In addition to all the extra tasks and events during the Christmas season, it’s also one of the busiest times in ministry. There are Advent services, volunteer opportunities, meetings, social events, and parties. Plus it’s almost January, so we’re making sure summer camps and mission trips are booked. We’re all running a million miles an hour.
Getting caught up in the tyranny of the now, or setting a calendar of stuff “to do” next year, we can easily forget one key question: “Who am I programming for?” Before assembling a bunch of plans and calendar fillers, before holding trainings and meetings, ponder this: “When students graduate from this ministry, who do I hope they’ll have become?”
The question isn’t what or even how, but who.
Consider: If a family joins your church with a brand-new baby and that child grows up in your faith community, who would you like to see him or her eventually become? That type of visionary strategy will change the way you approach ministry in 2023.
Here are some steps for figuring this out:
- Think Details—What qualities do you want young people to embody when they move past youth group? Don’t just throw out broad statements such as “They’ll be fully devoted disciples of Jesus.” What does that look like exactly? Will they read their Bibles three times a day and be able to recount long passages of memorized Scripture? Will they know what it means to belong to Jesus? Will they go on mission trips and serve the poor? Will they enter full-time ministry? Pray about this and ask Jesus what he’s thinking. Then make a long list of your highest hopes for the next generation of young adults currently under your care. Don’t gloss over this!
- Don’t Get Hung Up on the “What If’s”—It’s easy to wonder, “What if students fall away from the faith? What if they’re apathetic? What if parents become disconnected?”—and so on. This is just another way we become narrowly focused on the here and now, lacking vision. Only Jesus knows people’s hearts and how he’ll transform them to be more like him. So avoid getting stuck on all the “would, should, could” questions. With a clear vision, you can adjust programming along the way to fit current situations. Resources such as Growing Young (Fuller Institute) and Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry (Group) can help. Both books encourage you to move beyond thinking about current struggles toward the people God is molding under your care. Remember: You might never see exactly what Jesus does with the foundation you’re building during these impressionable years.
- Be a Peninsula, Not an Island—Ideally, young people will grow up in your church, but the reality is that youth ministry often attracts students who visit with friends. Their parents might be unchurched or attend elsewhere. With a larger vision in mind, it’s vital that you don’t become an island off doing your own thing. Instead, consider your youth ministry as a peninsula. It’s attached to the larger land mass—the church body—so it won’t become autonomous. When setting an overall vision, work with the whole staff. That way, kids being raised in your church can continue growing, rather than start over, when they reach adolescence. Because many families have a wide age-range of kids, meet with the entire church staff to brainstorm connecting points. Parents stay at a church when they feel connected and when their children are nurtured.
In your journey of ministering to students, the key is to focus on the destination first. After you know where you’re going, then you can plan the journey’s details. With a clear vision in place about who will walk out your ministry’s doors someday, all the programming, lessons, and meetings will align.