This week I am leaving full-time youth ministry to return to the realm of government contracting. The decision to make this occupational change was a tough one to make but it was ultimately a decision that was made for my family. In the midst of this transition, I want to reflect and share my thoughts on youth ministry. What are the goals of youth ministry? What is a theological starting point for youth ministry? I will conclude this series of posts with my own philosophy of youth ministry.
What are the goals of youth ministry?
Any ministry, whether it is to serve the homeless or visiting the shut-in, must establish itself through identifying the goals the ministry wants to meet. Youth ministry in this sense is no different. The goals of youth ministry however are tailor specifically to meet the needs to adolescents in the context of their specific communities. This means that not only should the goals of youth ministries be focused on the community, but specifically the portions of the community where youth are engaged: homelife, sports fields, school, band rehearsal, part-time jobs, and church. This list will never be complete.
As youth grow, as well as their communities grow, so to will the spaces where youth ministries will have to be involved. The goal of youth ministry should be to engage youth with biblically grounded teachings in ways that adolescents can directly relate to the teachings. This means that another goal of youth ministry should be to be relational ministry. We should seek to build relationships with those who we are in ministry too and with.
A thriving youth ministry is one that is grounded in aiding youth in both understanding and following the teachings of Jesus Christ. This means that from start to finish teaching and fellowship are biblically grounded with the aim of experiencing Christ not only during ministry activities but also through those who we are engaging the ministry with. This could range from seeing Christ in the actions of another student to engaging Christ through service to experiencing the hospitality of Christ while sharing a meal. Lessons can be tailored to fit into the context of the youth’s experiences as adolescents, while being grounded in the Old and New Testaments.
If youth ministry is to be engaged relationally, it should then be a goal of both the professional and volunteer youth worker to be in relationship with adolescents both within their church community, and within the local community. This means that the youth worker cannot be confined to an office within the church. The youth worker (professional and volunteer) must be an active member of the community, on Sunday morning yes, but also Monday through Saturday as well. Christ was not a passive participant in His own ministry. He did not sit back and wait for people to come to Him. Youth workers should model the ministry of Christ by not only engaging adolescents on Sunday morning in worship but by developing relationships with them by attending sports games, concerts, and other important activities in the life of developing adolescents.
Place-sharing is one way that both volunteers and paid youth workers can relationally engage those in the community where they are called to ministry. By engaging in relational youth ministry in this manner, ministry is then able to focused around commonly held interests or experiences. The youth worker as well as the youth participant have common ground to begin developing a relationship. By place-sharing with youth, we are not attempting to become influencers within that space. Rather, we are entering into these places to stand with those who are suffering and to become participants in that suffering as well.
Purpose, Intent, and Motivation
Andrew Root identifies purpose, motivation, and intent as criteria youth workers can use to to evaluate their own ministries. Root defines purpose as “our intentions in connection (or disconnection) to our motives”. Our intent for ministry are the surface level things we want to see accomplished within our own ministries. This can range from having the goal of youth seeing the Bible as relevant to simply getting our youth in through the doors of the church.
Our motivation is the hidden or implicit reasons communities choose to engage in youth ministry. Root identifies several motivations a community might have to engage in youth ministry. This list includes but is not limited to keeping kids good, involving kids in service, and passing on the faith tradition. While these motivations might seem genuine on the surface, they become superficial means to engage adolescents. For example, once you teach a young person to be good, then after they learn how to function as a good person the church no longer serves a purpose in that person’s life. Motivations are typically short-term goals with results that last an even shorter amount of time. Often though our motives become what Root describes as, “self-centered, self-gratifying, or self-justifying”. This means that as youth workers we must always be clear about not only our motives but also the purpose of a our ministry.
Nurture or Conversion
Developing theological criteria enables youth ministry settings to fall into one of two categories (although many times ministry settings like to see themselves as fitting into both categories): nurture or conversion. In my own ministry, I find myself falling in the nurturing category of youth ministry. I do not believe it is possible to convert someone without first engaging them in a relationship and nurturing that relationship to build a level of trust. Then, once a level of trust is established, conversion can occur. Duffy Robinson says this about nurture, “Our mandate is to reach out and touch. We reach out to students to bring them to a relationship with Jesus Christ. We help them to become strong and established in that relationship. Then we equip them to go out and re-produce that process of nurture in the life of another person.”
 “Making their relational interactions the place of God’s activity” Root, Andrew. Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007. pg. 200
 “A youth pastor doesn’t need to provide willing adults like Paul with a meticulous how-to manual… Rather, what is needed for the adult leader to be an authentic human being with and for the adolescent, opening his or her unique person to the adolescent, inviting the adolescent to share in his or her life.” Root, Andrew. Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007. pg. 202
 Root, Andrew. Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007. pg. 203
 Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 23
 Dyson, Drew. “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” (lecture, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., 9/21/2013)
 Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 26-31
 Root, Andrew. Taking Theology to Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. , pg. 45
 Dyson, Drew. “Missional Youth Ministry & the School of Rock” (lecture, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., 11/16/2013)