Formulating contextualized visions and philosophies

Where youth ministry is going - Part 3If you missed the past several days of this series, I’m sharing some of the trends I see taking place in youth ministry and the implications they hold for our future. There’s been a lot of great discussion so far! Catch up with the, “Where youth ministry is going,” series with these posts:

Here’s the third trend I see taking place in youth ministry.

3. Formulating contextualized visions and philosophies.

There was a trend for the past 15 years or so where churches just looked to the mega churches and copied whatever Saddle Creek was doing. Churches saw what was happening in their churches and thought, “Wow, we’d really love to have that happen in our church, too!” So they adopted their philosophies and strategies and microwaved a bit to call them their own, which basically meant adding their own labels to what’s essentially the same philosophy. They called it “theirs,” but it really wasn’t.

Thankfully, now I see that our churches are discovering that following the Lord’s plan for someone else’s church really isn’t translating to their community the way we hoped. Maybe we forget that the churches we look to for leadership spent years and years in prayer, deeply pursuing God for His vision for their church and thankfully God blessed those efforts. While we have a lot to learn from churches like this, I think we’re now recognizing that each church must do the same because God has a unique plan and vision for each church that’s only revealed over time through prayer and pursuit of God.

I think we’re learning that cooking someone else’s recipe with different ingredients in a different ministry context just doesn’t give you the same end result. I sense that more and more churches are now taking personal ownership over a process of discovering the Lord’s plan and vision for their specific community. I see a lot of this is starting in the youth ministry world and flowing into the rest of the church.

Formulating a vision with no evaluation

However, here’s my word of caution: there are a lot of churches and ministry organizations who are taking ownership of developing their vision, but once they have the vision somewhat solidified, they jump straight to strategy, which is fine as long as the evaluation piece is put securely in place, as well.


  • How do you know if your strategy is even helping you truly accomplish your vision?
  • How do you know if you’re still heading in the same direction now as you were 5 years ago when you set that vision into motion?
  • Every year new kids come in to your ministry and others leave. How does your ministry morph to work with the specific kids in your ministry?
  • What if something you do in your ministry has very little spiritually influence? Will you know it?
  • How do you know what to eliminate because it’s spiritually weak? Or what to pour yourself into because it’s so powerful?

We think about questions like that, but our evaluation is often very subjective. Sometimes it just comes down to, “Let’s ask some people and see what they think,” and we end up with a team of people pooling their ignorance. Sometimes those people suggest we repeat certain events because, “We had a good turnout,” or, “Everyone seemed to have a good time!” as if those are our goals and the standards by which we evaluate the ministry.

While I’m glad churches are beginning to think for themselves, it’s almost pointless if you don’t set down rails to keep your train pointed in the right direction. Otherwise your burning a lot of fuel and making a lot of noise, but you’re ultimately not going anywhere as a ministry.


I’d love to hear your responses to some of the questions I asked earlier in this post. I really would! It will be helpful not only for us to articulate it together, but also to hear other people’s answers in the contexts of their ministry.

A resource about this

Focused Youth MinistryP.S. My ebook, “Focused Youth Ministry: How to discover God’s vision for your ministry, implement it, and make it sustainable,” deals with this topic directly. In fact, in it I outline a 30-step process that will lead you to not only discovering what God’s unique vision is for your group, but also how to develop a plan to move it forward as well as an evaluation system for tracking the effectiveness of its movement over time.

I actually just released a little animated promo video for the ebook. The next 100 people to pick up a copy can use coupon code “YOUTUBE” to get 50% off!

Posted on January 31, 2012

  • How do you know if your strategy is even helping you truly accomplish your vision?

    1st–Our vision is nearly identical to the vision of the church.
    Church–Leading People into a Transforming Relationship with Jesus Christ through the Gospel
    Student Ministries–Leading Young Men and Women into a Transforming Relationship with Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

    2nd–Ask the students in a private setting and in a public setting.
    a. How do you see God transforming and changing you?
    b. What has God taught you through His Word this week?
    c. Have you had any spiritual, God/Jesus focused discussions–good, bad or ugly–this week with anyone?
    Also, we do know from Scripture that God’s Word will accomplish what He wants it to accomplish, so if the Word is taught, we can trust the Holy Spirit that it will “work”.
    We know that the apostle Paul’s goal according to Colossians 1 is to present everyone mature in Christ, and we know that Christ came to serve and not to be served…so when we see students beginning to serve even in the smallest ways, we know that they are maturing in Christ.
    Of course, students attending matters, but we all have to add to that measurement our own grid for what we are looking for (attitudes of those who attend, new students, involvement in discussion and worship, etc…) because we all may have a different idea of what success looks like when it comes to those who attend.

