Someone once privately asked me an interesting question. “How do you build something in youth ministry that will really last, Jeanne?” the guy asked quietly. The intensity behind his voice and the seriousness in his eyes told me that he probably had a personal story behind the question. Let me highlight for you a few of the things that I shared with him.
1) Focus on building a destiny—not a dynasty.
All along the youth ministry journey, there will be the temptation to focus on the more visible, the more spectacular, and the more sensational. But from my vantage point of over 40 exciting years in full-time youth ministry, I can assure you that those things won’t build a ministry that will last. It will be the non-glamorous moments of personal discipling, laborious planning, and behind-the-scenes praying that will come together to create a ministry that will really last. Don’t get too impressed with the spectacular. Jesus isn’t.
2) Choose or lose.
In other words, be a person who doesn’t just stumble into his priorities, but a person who very purposefully chooses his priorities. Thoreau once said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is ‘What are you busy doing?’”
The busier you are as a youth leader, the more strategic you have to become about living a “choose or lose” lifestyle. We’re all familiar with the Pareto Principle that tells us “20% of our time efforts will usually produce 80% of our results.” So if you want to create a lasting ministry impact in students’ lives, you will continually be asking, “Where can I put my energies that produce the most results?”
3) Preach louder with your life than you do your pulpit.
I’m pretty skeptical about how much real truth is transferred apart from a living, up-close model. So if you want to build a youth ministry that will last, prioritize living your own messages with more fervor than you ever publicly communicate them. Students will catch your attitudes, your priorities, and your responses. And over time, that haunting Scripture from Proverbs will become a reality: “When a student is fully trained, he will be like his teacher.”
I’ve been privileged to be the youth pastor for 13, 15 and 9 years respectively at different locations. On my farewell nights, no one mentioned my sermons or brilliant program ideas. But countless students talked about quietly watching me, noticing my attitudes, and internally being shaped by the Christ I tried to model.
There were a few more ideas I shared with him…we’ll save those for the next blog.