Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Philosophy of Ministry

The following is a paper detailing my personal philosophy for structuring youth and family ministry. It was written for a class called Foundations of Youth Ministry, and I hope it becomes a helpful resource for some of my followers. This philosophy shapes how I intend to structure not only any youth ministry programs I begin, but also Children's Church, Sunday School, and any other forms of family ministry I work with. The ultimate goal of any and all of these ministries is to glorify God and lead others to Christ, and while the details of my philosophy are still being honed and refined, I pray it can be a blessing to someone. Please enjoy!

The biggest influence on my philosophy for youth and family ministry was my youth leader during senior year in high school. Rich Short and his wife Melissa took me under their wing and helped me to grow, not only as a student but also as a leader. They each built strong personal relationships with me that helped me grow and see what the life of a Christian and youth leader was supposed to look like. Melissa mentored me in Bible studies and one-on-one talks, and Rich helped me grow by teaching me in a career practicum, allowing me to lead youth nights and Bible studies, and helping me prepare for future youth ministry situations such as going through interviews, organizing fundraisers, and leading retreats or mission trips. One thing he told me while at the beginning of my practicum has shaped my philosophy more than anything else: “Youth ministry can be summed up in three words: relationships, relationships, relationships.” By this, he meant that youth ministry is not dependent on programming, but rather on the relationships built through programming.
Three of the books we read in class also strongly influenced the shaping of my philosophy—Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields, Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church (Inclusive Congregational approach by Malan Nel), and Family-Based Youth Ministry by Mark Devries. In Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, the biggest influence on my philosophy was the visual representation of spiritual levels and the necessity of drawing students deeper into the next level. A large part of my philosophy is a rewrite of this—I redefined the levels identified by Doug Fields and established a different way to draw students to a deeper level. The emphasis on partnering with families in Family-Based Youth Ministry made me realize, as I had not noticed before, just how important the family is in raising a child in faith. Malan Nel’s Inclusive Congregational approach was also particularly helpful through the concept of making the congregation “comprehensive but differentiated”—helping me understand that youth need to be an inherent part of the church but also require the chance to grow separately.
Youth, by my definition, are an integrated and inherent part of the congregation and need to have ownership in the church but also need an identity separate from the children and adults in the congregation. They require a safe environment in which to grow and develop into independent Christian adults. In order to develop as such, they must take responsibility in the church by leading others, and they need to be influenced by mentors and role models within the church. In doing so, the students can fulfill the purpose of youth ministry, which is to provide them with an opportunity to become leaders and take responsibility in the church, as well as allowing them their own place to grow and identify themselves apart from the adults and children in the congregation.
Paul’s mentorship of Timothy (especially as depicted in 1 Timothy) had a particular influence on my biblical pillars. Of course, 1 Timothy 4:12 was a foundational pillar, as it is a reminder for students to view themselves as leaders and examples to others regardless of their age. 1 Timothy 5:1-2 establishes boundaries for the relationships youth should have with other members of the congregation through Paul’s reminder that Timothy should respect his elders and live as pure examples for younger students and congregation members. In Proverbs 1:5, youth are reminded that they are to “listen and add to their learning”—each member of the congregation (and particularly the youth) should make a constant effort to grow in faith and knowledge of spiritual matters. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 is a reminder to parents that they should be teaching the faith to their children and partnering with the church in order to do so, rather than depending on the church to be the sole source for the child’s spiritual foundation. Finally, in regards to youth as a part of the congregation, Romans 12:4-8 serves to remind students that they are an inherent part of the congregation and as such should function with the intent of using their gifts to further the goals of the congregation.
Concerning my vision, the visual representation based on that of Doug Fields can be found on the back page. This target-like image portrays a series of levels through which students must be taken in order to grow into mature Christian adults. They are arranged from least to most spiritually mature beginning at the outermost level, and can be explained as following:
·         Disinterested/neutral youth are those uninterested in matters of faith. They may occasionally attend youth events because they are “fun” or because they have friends who attend, but personally these students are completely passive when it comes to spiritual issues.
·         Observer students are slightly more involved than those at the “disinterested/neutral” level. Occasionally they may attend events for entertainment purposes, and at other times they may attend out of genuine spiritual curiosity. These youth are often seeking mentors after whom they can model their faith, values, and behaviors.
·         Youth in the faith of mentors category may profess the faith that they have been taught and follow the values of their mentors (whether parents, peers, or leaders in the church), but they have not wrestled with their faith and made it their own yet. Many students raised in a church family begin in this stage and move to the next level at different ages. (My siblings and I, for example, were raised in the church, but we each took ownership of our faith at different times—I was in third grade when I personally accepted Christ, but my younger brother did not until he was thirteen.)
·         The next level youth can reach is taking ownership of faith. These students are those that have wrestled with the faith that has been presented to them, going beyond what they have been taught, and have chosen to accept this faith as their own.
·         Finally, those of the youth which have taken ownership of their faith can choose to grow into mature Christian adults and begin the next step of mentorship—helping others grow and progress through the levels of faith until they, too, have reached this final level.
The first three levels are fluid in the sense that not every youth progresses through all of them. Many students spend their whole life in the church—implying that they begin at the observer level, if not the faith of mentors. Others are raised with little to no contact with the church, beginning at the disinterested/neutral state, or possibly at the observer level. Nonetheless, each student does begin at some point on this continuum, and the youth ministry is intended to identify which level each student is in. From there, leaders, volunteers, and mentors within the ministry can build individual relationships with the students and encourage them to grow in their faith by wrestling with difficult questions. Leaders in the ministry also will partner with the parents in order to encourage growth in the students, and each student will be encouraged to use his or her gifts to serve in the congregation and become a leader in some way.
In order to maintain a “comprehensive but differentiated” youth ministry (as articulated by Malan Nel), I would like to provide several different forms of Bible studies. The first form would be an all-inclusive Bible study that allows students and parents, males and females, young and old to learn together outside of the Sunday morning church service. Second, Bible studies separated by gender and age would be provided in order to feed different needs in students and families. Also, to the best of my ability, I would place students in some form of service within the church in order to best fit Romans 12—if a young woman had particular skills with young children, she could help in the nursery; if a young man were well-versed in the guitar (and not likely to become egotistical about his skills), he could play on the praise team; if a student was uncomfortable around people but good with manual work, he or she could help with cleaning the sanctuary or mowing the church grass.
I would also like to incorporate two remaining programs/activities, both related to building relationships with the students and mentoring them. First, weekly young nights and fun activities would be maintained in order to give disinterested/neutral or observer students the opportunity to develop relationships with volunteers and leaders, so these volunteers and leaders could become mentors for them and help lead them into the next level of spiritual development. Second, for regularly attending students, I would partner each with a mentor willing and able to walk with him or her spiritually throughout his middle and high school years. Each mentor would be spiritually strong in his/her own right, constantly available for the student, and willing to partner with student’s parents in order to foster strong spiritual development in the student.
In conclusion, my philosophy is best summarized as this: Youth ministry is a stepping stone for youth to become leaders, learn independence, and use their talents and abilities take part in ownership of the church. Youth ministry within the church is intended to be a resource to assist parents in teaching their children to fear and love God. Parents and the church are to be partners, working together to cultivate spiritually strong youth that will grow into spiritually strong adults to take leadership in and ownership of the church.

I hope this was beneficial to you. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please let me know and I will attempt to address them. Thank you, and God's blessings!