Friday, April 17, 2009

Learning to Use Ministry Models

My Freshman year at Oak Hills Bible College in Bemidji (otherwise known as Buuurrrmidji), MN I began my paid youth ministry career. I was hired (along with the woman who is now my wife) to do youth ministry in a small town. At the age of 17 I began a quest to change the world for Jesus. I had huge dreams and a lot of energy, but I had no idea what I was doing. There were "kids" in the youth group that were older than I was. My model of youth ministry was to do whatever my uncle told me to do (he was a pastor in the area) and have a Bible study with the "students". Looking back that was probably a pretty good youth ministry model for that time and place. Ya, I said model.

You might be thinking, "that's not a model." It wasn't an intentional model, but it was a model. I didn't put a lot of thought into it. I didn't sit down and try to figure out what our mission statement was, what our ministry philosophy was, or what values we were trying to incorporate into the ministry. That was way beyond me! Still that model isn't that much different than what I have done for most of my ministry experience (except the part where I do what my uncle tells me to). Over the years I have become more strategic in how I approach ministry which has caused me to tweak and mess with various models of ministry in order to best accomplish the great commandments and the great commission in my context.

For the first five years of my ministry experience I really didn't know what I was doing. I was simply making it up as I went. The first time I received training that really helped me begin to think strategically was at a Sonlife Strategies Seminar (no longer offered). Many people don't look at what Sonlife taught as a model, but models were presented as a way to carry out the strategy which was being proposed. Later I would be exposed to the Willow Creek model, the Purpose Driven model, the Student Led Cell Group model, and others.

Recently "ministry models" as a whole have come under attack. This attack shows a lack of understanding when it comes to the value of models themselves. There is no perfect model which can transcend every cultural context. Chap Clark makes this very point in chapter six of Starting Right, "No one model should ever be revered as the model. In reality they all have weaknesses and strengths."

So what do we do with all of these ministry models? Can any of them be helpful? The simple answer is yes. Models are wonderful for the following reasons:
  • They provide focus.
  • They provide a way of thinking about ministry.
  • Good models are based on good theology and strategic thinking in relation to the context in which they were developed.
  • They provide a starting point for developing a model specific to your context.
A good youth pastor learns how to exegete his context for ministry and develop a strategy or model that will help him be successful in that context. This is not a new concept, but it seems that it is often forgotten. The incarnation of God the Son is based on this very concept. God had a specific mission in mind (Redeeming mankind) and a specific context in which it must take place. God then decided on a model (the incarnation) through which to accomplish His purpose.

"Every model, whether involving sweeping changes or prescribing minor adjustments, began with someone asking important systemic, structural, programmatic, or strategic questions in the light of a given need or setting." (Chap Clark, Starting Right, p. 110) Ministry should always be relational, but there will always be programs. Ministry should always be contextualized, but there will always be models.

The question is not whether we follow a particular model of ministry but whether or not we have rightly understood our own context and made the appropriate modifications to make a particular model work for us, making that model our own.

In my own experience understanding how others have approached youth ministry in their context has equipped me to think more strategically about how to approach ministry in my context. I have used bits and pieces from a variety of models over the years and it is my familiarity with these models that has allowed me to better use the tools available.

Use the following questions to help you begin to think through what your model of ministry will be in your particular context:
  • What is the model of ministry my church has subscribed to? (This is essential there should be continuity throughout all the ministries of your church)
  • What is the strategy behind that model? Will that strategy work with the youth?
  • What are the core theological and philosophical principals upon which you are building your model?
  • What needs to be tweaked in order to make that strategy work? (Don't confuse strategy with programming. There should be continuity in programming as well, but that does not mean the programs will not be executed differently i.e. music, drama, location, atmosphere, etc...)
  • What programs will make the overall strategy work? (small groups, large group, leadership structure, etc...)
These questions will just get you started. Don't stop questioning what you are doing. Every year I examine what we have done the previous year and how well that worked. I usually do this in the spring so I have time to make the necessary changes before the fall arrives. There is no perfect model and you can always make changes that will help you be more effective.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:36 AM

    Thanks for the good reminders John! I can't hardly believe that it's spring again already; time to do some evaluating for next year.