For those of you who engage in ministry, whether vocationally or voluntarily, do you do so on purpose? I don’t mean was there a time and place, whether you are a pastor, Sunday school teacher, or volunteer leader, that you consciously decided to begin doing ministry. What I mean is do you, on a day in day out basis, do ministry on purpose or with a purpose in mind?
Currently I am in the dissertation phase of a Doctor of Ministry degree. During my hours of in-depth research I have studied a lot of churches and student ministries. I have read hundreds of pages of books, journals, websites, and articles. I have have surveyed the modern evangelical church and its ministry practices deeply enough to conclude that Christian ministry in the twenty-first century is not done on purpose or with a purpose in mind a majority of the time. Rather, much of church ministry today is simply a continuation of what has always been done (tradition), a mimicking of what someone else is doing or says ought to be done (modeling), or creating from scratch a way of doing church and ministry that one thinks will be effective (personal preference) without any thought of overall purpose.
Lost in an overabundance of books, blogs, methods, and trends stands precise instruction from the Lord Jesus Himself in what we call the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. In the Great Commandment Jesus instructs Christians to love God and love others. In the Great Commission Jesus instructs Christians to go unto all the world and share the gospel, baptize believers as an act of obedience and profession of faith, make disciples by teaching the Word of God, all while being assured that the Holy Spirit of God is fully with us for life and ministry. The purposes derived from these two “Great” passages are worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry. They are the purposes that God gives to all Christians and all churches and ministries in all places at all times.
In the student ministry I lead we have condensed these purposes into 3 memorable statements that serve as guideposts for everything we do. Everything we do, whether weekly programs or special events and activities are measured against these purposes. If it is not driven by purpose we either don’t do it or do away with it. Like any church and student ministry, our resources are not endless. As a pastor-shepherd called by God and entrusted with the leadership and care over a flock of students and families, I am accountable to God and will serve Him with gladness by pursuing His purposes and not my personal agenda or that of anyone else.
The combination of the history of student ministry, the desire of parents and students, and even the expectations of other leaders attempts to force youth pastors into leading a flurry of activity that aims to please every single person at any given time. This is the purpose that many churches and student ministries strive to accomplish. But it’s not God’s purpose. And pursuing such a purpose is foolish.
The church and student ministry does not exist to provide entertainment. It is not obligated to be fun every second students are present. Youth pastors are not the primary disciplers of students: parents and families are. So why does the church and student ministry exist? To accomplish the purposes given by Jesus Himself. As for the method, He does not lay that out. God entrusts to pastors and leaders a large amount of freedom when it comes to the methods for accomplishing His purposes. But at the end of the day we are accountable to God for how those methods line up with His purposes.
Where does that leave us today? Student ministry can be fun. It can be entertaining. It should be relational and safe. It should be the best years and moments of a students’ life. But it should be these things in the context of being driven by the purposes of God. The things listed above should take place only because they are being used to accomplish God’s purposes. The methods chosen must be used only for the sake of accomplishing the purposes of God. And if they are not…well, just imagine how God feels about entrusting a ministry to your leadership only to see you manage it based on traditions, man-made agendas, or people-pleasing. Do ministry on purpose, with purpose…God’s purposes.