The ideal youth ministry starts with the ideal leader

Anyone who’s read me long enough knows that I always push identity over function in ministry. Who you are in ministry should determine what you do in ministry, but unfortunately a lot of us get that backwards. As the task-driven people we are, we look at what youth ministry should do rather than what it should be and therefore we’re always looking for the next best curriculum, the next big event, and next cool game that will hopefully keep kids interested and involved.

If we’re honest, this approach is sometimes tiresome, but then we approach our job as youth workers with the same task-oriented perspective. It’s easy to approach ministry from a “doing” perspective because it creates a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when the to-do list has several items checked off (nevermind the 10 additional tasks we added in the meantime).

What if our youth ministries were known more for what they are rather than what they do? What if every kid in town knew our ministry as, “Yeah, that’s the place where everyone feels loved and accepted,” instead of, “Oh yeah, that’s the church that goes on the ski trip every year, right?” Ski trips are fine and all, but we don’t do ski trips just because that’s what youth group’s do. We go on ski trips because there’s something about us that compels us to do it.

The ideal youth ministry starts with us, the leaders. The ideal youth pastor isn’t the person who can fulfill the longest bullet-point list job description of functions; it’s the person who knows who he/she is in ministry and let’s everything else in ministry flow from that. For this person, everything stems from two things: love and passion.

The ideal youth pastor…

Passionately loves God. They are devoted to studying scripture for themselves, to constant prayer, worship and sharing Him with others.

Passionately loves their family. They place their family before ministry and invest time into them more than anyone or anything else.

Passionately loves students. A gimme, yes, but not to be taken for granted.

Passionately loves free time. They regularly take time off from ministry to relax and re-energize and they don’t feel bad about it!

Passionately leaves a legacy. They know people are watching them and they live the godly example contagiously.

Passionately leads the ministry. They set the tone and vision for the ministry and remember that they’re a leader before they’re a friend.

If you can be that and let ministry flow from it, you’ll do exactly what your ministry needs.

Posted on December 19, 2007

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  • amen! i am finding the uphill battle at transitioning from the old regime into the ministry God is calling me (and my volunteers) to institute in our church. We announced our winter retreat and (after several other smaller changes along the way as well) immediately the flak flew because things would be different (no mp3 players or cell phones will be allowed). it is truly an uphill battle when trying to transition a ministry from the ministry that is known for what it does (which is what we were/are) into what it is (where we are headed).

  • I agree completely. This is really a great post. So many churches define youth ministry by events and responsibilities, instead of allowing the youth minister to use his or her gifts and abilities to reach out to teens in new ways. I want to be known for what I love, instead of what I am against. Thanks Tim

  • Great reminder at the end of the year, that who we are is more important than what we do. Thanks Tim. If I may, I’ll leave a couple of my favourite quotes, which have been instrumental on keeping me on the right track from time to time.

    ‘The key to effective Christian youth work is people – people in whose lives Christ is alive, and who will open themselves to young people, not talk down to them, not dominate them with attractive personalities, but who show them how to love one another as Christ has commanded.’ Mark Ashton.

    ‘The youth worker is not primarily a talker or organiser; he is a model, a person who by the power of his Christian example motivates a dedication to Jesus Christ.’ Lawrence Richards.

  • Tim,

    Great job man. This is a must read for those who are starting out in the ministry like myself. Thanks for the encouragement.


  • Great list…as a now former youth pastor current church planter, this is well balanced list. I agree Tim it all starts with love and passion. When you have a passion for God and your family that will overflow into your love for students and ministry.

  • The thing I thought of after I posted this is that neither love nor passion can be manufactured. Trying to make yourself passionate doesn’t work. Trying to fake love turns people off faster than anything else. It’s gotta be real or everything else is pointless.

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  • Very true Tim…passion – you either have it or you don’t. I know I always come back to numerical growth, but I really believe passion about what you are doing is one key to it as well as depth in a youth ministry.

  • Tim…
    As always… love you and this blog.

    I love your emphasis: we’re human beings… not human doings. That just resonates with my soul. A big fat YES to love and passion!

    Wondering: Where does intentionally training (students and volunteers) and multiplying our love and passion through them fit in your description of an ideal youth pastor? (How many times have we seen a youth pastor move on to another position or ministry–and though he.she may be remembered for love and passion–the youth ministry being left limps along for a while and folds up shop… until the next youth pastor comes? Can a youth pastor BE considered “ideal” without training up successors?) Should this training and equipping students and volunteers be a part of the DNA of WHO a youth pastor is? Or is training, mentoring, equipping, and multiplying too much on the “doing” part?

    I’m not asking leading questions here… I’m seriously wondering what the thoughts are out there…

    Blessings and Merry Christmas Tim…

  • @ Bill: Yeah, training is definitely a huge thing for a youth ministry leader. I see it as a function that flows out of the passion for leading the ministry, although I didn’t explicitly state it there or many other “functions” for that matter.

    Thanks for pointing that out, Bill!

  • @ Bill … the big point in this is that we reproduce who we are…if love and passion are two of our values and character traits they will be reproduced in those we lead.

  • Because the big point is that we reproduce who we are–I think my questions are valid.

    As I processed the big point… I had questions.

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