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Diane, after six months in her youth ministry role, asked, “What can I do when my vision for youth ministry is so different from my church’s vision?” I gave her three choices:

  • Change your vision
  • Change your church
  • Change your church

Option 1: Change Your Vision. Too many churches make the short-sighted decision to ask their newly hired youth staff to tell the church what its vision for youth ministry should be. This expectation is responsible for more derailed, inconsistent, unsustainable youth ministries than any other culprit I can imagine.

Consider this imaginary case study: First Church hires Jon as its youth director. Jon is “purpose-driven” and begins implementing a full-blown purpose driven model. But about the time his vision is starting to catch on, he heads off to seminary. The interim staff and volunteers decide that the youth are totally missing the church’s distinct denominational heritage. They throw out every last vestige of “purpose-driveness,” join the denominational network, and immediately order $1,000 of “our” curriculum.

Nine months after Jon’s departure, the new youth director is hired. She is a fan of family-based youth ministry. She humors the denominational fanatics, but begins in earnest with her family-based emphasis, which almost works. But in two and a half years, her growing family requires her to step down. During the interim, Contemplative Youth Ministry becomes the rage. Youth and parents are more than happy to give up the half-baked encumbrance of including families in the youth ministry, and they begin passionately implementing the contemplative style.

Rather than jerk and pull their congregations through yet another competing vision, the wise youth worker will adjust his or her vision to match the long-term vision of the church.

Option 2: Change Your Church: Sometimes God calls a youth worker to help shape a church’s long-term vision for youth ministry. But the youth worker must serve as a midwife, not a salesperson. More than selling ideas, the youth staff person must lead his or her congregation through a process of discerning together the church is uniquely called to do and then equip a team of long-term stakeholders to invest the 5-10 years it will take to make this vision a reality.

Option 3: Change Your Church: If your vision for youth ministry is diametrically opposed to that of your church, if you cannot in good conscience help the church fulfill its vision for youth ministry, it’s time for you to leave. Nothing can be gained by the polarization that is certain to occur when the visions of key leaders simply do not mesh.

As a youth worker, you must become a steward of a vision larger than your own. Your mission is to help your church discern its own vision, not to import a vision that you likely won’t be around long enough to fulfill.

Mark DeVries is a youth pastor and founder of Youth Ministry Architects, a youth ministry coaching service that works with individual churches to establish sustainable, deep-impact youth ministries (www.YMArchitects.com).

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