The youth ministry has a conscious culture based on shared Biblical values and unique strengths.
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
In my first year as a youth pastor I did something I now tell youth leaders never to do. I had just completed a one year internship in an effective and vibrant youth ministry and when I was appointed to lead in a different church I copied most of what I had experienced into that church: programmes, leadership structure… everything!
By the grace of God it worked, but despite that, I don’t recommend it. To begin with, doing this removes the need for dependence upon God. Yes, we can learn from others, but copying what they do means that we risk relying on man for effectiveness and not on God.
That aside, it is best not to copy what works for another church because every church and every youth ministry is different. They function in different communities, contain different people and a different mix of leaders.
Instead of copying what works for someone else, a leadership team needs to understand their own values: the things that they believe are important to a ministry and the things that make it unique. These values may change over time but generally they remain consistent and stable contributing to the sustainability and health of a youth ministry.
Having determined what our purpose is, and before we start to develop strategies and programmes, a ministry needs to understand what its values are.
When Paul was writing his letter to the church in Philippi, he stated unequivocally that knowing Christ was more important to him than all the measures of religiosity he had once held dear (Philippians 3:8). This was a value that characterised and informed his ministry. Other ministry values held by Paul are found in the description of himself as an Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) and his calling to preach the gospel in those places where Christ has never been heard (Romans 15:20).
A values-based ministry is one that reflects a culture of shared core ideals that reflect Biblical purposes and drive the way a youth ministry operates. Leaders epitomise the values by the way they lead and the decisions they make, and this contributes to a sense of unity and community both among leaders and within the youth ministry itself.
Values tend to be established in one of two ways. The first are those emphases you as youth leaders feel passionately about based on your understanding of Scripture, your experience and even the way God has wired you. If these values are not already present in your youth ministry, you set about making them true through setting goals and devising strategies.
In my first year of ministry I was listening to a message by a well known pastor and in it he said something that had a radical effect on my values and consequently, the way our youth ministry operated. He said, “The church is primarily about people and so we need to look for those with people related gifts and promote them into leadership.”
Up to that point our youth leaders we good organisers who each had a responsibility to make the youth ministry run effectively. When I shared this message with our leaders, we discussed it and all agreed that we needed to appoint small group leaders who would pastorally care for and disciple our young people.
We had adopted a new value and it changed the way we did things.
The second way values are established is by looking at what God has been doing in the youth ministry over recent times, and how He has been doing it. These are the distinctive things people notice about your youth ministry – things that are both Biblical and positive.
Values therefore state what should be and what is. They indicate what strengths you intend to develop and what strengths you intend to capitalise on.
I was providing coaching for a youth pastor who told me that a number of his young people would attend other youth ministries in his city because they loved the loud music and the sense of excitement generated in a larger group. When he asked them why they kept coming back to his group, each reply included one word: “family”. Relationships with peers and with adult leaders was a strength that God had grown in that youth ministry and one that the leaders continued to emphasise and capitalise upon.
To help you and your leadership team identify and establish your values, consider the following six questions:
- What are our non-negotiables when it comes to youth ministry?
- If someone was describing your youth ministry, what would you love to hear them say?
- What makes our youth ministry unique?
- What comes to mind when you consider the statement, “I wish our youth ministry was more…”
- What are our youth ministry’s greatest strengths? What do we do well?
- What do you believe are the characteristics of an effective youth ministry?
There are many good and helpful values a youth ministry can adopt. The issue is often not one of correctness but one of appropriateness. Two youth ministries in the same town might both be effectively and faithfully fulfilling God’s purposes and yet have different values because God wants them to have complementary strengths and a different appeal.
How many values should a youth ministry have? There is no set number. However, less is usually more. If you have too many, leaders will have trouble remembering them, much less developing strategies to capitalise on them. Three to five core values is a good number. Of course, you may have more underlying values that you reference from time to time but these are not necessarily ones that everyone remembers and works towards.
CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS OF A VALUE-BASED YOUTH MINISTRY
- A clearly apparent culture that reflects Biblical values exists within the youth ministry.
- The values that the youth ministry regards as being significant reflect important Biblical principles and emphases.
- The values of the youth ministry are reflected in the way leaders lead and the decisions they make.
- The values held are consistent and change only slowly over time.
- The shared values create a sense of unity and collective commitment among the youth leaders.
- Values are in part based on what leaders want the youth ministry to become.
- Values are in part based on what the youth ministry already is, thanks to God’s influence.
- The number of values is not so great that leaders are unable to remember them all.
- The youth leaders have a good understanding of what makes their youth ministry unique.
- The values are used to inform decisions around the setting of goals and strategies.