Building A Philosophy of Sustainable Youthwork- Part 1

Building A Philosophy Of Sustainable YouthworkI want to share with you part of my work over the last several years with graduate students in Youth Ministry that are part of the Perkins School of Theology’s Certification Classes held each January during PSYM.  This has been a long process for me personally starting my first year of Youth Ministry when Rev. Walt Marcum convinced me I needed a starting place in my practice of Youthwork.  So he gave me his, and I have made it mine over time.  My philosophy statement has definitely evolved over the three decades I have worked on it.  Yours might read differently and that is great!  But, if you do not yet have such a document to guide your work, let me suggest you take mine (Walt’s) and slowly make it your own over time.  I’ll be sharing more depth on each principle over the next 10 weeks of summer 2014.  It will all be here when you get back from your trips and camps.  You might even consider journaling about each component as you have ideas. This is not set in stone, it is simply a place to start.

A Sustainable Philosophy Statement for Youth Ministry

The primary goal of Youthwork is to help Youth and their Families live fully into the journey of Christian Discipleship. God has created each one of us in God’s own image and the recovery of this image in each person is the journey of salvation. This image is seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus. The best way to describe this image is LOVE personified. The Grace of God empowers each person to grow fully into this love. To realize this goal, there are some primary principles for Sustainable Youthwork:

1. Youthwork is Family Based

2. Youthwork is Congregational

3. Youthwork is Relational

4. Youthwork is Discipling

5. Youthwork is Missional

6. Youthwork is Evangelistic

7. Youthwork is Holistic

8. Youthwork is Bible-based

9. Youthwork is Experiential

10. Youthwork is Youth-led

11. Youthwork utilizes Open-ended Discussion

12. Youthwork develops Youth as Christian Leaders

13. Youthwork utilizes a Team approach

14. Youthwork is Unique to a Particular Context

Over the next few weeks of summer I will be unpacking each of these principles for you as a way to think deeply about all that you do and plan for your ministry with Youth in 2014-2015.

This week I want to highlight Principle #1 “Youthwork is Family Based”

When I started in Youth Ministry 3 decades ago, a primary thing I was told is that what we really needed to do in Youth Ministry is get Youth away from their Parents (and possibly Parents away from their Youth). We tended to do this by having what I call 911 programs on Sunday nights and of course we needed Parents not to be there so the Youth could have “open” conversations about the dangers of alcohol, sex, tobacco, suicide, etc.

This always felt like the wrong way to be doing Youth Ministry to me. Now I know better. Much better!

The PRIMARY Youthworkers in the life of Young People are the members of their Family. Families do Youth Ministry 24/7 all day, everyday. The Church Congregation gets the opportunity to be in ministry with Youth for an hour on Sunday for Sunday school, and hour on Sunday for Worship and maybe an additional hour sometime during the week for Youth Group. In addition to these 3 hours, there are those stellar adults who know how important it is to show up at ballgames and dance recitals, visit Youth where they work, and attend graduations.

EVERY system in the Church should be finely tuned to help Families be in ministry with their Youth. 60-80% of all people who commit their lives to God do it as an adolescent. 60-80% of that time and commitment comes from Family time. The Congregation, the Volunteers, the Paid Youthworker, the Sunday school teachers, the Ushers, the Pastor ALL help along the way. BUT Youthwork is Family Based.

So, take a moment and think about each Family at your church that has a Youth. Do you know who they are? Does every leader in your congregation know who they are?  How are YOU supporting Youthwork in the home? How is your congregation supporting Youthwork in the home? Do you have two-parent families? Single parent? Blended families? Non-traditional families?  Maybe Grandparents are the primary caregivers.

What could your congregation members be doing? Pray FOR a Youth by name? Pray WITH a Youth weekly? SHARE their faith journey through a testimony? LEAD a Bible Study for Parents? SEND a note of encouragement? SPONSOR a family night out? SERVE snack super at Youth group? TEACH Sunday school? SIT next a Youth in worship? INVITE a Youth to sing in the church choir?

There is something tangible YOU and your congregational members can do every week to support Family Based Youthwork. What will it be?


Peace and Grace,


Charles W. Harrison


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