college travels

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Youth Ministry - Ego + Equipping others = Sustainability?

I have been thinking a bit more recently about some ideas from Mark DeVries' book, Sustainable Youth Ministry.  

One of his most interesting ideas was that of the Architect-Building Manager-Construction Worker.  The architect comes up with the youth ministry strategy, the building manager makes sure the strategy is implemented, and the construction workers do the work to get it all done (with Jesus as The Holy Spirit as equipment and OH&S officer?).  DeVries particularly advocates having Building Managers who are long-term members of the congregation so that when (not if, in his experience) the youth minister moves on after three or four years, the youth ministry doesn't fall in a heap because there are people who will remain in the church long time who can keep a ministry moving forward.  Given that DeVries heads an organisation called 'Youth Ministry Architects' it's no surprise that he suggests that the architect of a local youth ministry be external consultants.

The problem in most of our churches though is that if the Building manager is to be a layperson we'll be waiting a long time to find the right one, and there's always likely to be an unhelpful power play with the youth minister.  The senior minister should be that person but they generally don't want to have to think that hard about the youth ministry.  And the youth minister would prefer to be that person so they can call the shots.

When it comes to the architect, though Youthworks has filled this role to a large extent for a number of youth ministries (via the College or regional advisors), this work tends to operate mostly with smaller ministries and start-ups (either new ministries or new ministers), and even for those who have started that way, over time our hope is that they would develop the expertise and wisdom to take on that role themselves.  At Youthworks we're in partnership with the longer-serving youth ministers around Sydney to together come up with plans that will promote the Kingdom of Christ in our city (perhaps our work is as town-planners?  Devising development guidelines?).  But in the end, it's the local church that is the centre of ministry, and the local church youth minister who best knows their local situation and (ought to be) equipped to apply fundamental principles and priorities of youth ministry in that setting.

So... what if the youth minister  is someone filling all of these roles, but filling these roles in partnership with other members of the church, both the local church and the fellowship of churches (the denomination)?

Youth ministers are all local architects (they know theory and the local situation), they have the ongoing relationship with the youth leaders to be building managers, and they still have skills in engaging with teenagers to be construction workers.

The key of course is for them to not be attempting to do all this on their own.  They already enlist others to join as fellow construction workers (youth leaders), but is it practical at all for them to be looking for fellow building managers (in the larger youth ministries these would be the assistant youth ministers, the leader of different sections of the ym), and fellow architects.

The fellow architect one is perhaps most contentious but I think the contentiousness stems from two things.  The biggest challenge is that other than youth ministers (and probably other than experienced, senior youth ministers) there aren't many people in our churches or leadership teams who have their heads screwed on properly about youth ministry.  So to enlist a congregation member or the senior minister to help 'design' the youth ministry strategy is often a recipe for conflict and debilitating compromise.  So, it's just easier to 'go it alone'.  The danger though comes from the other challenge (to getting a youth minister to share the role of 'architect'), that youth ministers have big egos.

I've written about youth ministry ego elsewhere in this blog.  My fear is that our ego diminishes our ministries as much as it diminishes ourselves.  Is it ego that in the end, prevents a youth minister from looking to share the responsibility of architecture and building management with others?  Because of our big egos we don't want another congregation member or ministry team leader to intrude on our realm, and we certainly don't want the leader of another realm (another youth minister, or youth ministry organisation) to come and colonise ours!  But isn't this just unhelpful ego?

Instead, should youth ministers be training other members of the church in youth ministry theory and strategy?  If a youth minister were to decide that they had all the skills needed to disciple the young people in the church and therefore didn't need any other youth leaders to help out, we'd say that they're dreamin'.  We'd say that their ego has got in the way of effective ministry.  And even if they said, 'but there's no one in the church who has any skills for leading teenagers', we'd tell him to start doing some leadership training.  Is it right then for youth ministers to train up fellow architects and fellow building managers as well?  

