A Blueprint for Youth Ministry
To build the kind of youth ministry program that will accomplish the purpose for which it was built, serious consideration needs to be given to the “blueprint.” I’ve talked with a lot of youth ministers over the last several years who use, as the blueprint for their programs, a pyramid-type concept. It has several variations, but the diagram gives the basic picture.
Pool of Humanity
Essentially, what this diagram does for us is help us evaluate and develop our youth ministry programs by showing us the kinds of students our programs are addressed to. Looking at the diagram, we need to think of each of the levels of the pyramid as representing students at varying levels of Christian commitment. The higher the level on the pyramid, the higher the level of commitment. Let’s look briefly at each level of the pyramid.
Pool of Humanity
This level of the pyramid represents the teenage population in general, the teenagers within your geographical sphere of influence. Your group, in fact, may not have any influence on these students at the present time. The vast majority of these kids may not even know you or your ministry exist. But you know about them, and by God’s grace and power you want to reach them with the Gospel. It you want to develop a program to reach out to the unchurched students in your area, it is wise to begin by assessing your unique pool of humanity.
Billy is one of those kids who never shows up for prayer breakfast or Sunday school, and always seems to have unavoidable conflicts that prevent his helping out with fundraisers and work projects. The picture isn’t completely negative, though. There are two areas for which Bill has shown tremendous interest and zeal: one is food, and the other is girls. Whenever a youth group activity allows for a large selection of either, you can count on Billy to be there! Billy doesn’t make any pretense about it. He does not have any real commitment to Christ, but he does have a strong commitment to having a good time.
There are kids like Billy in any youth ministry I’ve ever been around. Theirs is a Come Level commitment. Their only commitment to the group is to come when the group is doing something they like—something fun or entertaining.
It’s not uncommon to hear youth workers complain about kids like Billy. But, let’s be honest and shrewd enough to admit that (a) most teenagers on the outside of our ministries are not mysteriously born with that degree of spiritual vitality; and (b) a majority of students on the inside of our groups aren’t there either. If we only program for the spiritual heavyweights, we are going to touch the lives of very few kids.
Students at the Grow Level are students within our program environment who are willing to submit themselves to spiritual growth. These are the teens who take part in a youth activity, even if it involves them in some amount of Bible study or spiritual input. Essentially, that is the difference between kids at the Come Level and kids at the Grow Level.
Sally, a young woman with a Grow Level commitment, was not excited about the four Bible studies scheduled for the Winter Retreat Weekend, but she was willing to go along anyway. Her boyfriend, Sonny, who had a love for downhill skiing and an acute allergy to spiritual matters, decided not to sign up for the retreat. He reasoned that four Bible studies was too high a price to pay even if it meant being close to his favorite sport and his favorite girlfriend. His is a good example of Come Level commitment.
I am grateful for both students—for the chance to have some input into their lives. I can affirm both teens for where they are, while praying and working to take them both to deeper levels of commitment. This is a good point to be reminded of two important realities.
(1) Willingness to grow is not the same thing as commitment to growth.
Kids at the Grow Level are not seeking spiritual growth on their own initiative. They will come to Bible study on Wednesday night, or take part in Sunday night meetings, but only because it requires little more than their passive involvement. We should not assume that a teenager at weekly Bible study is hungry for spiritual food and willing to take the initiative to get it.
That’s a consideration to remember in preparing weekly Bible studies for youth group.
That is not to say that we should shortchange Bible study time in favor of “fun and games.” It is to say that we need to see part of our agenda as being evangelistic and that we should not assume students are walking into Bible study saying, “Fill my cup.” Attention needs to be given to providing Bible study opportunities that incite student interest, invoke active participation, and equip students with the tools for taking responsibility for their own spiritual growth,
(2) Consistent attendance is not an indication of consistent commitment.
I didn’t understand the Grow Level commitment early on in my ministry with students. I misinterpreted a student’s strong commitment to me or to the program as being a strong commitment to Christ. It’s a common mistake of youth ministers to assume that just because kids are involved in spiritual activity, they are personally involved in spiritual growth. It’s wonderful that kids are willing to submit themselves to spiritual growth, but let’s not mistakenly assume that this means they will automatically, of their own initiative, develop a pattern of continued growth and fellowship following graduation.
When a student in the youth group begins to take the initiative for his or her own spiritual growth, this student has matured to what might be described as a Disciple Level commitment. The key here is the word “discipline.” A student at the Disciple Level is a student who is willing to discipline himself—to do personal Bible study on his own, memorize Scripture (even if it isn’t a requirement for the choir tour), or personally seek to be a witness at school, at home, or wherever.
The role of the youth worker at this stage is to provide instruction and tools for students to pursue their own spiritual development. A teen may exhibit genuine willingness to study the Bible for himself, but that desire can burn out if the teen isn’t given some personal help and guidance about how that kind of development happens.
As students begin to advance in spiritual growth, they will in time move into the next level of commitment. Teens at the Develop Level are students willing to take the initiative, not only for their own spiritual growth, but for the spiritual growth of others as well. Very important to note here is that the Develop Level comes after the Disciple Level and not the reverse. We already have far too many youth in church leadership who, perhaps unwittingly, have assumed responsibility for the spiritual growth of others, but have not demonstrated any willingness to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth. That is not the pattern we are given in I Timothy 3 and other passages where Paul writes about spiritual leadership.
It is tempting to pass over the less charismatic student who shows genuine spiritual depth in favor of one who is head cheerleader or star quarterback, but if we are talking about development of spiritual leadership, we had better remember that “God sees not as man sees” (1 Sam. 16:7).
The final level of commitment is that point at which students begin to catch a vision for going back into their own junior high and high schools and starting the process over, reproducing it in the lives of their own friends and classmates. When we help move kids into this level of commitment, we are multiplying our own efforts in much the same way that Paul multiplied his by pouring himself into Timothy.
Evaluating Your Students
Draw your own version of the pyramid model, and consider where each of your own youth group members or Sunday school students fits. Write their names in the appropriate sections. This will show you the general makeup of your group and will help you to evaluate the programs you currently run in light of actual needs and levels of the young people you work with.
Condensed by permission from Programming to Build Disciples by Duffy Robbins. Published by Victor Books and P 1987 by SP Publications, Inc. Wheaton, IL. Taken from: the IDEAsheet SonPower Youth Sources. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”