The Importance of Structure in Youth Ministry
A lack of structure is a liability, and I'm not just talking about programs.
I recently wrote a post on my personal blog that talked about how too much formal structure in small groups can be counter-productive to building relationships. You can read it here.
But, as we continue to interact with full-time youth workers who are new to youth ministry, or the myriad volunteer youth workers who are more frequently tasked with leading their church’s youth ministry programs, it becomes clear a lack of structure seems to be plaguing a lot of youth ministries.
A lack of structure is a liability, and I’m not just talking about programs. Here are a few areas where a lack of structure hurts us:
No Structure to Our Content
Some of us don’t know how to think about teaching students the Bible. While we might have structure to our meeting times, we don’t know how to put a structure in place to holistically teach the Bible. We don’t have goals in mind. We don’t know how to craft and lead Bible study. We don’t have a vision. We take a shotgun approach, pulling in curriculum here or there. And our lack of structure keeps students from knowing God and His ways as well as they could.
No Structure to Our Relationships
I’m not talking about rules or framework that governs our meetings or interactions. I’m talking about not knowing how to think about relational ministry. Many of us don’t know how to think about the purpose of our relationships with students, and how this purpose impacts the nature of our interactions. This lack of purpose leads to a lack of structure, so to speak. When we don’t have structure, we tend to wind up on either end of the relationship spectrum. Either we have a relationship heavy on hanging out but light on wisdom and spiritual influence, or too heavy on the “spiritual adviser” role and not open to a truly reciprocating relationship. Neither one is really a good place to be.
No Structure to Our Discipleship Initiatives
If we don’t have a destination in mind, we’ll never be able to walk with anyone anywhere. We have to know what we want to see in our students, and then we have to know the structure that will give us the best chance at moving closer to this goal. As it is, many of us have no idea how to think in terms of structuring a pathway to spiritual formation. Maybe our students get it here and there, but without structure, we leave a lot on the table.
No Structure to Our Programs
This is probably better stated, “No structural thinking regarding the purpose of our programs.” Many of us do what was done before us without any thought as to whether they are serving our vision for spiritual growth in students. Or we do what the guy or girl down the road is doing because it seems to work for them. Or, unfortunately, we do as little as possible because we are worn out and we don’t know what else to do with what we currently have. None of these involves much structure. When we approach programs this way, we serve our programs instead of our programs serving us
Here’s the deal: Structure often gets a bad rap.
We think it’s restricting. Or, we’re simply intimidated by it. We don’t know where to start. But structure is important in our effectiveness as those tasked with helping students grow in their faith. In the amazing book (thanks Chris Wesley for the rec!) How to Make Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky, he talks about the importance of structure to making ideas become reality:
The most important, and most often neglected, organizational element is structure. We tend to shun structure as a way of protecting the free-flowing nature of ideas. But without structure, our ideas fail to build upon one another.
I believe this is applicable to our youth ministries. The best intentions at wanting to see students’ lives impacted by God won’t necessarily achieve the best results. A truth many of us who work with youth don’t like to acknowledge is that our time with students is so limited, our ability to make an impact is already greatly minimized.Without structure to help make our efforts more efficient and effective, we seriously jeopardize our ability to wisely use what limited opportunity we have.
We don’t have time to go into the hows of layering structure on your ministry efforts, but here are some questions to begin to ask:
- Why do I do what I do? What programs don’t seem to be working? Why do I continue to do them? Do I need to rethink them, or can them?
- Are there areas of spiritual growth my students seem to be missing? What changes in structure might help address them?
- How do I feel about my ministry? Does it feel fluid and effective? Does it feel haphazard?
- How do I want my students to be affected by their time in Bible study? What do I need to do to make this happen?
- What changes do I need to make in my relationships with my students?
- How does our ministry create relational space for students and adult volunteers?
- What is my own model for a process or pathway for discipleship/spiritual growth? Do we need to change anything to see this model realized?
- Are there key people I could bring in to help me think about structure?
Too much structure does indeed suffocate organic growth. However, a lack of structure kills.
My hope for this post is to simply get you thinking about how you can be the most effective youth worker you can be. I’d love any thoughts or feedback you have.