Should a youth minister take responsibility for encouraging their senior minister to grow in his understanding of youth ministry theory and strategy?  Urge the senior minister to go to the Theology of Youth Ministry Conference, the Youth Ministry Conference, the Youth Ministry Intensives?  Surely that investment of time will help smooth the way for youth ministry in the church, as well as be a benefit to the next youth minister that comes along after the current youth minister leaves, or be a benefit to the youth minister at the new church that the senior minister one day leaves for?

Should a youth minister take responsibility for encouraging established congregation members as fellow building managers?  That gives a role to older members of the congregation (a useful expansion of the age range of a youth leadership team) who might not have particularly fine gifts in relating to teenagers.  They're able to be trained and equipped to be fully on board with the youth ministry strategy and able to add the organisational management that can often be lacking.

This would help establish the youth ministry of the church but perhaps needs to be done at the expense of establishing the youth minister.  Perhaps (following the line of Robert Forsyth's latest blog on this adds a bi-polar authority structure into what is currently a mono-polar structure.

And perhaps then, in that sort of climate (another one of DeVries' helpful ideas) we'd be more open to learning from other youth ministers, and thereby more open to engaging helpfully with one another to promote The Kingdom instead of my kingdom.

It might not happen overnight, and without any effort on the part of youth ministers (and youth ministry advisors and educators?) it won't happen at all.  It seems to me a way of moving away from the isolation of the one-eared Mickey Mouse, of moving beyond the distraction of our competitiveness, and of applying the central command of Christian ministry - John 3:30, 'He must increase, I must decrease'.


  • Hey thanks Graham this article is very helpful.. although I'm looking at long term leadership as a Youth Minister @ St Marks I'm also looking for older congregation members to impart knowledge & training to who already support the ministry, I'm thankful the God has also put on team an older guy who supports & helps me considerably. This will take time & a lot of prayer. Thankful that I have not stopped learning as the ministry develops.

    Steve Ryman

    By Blogger Stevo, at 6:32 pm  

  • Hi GS,

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    Here are some of my thoughts:

    1. Has DeVries confused 'principles' with 'strategy'? There are many strategies but key principles (e.g. Bible Foucs etc..)

    2. Where do families and parents fit in to DeVries scheme? I haven't read the book unfortunately.

    3. The Senior Minister question. I agree it would be great if the senior minister came to all those conferences! But is that realistic. Maybe we (I mean you :)) need a conference/training seminar where someone comes to the church and talks about all the ministries in an integrated way. So all the staff are together with key leaders and for x amount of days they talk through the issues. Thoughts?

    See you around.


    By Blogger Mickyd, at 11:19 am  

  • 1. Not sure whether principles and strategies are his words or mine. I agree that there are key principles (and I'd add 'priorities') where there can be a lot of agreement, with local strategies that we can (and probably will) continue to debate and discuss.

    2. Families isn't a major focus of this book, but DeVries has written the seminal book on family ministry and youth ministry - see

    3. I wasn't suggesting the SnrMin come to ALL of them, but one of them might not be out of the question.

    I do like the idea of getting a whole staff team on board with best practice ideas in c&ym, which is essential if you're moving to a more family integrated model of ministry.

    Having someone to go out and spend a few days at the one church sounds nice, and nice and expensive! - we'd really need to have a few people come; will churches (in Australia) pay? DeVries heads up the "Youth Ministry Architects" ( who seem to do just what you're talking about. It's worth thinking about how we could follow some similar principles??

    By Blogger Graham Stanton, at 8:38 am  

  • Interesting thoughts.

    Something I'm trying this year is to enlist a bunch of older church members to mentor and support the youth leaders - informally through conversations at church and formally by praying at 7pm on friday nights and taking their mentoree out for coffee+chat once a month.

    My reasoning behind this is that as the youth leadership team grows in number, my effectiveness at mentoring them diminishes - so why not ask mature Christian church members to help?

    What you've written gets me thinking that I can then also train the mentors in our method/building plan for the youth ministry, and those mentors are involved at the level of encouraging and praying for youth leaders ... so that if/when I move on from All Saints, there's not just one 'Building manager', but a whole team of people who understand the plan and can contribute to keeping the plan going.

    By Anonymous Matt Jacobs, at 12:13 am  

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