Youth Ministry with a Mission: Exult Christ in the City
“We exist to exalt Christ in the city, through gospel-centered worship, discipleship, community, and mission.”
This mission statement isn’t our student ministry’s — it’s our church’s. I believe the mission of “big church” should find its mirror in our student ministry. There are four strategic reasons for this:
1. Having different missions within the same body seems schizophrenic. While there can be latitude for not phrasing a mission statement verbatim, there should never be contradiction, cross-purpose, or even alternate goals between a student group and its parent congregation.
2. Buffet-ecclesiology is at its worst in youth groups. When student ministries submit to and fulfill the mission of the local church, they fight tendencies to church shop. Students learn that they are committing to a united, local body with its own specific mission, and one that’s different from the church down the road.
3. Students become prepared for life in the adult body. If my student ministry replicates the DNA of its host, not only is there less of a shock when graduation day comes around, but there is also a truer sense that the student ministry functions as a legitimate part of “one body.”
4. It’s what I am called to do. Elders have set the vision for our church, and as a pastor, I am called to humbly submit to and facilitate that mission.
Strategic reasons aside, I use this mission statement because it communicates theological convictions. I’ll take each clause from above and unpack it briefly.
We exist as individuals and as churches to glorify God (1 Peter 4:11, 1 Corinthians 10:31). While we are called to make disciples of all nations, a local church is called to first make disciples locally — to its neighbors (Matthew 28:16-20, Luke 10:25-37). This only happens because of the Gospel. The Gospel is more than the diving board into Christianity; it’s the pool. It is the foundation and force that shapes us as Christians and empowers church life (Romans 1:16). It is the center of all our core values, namely worship, discipleship, community, and mission.
Gospel-centered worship raises affections, emotions, and joy in Christ while grounded in and growing from the Word of God as it is preached and upheld. This journey of knowing the deeper and more intimate places of God is called discipleship. Yet discipleship does not happen alone. It happens in community (Hebrew 3:13). All this, then, propels us on mission as we make disciples first in our neighborhoods, throughout our city, and then ultimately, the world (Luke 24:45-49).
Repentantly, I am still learning what it means to be a student ministry with a mission. Most days I feel like my mission is to prove that, yes, I am a competent pastor. Even as I write, I know the vision I have communicated here isn’t a true reflection of my actual ministry. I often focus on grinding out my next sermon or small group and leave the strategic thinking on the back burner.
However, I am simultaneously tempted to let being “strategic” or “on mission” be the criterion for feeling good about my leadership. When my idolatries are in full flower like this, it’s helpful for me to remember that I am not called to be ruthlessly on mission. I am called to be faithful. And not faithful to a church’s mission statement, but to God. Yes, mission statements help clarify a particular, contextual, and local way of doing that. However, they are dependent on a better mission — a Commission. In my specific student ministry, this perspective plays out with three emphases:
1. Worship Weekly
I viciously guard worship in song and worship through expository preaching. I want the purpose of both to be raising affections, stirring desire, and prompting souls to pant. Weekly, I shoot to show a new reason why the diamond of Christ is valued the way it is — as preciously invaluable.
2. Prioritize Community
I make sure our students are exposed to community as often as possible. For our student ministry, we prefer having prolonged small group discussions at the majority of our services. I also prioritize cultivating Holy-Spirit-dependent leaders who can pastor our students through Scripture.
3. Missions with the Church
Finally, I make sure there are multiple opportunities for our students to join the wider body of our church in what it already does. I don’t try to forge new organizational partnerships, or concentrate on different zip codes, or go to different countries than what “big church” does. I do the same stuff. Student ministry should not be an alternate personality of the church. Rather, we should focus on the same relationships, mission-trips, and projects that are initiated and supported by the adults.
The student ministry is a mirror, not a forge.