I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Her favorite question is “why?” No matter what is being discussed, she will always respond with the same inquiry. When she first started doing this, it was endearing; however, at this point, I’ll admit, it can be more than a little annoying.
And yet on another level, Sophie’s constant questioning is an important reminder about the necessity of repeatedly asking “why”.
By June, the youth programs of most congregations are coming to a close. There will be a few summer gatherings and perhaps a SERVE or mission trip, but for the most part, the summer months are a break from regular weekly programming. Perhaps you spend your summer months busy with VBS or other summer programs. Many of us take a week or two of our vacation during the summer. July is a time to reflect on the past season and to catch our breath before August rolls around and it is time to start planning for the new season.
By mid-August, many of us are knee-deep in preparations for the new church season—events to be planned, lessons to be prepped, leaders to be recruited, invitations to be sent, meetings to schedule and attend, and much time spent in prayer.
This is the basic pattern of youth ministry—a busy youth schedule from September to June, July as a “time-out” and August as ramping up for the new season.
However, often there is one very important thing that gets overlooked in our routines—setting aside time to discern and define a vision for youth ministry.
The most important question to ask regarding youth ministry is the question “why?”
- Why does our congregation have/need a youth ministry program?
- Why is youth ministry an integral part of our congregation’s identity?
- Why are we doing youth ministry the way we do youth ministry?
- Why is what we are doing working/not working to positively form the faith of our youth?
These are not one-time-only questions. Rather, these are questions that need to be continually asked by everyone with a stake in the youth ministry – council, youth leaders, parents, and the youth themselves – in order to come together in unity of purpose that sets both the structure and direction of the youth ministry.
Failure to ask these “why” questions on a regular basis and maintaining them as standing agenda items in meetings will inevitably lead to languishing and stagnant youth ministries, a sense of being “stuck-in-a-rut”.
More importantly, failure to ask “why” will cause us to lose sight of the Holy Spirit’s activity and how it is calling us to participate in God’s mission in and through our youth groups.
Sure, a youth group might be really busy with some really great events, have lots of kids involved (both churched and unchurched0, and have a dedicated group of leaders. However, if they cannot answer the “why” questions, then they are merely spinning the wheels with little purpose, continuing to do youth ministry simply because “we’ve always had a youth ministry and this is the way we’ve always done things”, and are, thus, completely out of sync with the Lord’s purposes of disciple-making.
How we answer “why?” will directly influence the shape of our youth ministries. The fruit our ministries bear will be relative to the type of seeds we plant; the type of seeds we plant depend largely on how we answer “why?”
Why ask why?
Proverbs 29:18 puts it well – “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV), or, if you prefer a more contemporary translation, “If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves (the Message).
What about you—how does your leadership team discern the vision for your youth ministry? Any suggestions or best practices?