One of the most memorable lines I remember from the principal of my theological college was “your diary reveals what you think is important”.
Every few weeks he would mention it in a conversation, sermon or class. He challenged students to prioritise the important tasks of the ministry of the Word and pastoral visits over the less important tasks of social media, blogging, and email.
His words still ring in my ears every Sunday evening as I sit down to prayerfully plan my week; “give time to the important things”.
This helpful principle applies to every youth and children’s minister. We can fill our time with a myriad of administrative tasks like email, programs, flyers, databases, youtubing, rosters, and social media often before we open a Bible or visit God’s people.
The issue is not the abundance of tasks as there will be always more things we can do. The challenge is to intentionally identify the important tasks and to give them time in our diaries. It is also a helpful principle in considering how to allocate our time across different ministry priorities.
In his stimulating paper on “To accelerate the development of lifetime faith” , Richard Ross argues that youth and children’s ministers must expand their focus outside their siloed ministry area. Often 100% of youth and children’s ministers time absorbed by their age-specific program and leadership teams.
Instead, Ross argues that we need to divide our time into thirds:
- A third of our time accelerating the spiritual impact in homes.
- A third immersing every young person in the full life and ministry of the congregation.
- A third leading our targeted programs.
His research suggests that this strategy will lead to “much higher percentages of youth loving God, loving people, and making disciples for a lifetime."
Australia, like the US, observes significant numbers of young people leaving the faith between the ages of 12-18. The partnership of home, church and age-specific ministries is vital to reversing this trend. Even though no youth or children’s minister’s week neatly fits into thirds, Ross’ principle challenges all of us to consider whether our affirmation of the importance of parents and the wider church is visible in our diaries.
Accelerating faith in the home
The evidence clearly shows that the single most important social influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents. A third of a working week can give time for youth and children’s ministers to partner with other church leaders to:
- Deepen parents relationship with Jesus.
- Train and support parents as they disciple their children.
- Introduce parents outside the faith to Jesus.
- Build synergies between church teaching and home discipleship.
- Organise events that bring parents and young people together.
- Create opportunities for parents to be active participants in youth and children’s ministries.
Link young people with the wider church
Recent research reveals, unsurprisingly, that churches with biblical, intergenerational relationships create believers with a stronger faith. A third of a working week can give time for youth and children’s ministers to commit to:
- Organise events or create regular opportunities that bring different generations together for mutual sharing and encouragement.
- Equipping young people to serve within the wider church alongside adults.
- Creating adoptive relationships between youth and adults. In Adoptive Youth Ministry Clark calls every church to “a bridging ministry intent on moving the young beyond peer experienced faith by leading them into the welcoming arms of the family of faith.”
Targeted ministry to young people
Specialised ministry to youth and children remains an important strategy for developing lifelong disciples. A third of a working week will give time for youth and children’s ministers to coordinate programs that read the Bible, deeply disciple young people, train young people in evangelism, develop deep peer relationships and work through issues relevant to their particular life stage. Losing two-thirds of a working week to other priorities can feel daunting. However, it will compel ministers to focus on the most important ministries, identify and train key volunteer leaders and be released from the pressure to build isolated age-specific empires.
As we begin a new year serving Jesus it is important that we give time to the important things. Intentionally planning our time will protect us from the never-ending little tasks that feel urgent. A strategy of thirds may be a helpful structure to think through the year ahead.
Over this year our diary, not our rhetoric, will reveal what we consider the most important task as ministers to young people. What will your diary reveal?
 Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 56.
 Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 173.
 Chap Clark, ed., “The Adoption Model of Youth Ministry,” Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: Five Views (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 120.