Disclaimer: These blog posts blow up the 500 word rule. But I couldn't get a book deal for this idea, so a wordy blog is the next best thing.
What Is Your Ministry Model?
I remember meeting with one of my interns at the end of her first week on the job. After attending the fall kick-off to our youth ministry year, she commented that our youth ministry was obviously a big, fun / Young Life model of student ministry. I was intrigued by the quick classification of my ministry by someone who had just shown up on the scene.
One of the things a B.A. in Youth Ministry provides for future interns and youth workers is a solid philosophy. And not just a solid philosophy, but a solid model of ministry. The problem is that, while developing a philosophy and model in a classroom, there is little space to consider other vital factors when determining which models to employ. One thing that actually being a youth worker does is find the sweet spot where the philosophy and your unique context meet, allowing you to accomplish solid ministry.
Ministry is not done in a vacuum or a classroom. It is done in an earthy context, full of complexity.
Because we are are uniquely made, we all have different gifts, different abilities, different passions. When we combine our complex being with a very specific context we are at the beginning place of determining a ministry philosophy and model.
I hate to break it to you, but there is no perfect model of ministry. Even what we consider the most solid and most biblical models out there are really our own interpretation of our favorite passages of scripture and our determining how to live out these favorites scriptures in our specific context.
Have you ever considered that there are so many differing opinions on models, philosophies and methodologies of ministry because there are so many different people doing ministry? Of course we should be well read and know what's out there, not in order to determine the purest methodologies, but to find the ones that best jive with who we were created to be and the place of ministry to which we're called.
How Are You Wired? It is the most common idea found in scripture, and yet one we often overlook. It can be found in both 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. It is the idea that we are the body of Christ. This is a no-brainer. Christ is the head and we all are different parts, none receiving any more glory than the other, all working together to accomplish the will of the head, Jesus Christ.
Yet the second we start to talk about ministry and models and philosophy this solid teaching of scripture gets thrown out. All of a sudden we must all be certain parts of the body. Every church, every ministry must be about worship, discipleship, justice, missions, youth... you name it.
Instead of banging our heads against the wall, trying to live into a model of ministry that isn't quite "us", or worse--being self righteous about the way we have been made, insisting that the part of the body of Christ we occupy is somehow better and more spiritual than the one someone else occupies--have you ever considered that there are a wide variety of churches, worship styles, youth ministries and youth ministry styles because we are all so different, and we all express our faith and the call God has put on our lives differently?
Where Do You Do Ministry?
Understanding the unique way you have been made by God, with all your unique passions and abilities, is still only half the answer. The second half of the answer is realizing that you have been called to be a cross-cultural missionary. You, being fully you, must realize that the church you work at and the town you live in are your context for mission. If you just show up, taking all of who you are and drop it on your church or your context, it may get real ugly real fast.
To illustrate this point, think of all the times you have heard the glory stories of youth workers being fired. "We are such bad-asses because we are sticking to our guns and convictions, and our dumb church boards just don't love Jesus like we do." For the most part this is garbage. You have been called by God, to bring all of who you are to a context. And the sweet spot of ministry is taking all of who you are and finding the thin places in your church and town where your unique call meshes with your context.
This is challenging work. There is a reason why missionaries are trained for years before they head out to the field. We are to be just as savvy. Unfortunately, my context is totally different than your context, and the way God made me is totally different than the way God made you. So the only way this works is by humbly searching the Heart of God, inviting true community in to help us discern what we are hearing, and finding colleagues who will encourage us along the way.
We youth workers are in dire need of those colleagues, who will hold a mirror up to us and our ministries, ask the hard questions, celebrate our victories and comfort us in our defeats. Youth ministry is not for the lazy; there is hard work to be done, and most of it needs to be done before we even have our first youth group.
Where I Land: I recognize that there are many models and philosophies of youth ministry out there. I would love to know where you have landed and what seems to work for you in the context to which God has called you.
For me, I live in a county that is fully post-Christian. There is no common Christian understanding or story. On an average Sunday morning, about 2% of our county ends up in church. Most churches in our area are in the 75-100 person range. Because of these factors, our students face some interesting issues.
There is no Christian subculture where I live. No Christian radio or bookstores, no Christian clubs on campus and, besides Switchfoot, my students would be hard pressed to name one Christian artist.
Because of the way that God has made me, and the context in which I find myself, I have discovered a resource that has put words and structure to many of the things I had been doing and feeling in ministry. While the book is over ten years old now, it couldn't be more relevant for my context. It is called, The Celtic Way of Evangelism.
The simple model in this book is that evangelism in a pre-Christian context, (which also works for a post-Christian one), can not be done on the foundational assumptions of a Christian context. For evangelism to work in a place where there are little-to-no touch points to the Gospel and the Christian life, we must reverse our old pattern.
Instead of getting people to believe in the Gospel, then having their lives be sanctified and match their faith, so that they would then be welcomed into community, we must turn that around. The Celtic Way of Evangelism says that we invite everyone and anyone into our uniquely Christian community, and that they belong no matter what they believe or how they behave. As they begin to belong we work out what they believe, and then we can help them have their lives and faith match up.
For the next few posts I am going to share how this model of ministry gets worked out in an average youth ministry in our particular context. Next, I thought I would share how this model impacts and directs what events we choose to do as a ministry, and the week after that share our curriculum for the year to see how this model impacts what and when we teach what we teach.
As I said before, this isn't the right or biblical or only way to do ministry. It is the way that works for the unique way God has made me, and with the unique church God has called me, in the unique context in which we live. Please, please, please, share how you live out your calling in your context in your model, events, and lessons for your student ministry.
May God be gracious with us as we reengage our context as cross cultural missionaries and develop our ministry plan for this upcoming year!