There I was, sitting across a desk from an eager youth pastor (I'll call her Cindy). We had just spent a few days with her church and prepared a youth ministry assessment report. The presentation went over like gangbusters. People were excited because we put a plan together to help them put effective systems and structures in place to achieve a sustainable youth ministry—one that doesn't depend on the personality or giftedness of one or a small handful of staff. This church not only asked us to do the assessment, but they did what many other churches ask us to do: walk alongside them over the next 18-24 months, supporting them throughout the strategic plan we had put together for them in the report.
As we were sitting across from one another, she said, "Gosh, I'm so excited about the Sustainable Youth Ministry Model; we've tried so many different ministry models, I'm certain this one is going to work!" She continued, "We have tried the small group model, the large group model, the Jesus-Centered model, the Purpose-Driven model, the Sticky Faith model..." She then proceeded to rattle off a handful of other book titles she had read and added the word "model" to the end of each one.
Though I had a smile on my face, I said very seriously, "Cindy, I'm sorry to disappoint, but Sustainable Youth Ministry isn't a model. It's a foundation. We are partnering with you so whatever model or models you choose, they will thrive and succeed.
She clapped and shouted, "Yes!" Then we got to work.
As I made my way home, I reflected on our exchange. How many other people just chalk up Sustainable Youth Ministry as being just one of the many other popular youth ministry models out there? Not too long ago, I even heard somebody call Sustainable Youth Ministry outdated since it was written nearly ten years ago. That's laughable (and ironic) if you think about it. Fortunately, I was there to interject my thoughts, and we ended up having a great conversation.
Here's the deal: Sustainable Youth Ministry (and Sustainable Children's Ministry, coming out soon!) aren't books based on a new concept that churches might want to try. Ministry books written about the latest new approach will be relevant until someone else writes another one that becomes the newest, greatest approach. But if those approaches to ministry aren't undergirded with the systems and structure needed to support them, they'll dwindle and become obsolete, dependent upon the magnetic leader(s) running them. When he or she leaves, the church will have to rely on hiring someone else who has read the latest and greatest youth ministry book with a cool title to bring his or her own idea of how things should be run. Wash. Fold. Repeat.
Unless, of course, they hire someone who has read and employed the principles in Sustainable Youth Ministry. That person will understand the book will never be out of style. That book isn't about wall paper; it's all about the foundation. Since it's one of the best-selling youth ministry books ever written, many people in the youth ministry world have a copy sitting on their shelf. I hope you've read this one. If you don't have it, I promise, you'll love it. But just in case you don't, you still need it.
How strong is the foundation in your own ministry? What healthy systems and structure will you be leaving behind when you move on (not if, but when)? What questions might you have about things you can do to shore up your own ministry? We'd love to hear your thoughts!