It goes without saying - we should have a balance of culture and scripture in Youth Ministry. But, there is a reality of the Youth Ministry setting that leans far to the culture setting model. There is a reality of the Youth Ministry setting that cannot be learned in a book or a classroom. I've seen this play out many times as young leaders step into positions of leadership. And right now, with many transitions in Youth Ministry across the country, I want to address some practical foundational strategies for starting a Youth Ministry with an emphasis upon scripture over culture.One of the elementary tasks of the Youth Pastor is to lead students and leaders to develop their own spiritual formation and to build disciples with the word of God in mind. The Youth Pastor must give attention to the theological dimensions of ministry. A ministry that is deeply rooted in the truths of scripture will be one of great success. A ministry deeply rooted in the traditions of culture will be one of many failures.
The Youth Pastor's main focus is not about being culturally sound, having regular campus access, attending ball games, and creating events. These are important. But, the purpose for all of these things comes after a concentrated attention to the theological task necessary for the establishment of spiritual formation and discipleship in the students. Remember, the greatest commandment of Christ was to love the Lord your God with all of your heart.
With that in mind, here are some foundational prax to help with starting a new Youth Ministry:
1. Dedicate at least 18-22 hours weekly to the study of God's word. This is one practice of mine that has driven my ministry from the beginning. If you do not schedule significant time in the Word of God, the ideology of the culture will shape your ministry. That is a dangerous place to be. We cannot raise students in the Church who are ignorant of the Bible. Only 30% of teens in the Church can name 5 of the 10 Commandments. You can blame the home all you want, but, the Youth Ministry cannot be lacking in theology any longer. If we are going to speak into a post-modern and humanistic society, we must raise a generation with a deep faith.
2. What you get them with you keep them with. Be yourself. Value genuineness over ingenuity and character over creativity. Don't try and create a roller coaster for thrills and the bump in attendance. Because the students may expect a bigger roller coaster next time. The Law of Diminishing Returns is a reality. What gets my attention one time, may not get my attention the next. You are the one returning factor in the ministry mix. Fads come and go. Fathers do not. Build the Youth Ministry with your strengths and not your weaknesses. Do not desire another person's gift. Develop your own.
3. Annually attend a conference on Ministry. Some of the greatest moments in my 31 years of ministry have been at conferences. It could be a Youth Ministry Conference or a general Leadership event, or even a Youth Strategy session or Summit. The tools gained from veterans can make the road a little easier. Levels are reached and lids are removed in these settings and dreams are inspired. If you want to do something you've never done, speak with someone who has been there and done that.
4. Build relationships with another Youth Pastor or Leader outside your Church. This could be a Christian principal, teacher, or coach in the local school, or, another Youth Leader or District official in the region. A monthly mentoring meeting will yield great results from one great mind to another. It could be a peer or another leader who is more experienced. Another opportunity similar to this would be to involve yourself in the area ministerial association. You will experience great conversation from all kinds of theological world views around breakfast or lunch with paid and volunteer Youth Leaders. If you want to do something that you have never done, you must find someone who has been there and done it. You cannot do this alone.
5. Develop Leadership regularly. Beyond simple recruiting, the leadership development component is a necessary element of leadership continually over time. Be watchful of the leadership leak. Do great mid-course correction. Pull the team back to center where there is drift from the mission. REGULAR MONTHLY OR BI-WEEKLY MEETINGS ARE A MUST. To be honest, it is a matter of commitment. I hear people say often that they don't have the time. I don't agree with that. You will make time for the things that add value. One thing that could aide in this - create a weekly small group out of your leadership team for better communication and development.
6. Do not let the Youth Ministry become a silo. Remember, the Youth Ministry is a part of the whole Church. Do not become separated from the adults. As a Youth Leader, when is the last time you prayed with or spoke to an adult? In the congregational setting make sure that you are not only in relationship with the students. Speak to parents often and have an annual parent night. Be a team player on the staff and support other ministries with your time and prayers. It is not enough to have a MULTI-generational setting of every age group. We must intentionally become INTER-generational in our operation. That means that we are in relationship to each other and not just simply existing under the same structure.
7. Love like nobody else. The world defines love differently than the Church today. It is extremely conditional. And our students are raised in this. Thus, the Church must define love differently from the world today. Love is extremely un-conditional in the bible. One of the principles that I learned early in my ministry was to take care of people and that God would take care of me. Remind students and leaders that you love them. Say it from the front and say it often. It is potent. You can love a teenager and make them do anything. When a Youth Ministry models love, it becomes viral. I think students will come from every direction for acceptance and affirmation. Love is the seedbed of healthy ministry.
8. Pray. Personal and public prayer. We have tried everything to grow Youth Ministry in America. Event-based models, small group models, outreach models, graded and step models, and relational models have all been written about widely and taught in conferences nationally. But, the one thing that is missing at most settings is prayer. I hear all the time that 'kids want to play and they don't want to pray.' And, that we should be doing great sociology. Trust me, I believe that Youth Leaders should be the greatest Sociologists on the planet. But, while that is true, there is a hole in teenagers and young adults that can only be filled by prayer. There must be a greater lean to the supernatural in Youth Ministry. If you want to try something that nobody is doing - try prayer.
The most important things are usually the first things. They set the pace. They set a course. They become the language. What are you defining as the culture of your setting? Use these practical points to shape Youth Ministry. Without accurate and practical biblical teaching, the church will be under-developed and ineffective against the rise of post-modern thought. Sound practical principles can be the foundation of supernatural spiritual formation and outreach at your church.