth ministry.  You don’t necessarily have to be insane to jump in, but over time, your heart has to be radically oriented towards care and love of those who so desperately need it.  You will need to constantly refresh your God orientation.  Otherwise, you’ll burn out.

How does one do youth ministry day after day, year after year, and dare I say decade after decade?  The easy answer is “Just do it.”  We all have to.  Young people are everywhere and they need adult guidance.  That helps me, but a more theological response is that ministry to the young is a sacred responsibility given to all of us.  No one can say, “I’m not made for this,” or “I’m too old.”  God has made us the stewards of not only the earth, but of the cultivation of future generations.

Deuteronomy Ch. 6:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

If the love of God is on your heart, share it continually and meticulously with those who are young.  The potential is great, and the results of your perseverance will change lives.  Don’t look at the short-term challenges (just face them).  The real rewards come at the back end.

 

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Beginning in Youth Ministry: Making a Proper Foundation, Planning, and Philosophy

Philosophy Definition

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)