The youth ministry emphasises making disciples who live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19,20)
In his bestselling book, “Start With Why”, author Simon Sinek explains that all successful ventures must start with a “why”. Most of us are drawn to consider the “what”, and ask questions such as, “What shall we do first?”, or “What shall we do next?”. Such an approach gets things done but it can fail to get done the things that really count. Starting by asking “why”, not only gives us a reason for what we do but it creates a compelling vision that inspires others to come with us.
A young woman had moved to our city to study at university and started attending our church. She had had some previous experience in youth leadership and was keen to be involved so I met with her to talk about what was expected. As we talked she kept asking questions: “Do I need to be there every Friday night?” “How often do I have to call the young girls in my small group?” “Am I expected to meet with them outside of Friday night or watch them play sport?”. Finally, I said that quite simply her role was to help her girls grow to be disciples of Jesus. I could see she loved God and loved young people and so I said that if she made discipleship her focus then all the “what’s” would fall into place.
And she did. She went on to become a very good and reliable leader because she understood why she was leading. It was to love young people and to make disciples. Once this was fixed in her mind everything else naturally followed. She wanted to come along each Friday night and she wanted to go the extra mile in building relationships, all because she grasped the “why”.
This example illustrates the value of taking time to consider why your youth ministry exists. Businesses have long understood the value of a good vision statement and in recent times churches and youth ministries have sought to copy them.
While there is some merit in doing this in order to maintain focus, it is worth keeping in mind that Jesus has already established what our purpose should be and has stated it clearly in Scripture.
The first and second element to this purpose is known as the Great Commandment and was spoken by Jesus as a summary of all the Law of Moses when He responded to a question about which commandment was the most important (Matthew 22:35,36). Jesus gave two answers in response to the question. The first was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) and the second was to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. He then added, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
The third element to our purpose is known as the Great Commission and were the last words spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus instructed His disciples as follows: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
A good vision/mission statement will encompass these three elements: love God, love people and reach people. If you are writing a statement for your ministry to be based around, one that summarises its purpose, look for these three to be present. If your church already has a statement that covers these elements, simply use it as your own. Doing so will reinforce the desire to see the youth ministry as an integral part of the church; not an add-on.
If you are crafting your own statement, it will be tempting for you, the key leader, to come up with it yourself and let others know what it is. Doing so is quick and simple, but it robs people of the opportunity to be involved in the process and the lessons that come from it. As team members and even young people share their thoughts on what the youth ministry’s purpose should be, direct them to Scripture and use their creativity to come up with something Biblical, brief and memorable. Involving them in the process not only gives them understanding; it also gives them a sense of ownership of the mission and vision and makes it easier for them to remember it.
One church I worked for developed a mission statement that I felt would be a good one for us to adopt in the youth ministry. We set about trying to memorise it as a team and whenever we met we would test each other on it but it’s only fault was that it was too long! I’m not sure we ever really nailed it as a team. In hindsight, we should have come up with an abbreviated version that fitted into one short sentence. Not only would it have been easier to remember but the process of working on it would have helped them to remember it.
Once you’ve agreed on a vision/mission statement it’s easy to then forget it and move on to the next task. However, your statement needs to be like a lighthouse, guiding your intentions and governing the short term goals you set making sure that all you do fits with your purpose.
I went through a difficult time in ministry at one church where there was some criticism that we needed “less Bible study and more social events”. Numbers had dropped but as we talked about it as a team we kept coming back to our purpose which was to love God, love each other and make disciples.
We made some minor changes but our purpose kept us on track. Without this clear purpose, we could have compromised what we did and would have missed out on the growth and depth that ensued in the following years.
This then is the real test of the value of a vision or mission statement. It keeps us in line with what God is calling us to do and prevents us from reacting to the demands of people. It also keeps us steady when what we are doing is not always popular with young people or parents. When people are prone to criticise what we are doing we can justify our actions by explaining why we are doing it.
This explanation won’t satisfy everyone but some at least will understand the “why” and be satisfied. For those who are not so easily satisfied, who persist in their criticism, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that what you are doing is pleasing to God even if it’s not pleasing to all His people.
CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS OF A PURPOSEFUL YOUTH MINISTRY
- The ministry has a clearly stated purpose that reflects the Great Commandment.
- The ministry has a clearly stated purpose that reflects the Great Commission.
- A mission/vision statement exists and is owned by the whole youth leadership team who have had a part in agreeing to it.
- Where the wider church has a Biblical mission/vision statement the youth ministry has assessed it and adopted it in word, if not in spirit.
- The young people are regularly reminded of the youth ministry’s purpose: its mission/vision.
- The mission/vision statement is reflected in the programming and activities of the youth ministry.
- The mission/vision statement is reflected in the goals that the youth ministry regularly sets.
- The youth ministry is regularly assessed in the light of its stated purpose.
- The ministry is effectively reaching out to outsiders with the purpose of making disciples.
- The ministry is producing mature disciples who love God and love others.