Game Plan 2021: Keeping Your Ministry Purpose Breathing
By Mark Pittman • interlinc Guru • Newport Beach, California
I am a purpose-driven youth ministry freak. Although I have dog-eared the book of that name to death, my youth ministry mentor was the one who got me frothing at the mouth about the importance of having a clear, thought-out purpose for our youth ministry.
I was part of a fabulous youth ministry as a teenager. That youth ministry worked to reach students and make disciples. But getting that kind of youth ministry started from scratch was a complete unknown to me. When I took my first youth ministry job, I put my mentor on speed dial and began to pick his brain about how to create a solid purpose statement and then make it real in our ministry.
I thought, I just get a big cup of coffee, my Bible, and a piece of paper – but as I shared my plan with my Yoda, he assured me that this was going to be a painful process. He smiled an “oh, you’re in for it now” smile, then said, “Here’s what you need to do. Schedule a working overnighter – tell the students that this overnighter is only for those who care about seeing God do something in this group – and tell them they will work.” Here’s what he told me to do on the overnighter:
- “You Choose” – A brilliant place to start. He told me to draw a line down a big pad of paper and then write “group “on one side and “ministry” on the other. Then have the kids come up with the differences between being a “youth group” and a “youth ministry.” When you have a good list going, ask them if they’d rather be a “youth group” or a “youth ministry.” Your students will choose ministry. From then on you never ever refer to your “youth group” – it’s always “youth ministry.”
- What are we doing? Time for a new sheet on the big pad. Have the students call out statements of what a “youth ministry” should be doing. You may need to remind them about some things and encourage them to think hard. When you have 20-30 items up there, it’s time to consolidate. Your purpose statement should have 4-5 components – any more and it won’t be focused enough. Group together ideas that are alike, then craft the right wording for each part of your purpose statement. After 2.5 hours of work and discussion, here’s what we produced: To take high school students from the point of contact to the place where they are Christians, growing in their life with Christ, and influencing their world for Christ.
- “We know where we’re going, now how are we going to get there?” Purpose is the “where” and values are the “how.” The values are the issues that are important, the convictions that will drive you on your way. After a serious break (caffeine is good), get to a blank page on the pad and get the students to start listing concepts that are important. You’re looking for issues that are foundational. You’ll end up with a long list that you’ll have to whittle down, looking for about 6 or 7. These should be things that can be seen and evaluated in your ministry. Our ministry also created “dipsticks” – simple ways that we could know that we were operating in our values. For example, the value of “God’s Word” had the dipstick of “we bring our Bibles to youth ministry” and “we have God’s word memorized.” Both were observable actions that we could evaluate and work to improve.
- Read it. Know it. Live it. Your purpose and values are where you’re going and how you’re going to get there so they need to be on your office wall, your youth room, and in the front of the minds of your staff. We had a deal that at any time a student could walk up to a staff person and ask them to recite the purpose statement and values, if the staff person couldn’t do it, they had to buy the student a coke on the spot.
COVID-19 has given us all the opportunity to revise our 2021 GAME PLAN! This “Strategic Ministry/Discipleship” Feature Article and 5 others from the latest edition of Youth Leaders Only gives you a great foundation for your plan. Click here to join now and get all of the articles plus tons of music/media-based resources for your youth ministry!
Programming Inside It
With a strong purpose statement in hand, you can now make sure that every event/activity that you create will accomplish some part of your purpose – and you can trim away anything that doesn’t. A real benefit is in knowing that anytime an elder, pastor, or parent wants to know why you’re doing something, you get to explain it in light of your purpose statement. I remember a church member scoffing about us going to Disneyland. I took the time to share how we made sure that every student that went with us would be with a leader, and how the time waiting in line was a relational investment in the “point of contact” part of our purpose statement. This type of planning also can give you some serious freedom in how you plan. The “we’ve always done it this way” events can fade to the creation of events that actually accomplish your ministry purpose.
Consistent Evaluation and Communication
A big part of our purpose and values process came when we wrestled with how to bring new students to our ministry into the whole process, especially when they were not there for the “drafting” of the statement. We created two events during the year where we would invite new students (especially new 9th graders) to come and hear about the purpose. Our Core Advance was a time in the fall to invite those same students committed to seeing God work in our ministry. We pulled out the purpose statement and put it on the table to reevaluate. Surprisingly, we never changed it – maybe because of the hard work we did at the first, or that the students could see how we were working to accomplish all the elements of it. We had the “newbies” hear the story of how it was crafted, and then we would talk about how we would strive to continue to meet our purpose in the next year. In the January checkup meeting, we went through the dipsticks of our values and grading the youth ministry. The students would work to create ways to improve values that received a low grade. The ownership of the values then went way beyond just the leaders, but deep into our core students.
It’s Not What We Do For Them…
A simple statement my mentor gave me was written on my heart throughout this whole process: “Youth ministry is not what we do for students, but what they do for God. Our role isn’t to get them to make us successful in our ministry, but to enable them to be successful in their ministry.” The cool thing about being a “youth ministry” is that even though you are ministering to them, it’s also about how your “youth minister.” I hope that your students realize that you’re helping them to do exactly what God has for them right now, not just when they “grow up.”