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Sustainable Youth Ministry

Sustainable Youth Ministry, Mark DeVriesI have so much appreciated this book Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. Definitely a permanent fixture on my "youth ministry" shelf! About systems and structures to enable ministry to be effective and fruitful, I'd recommend this to youth ministers, senior pastors, and any church member who loves teenagers enough to want God's best for them. It's worth the money just for Chapters 4 & 5, and Appendix B alone! I'll let DeVries' own word sum up the book:

The apostle Paul reminds us, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2Cor4:7). I'm embarassed that this book is less about the treasure and more about the clay pots that carry the treasure. This book has grown out of the gaping hole in the competency of youth workers, who may know the treasure well but seem to have little capacity to carry it.
Certainly the treasure Paul writes about is what has captured the hearts of so many in ministry, but it's equally important and necessary to have an effective way of sharing that treasure with others. Here were some of my highlights:
  • It is often our successes that keep us stuck rather than our failures.
  • A ministry that chooses to see its future only in the light of what has been will always stay stuck.
  • But gymnasiums, air-hocky tables, plasma TVs and leather couches don't build thriving youth ministries; appropriate staffing, clear vision and structure do. Too many churches are like parents spending thousands on a playroom for their children while neglecting the kids' need for food and clothes, assuming that the fortune they have already spent on their kids should be enough.
  • Staff should coordinate, inspire, and equip volunteers.
  • Goals do not necessarily mean that bigger is better. They affirm that clearer is better. Goals help define what a particular ministry will look like as it moves toward increasing health. If we want our youth ministries to be evaluated by something other than numbers and programs, we must take responsibility to define our targets clearly.
  • The time to change the strategic direction of your ministry is, ironically, when things are going well.
  • In reference to the importance of Climate, Vision, and Tasks: Ask any youth director what his or her job is and chances are you'll hear a list of tasks: "I hang out with kids," "I teach the Bible," "I go to meetings." Sadly, most youth workers are almost obsessively focused on tasks. They react to the demands placed before them, daily racing against the clock to try to get more done in less time, to get all the phone calls and emails answered, all the lessons written, the programs prepared. But eventually, almost every youth worker, no matter how organized, realizes that there is simply not enough time to get all the tasks completed.
  • Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, and sometimes an obsessive focus on getting results as quickly as possible is the slowest path to achieving sustainable results. (note: if the Climate isn't right)
  • Those of us who lead have the power (and responsibility) to craft the stories that will define the climate of our ministries.
  • Children -and churches- tend to live into the words that are spoken about them. Focusing on the negative gets more negative, while focusing on the positive results in a much more positive climate.
  • In reference to a "Replace Yourself" attitude: [Good youth ministers] proactively prepare the way for a future that does not include them.
  • Peter Scazzero was right when he wrote in The Emotionally Healthy Church, "The overall health of any church or ministry depends primarily on the emotional and spiritual health of its leadership."
  • For the youth worker, time spent with students, developing a volunteer team and doing strategic planning contribute the most to making a youth ministry sustainable.
  • We need the power of a team pulling together in a unified, crystal-clear direction.
  • In "winning" organizations, information flows freely; in "losing" organizations, a select few hold the information.
  • When I'm looking for potential student apprentices, I look down to try to find people bending over to do the work that no one else wants to do (like picking up trash after youth group), and I look to the corners for the people who have a knack for paying attention to those at the fringes of the group. A little affirmation and a few assignments can go a long way toward empowering student apprentices, one at a time, long before a formal student apprentice program is put together.

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