    How do you know if you’re still heading in the same direction now as you were 5 years ago when you set that vision into motion?

    John Maxwell says that vision leaks and it needs to be repeated to the team every 21 days. You can do that and still not have a good idea if you are going in the same direction. I have found however that when one of the volunteers says something like, “I was praying for the students the other night and realized I need to be more intentional with them about leading them and not just hanging out with them”, it is then that you know and have some hope of the vision that has been presented be it 5 years ago or 10 years ago, because when they say something like that, you have a golden opportunity to then lead that volunteer even greater because they want it and then that one becomes a testimony to the rest and instead of the vision leaking out, the vision begins to leak in.

    Every year new kids come in to your ministry and others leave. How does your ministry morph to work with the specific kids in your ministry?

    In some ways we don’t. Consistent Bible teaching and learning. If before each time we teach we learn of a different kids problem and then begin to throw out the planned lesson to address that one problem, then we will have teaching chaos.

    On the other hand, the morphing happens in the lives of the volunteer leaders who have to be made aware by the youth pastor of the new students and the challenges that may come along with it, good or bad. You may have 3 kids walk in who clearly have very visible problems or you may have a kid come in who is genuinely devoted to Christ and knows the Word. Leadership has to learn how to adapt relationally and be on the same page so that we can maximize each situation and develop the leaders to minister to specific students.

    What if something you do in your ministry has very little spiritually influence? Will you know it?

    I usually realize it when I begin to have that feeling that, “Oh no, I have done all I can to infuse Christ and His Word in to this thing, yet I feel it is ineffective and I think God is giving me another direction, BUT people love it and there will be uproar if I do not continue it.”

    We also have to develop a grid of how to determine if we keep something around or not and what the criteria is. Our student ministry has done “Koaster Kwest” yes, I know it is spelled wrong, where we go to a theme park EVERY year for like a bunch of years. Lots of kids go, it is fun, it costs lots of money, there is nearly no spiritual impact I have seen at all, but we try to make some kind of short optional Bible study handout for the trip there, I try to encourage leaders to have one good spiritual conversation with a student that day and we pray on the bus we are generous to the driver, etc…but each year we do it because, “Well, it is tradition and it is fun.” Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the main thing is that in order for us to hold on to the vision and listen to God’s direction, we have to decide upon how we evaluate each thing we do each year.

    How do you know what to eliminate because it’s spiritually weak? Or what to pour yourself into because it’s so powerful?

    Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

    Eph 1:18-20…that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead

    We know what to pour ourselves into when the Gospel is present in word and also when those who are present leading are leading out of the practical implications of the Gospel such as putting the needs of students above their own desire to fraternize with the other adult leaders in a corner, or when leaders may take the initiative to give something needed to a family who is struggling, or when a leader stays late one night giving up their sleep to talk with a student or family discussing their lives….

    We also have to define what spiritually strong looks like. Maybe:
    a. The increase in the visible expression of the the fruits of the Spirit by those in attendance.
    b. God’s Word coming from the lips of those present is more prevalent
    c. Christians and non-Christians are responding to the Gospel in repentance and faith
    d. Students are taking more responsibility for different areas of ministry
    e. There are people who are desiring to be a part of the ministry but also as happened to Jesus there will be those who are leaving because either you have moved their cheese or your message is becoming stronger.
    f. You are experiencing God doing things that you did not plan on doing: verses coming to your mind that you did not plan to teach, students sharing/praying/confessing like never before, answers to prayer etc…

    I am brought back to my college days when I was taught that the purpose of youth ministry is to “produce spiritually maturing adolescents, fulfilling the great commission, by means of a culturally acceptable vehicle, so that the body of Christ may be edified.” maybe I just gave away where I went to college. :) The point being is that the vehicle by which we do ministry might change but what we are doing does not change. We do need to figure out what those things are that we don’t change and from this little definition, be it perfect or not, does make the point that we are all to be making disciples.

    • I am still mad that I got a 93.4 in that class and Andrea wouldn’t bump it up to an A.

      • Matt Wilmington’s assistant? I remember her. I took the class with Doug Randlett.

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