Sometimes in youth ministry, we may feel like we are coordinating chaos. No matter how much we do or plan, teenagers often have a mind of their own. So, how often do we take seriously their need for a little bit of freedom from programming? Don’t totally abandon your programming just yet! I run a ministry of weekly programmed gatherings and biweekly organic meetings during the summer and each model has its own strengths and weaknesses. The summer is such a great time for students to engage in worship in different ways. Organic ministry is sometimes misunderstood as a ministry with no thought or preparation needed. However, there is planning that must be done if you intend to do organic ministry well and make a lasting impact on your students.
Teach Students Hospitality
Hospitality is often a form of service overlooked in the church. Hospitality can take on many forms from making food to offering a meeting space or finding a gathering space at a local restaurant. Being hospitable is something that teens can learn to do well and allows them to take on ownership of the ministry. Teens may not be able to plan all of the details of the event but don’t underestimate their willingness to serve their friends and youth group members. Allowing students to still have a leadership role in this ministry will encourage them when it comes time to bring friends into the fellowship. Encourage your students that hospitality can train them to invite God and friends into unique meeting points during the week.
Train Volunteers in Theology
One difference between organic ministry and programmed ministry is that you may not always have a sermon. Sometimes when my students meet, we start a conversation on a current topic that students may have questions about or a simple scripture reference. Rather than preaching a long sermon, we may ask our students to bring up the challenging questions or conversations they might want to have during these times. Students don’t often shy away from asking the tough questions if you will give them the space! However, you might not always be the one sitting next to a student who has the tough question and you need a great team of trained volunteers who are ready to be there and share when students are ready to talk. Make sure that you are training your volunteers to pray with your students, and to teach right theology. This may mean that you need to spend more time with your volunteers and might actually take longer than you simply crafting a sermon on your own time. Please remember that organic ministry done well always takes preparation but will allow your students the space to ask questions that apply to their daily lives.
However, you might not always be the one sitting next to a student who has the tough question and you need a great team of trained volunteers who are ready to be there and share when students are ready to talk. Make sure that you are training your volunteers to pray with your students, and to teach right theology. This may mean that you need to spend more time with your volunteers and it might actually take longer than you simply crafting a sermon on your own time. Please remember that organic ministry done well always takes preparation but will allow your students the space to ask questions that apply to their daily lives.
I have the privilege of having time during the week to pray for each of my students by name. If a new person attends my ministry, I try my best to get their contact information and pray for them as well. I also pass that information along to my volunteers so that they can continue to pray for students that they engaged with during the week. Prayer is not the only step in preparing for your organic ministry but it should be one of your priorities. Doing ministry without a life in prayer is like being a vine cut off from the root!
There are some of our organic ministry meetings that are centered around fellowship. If serious discussion stems out of this time, we are always thankful but we realize the need for building relationships in such a chaotic world. However, prayer is the one thing that we do at every meeting since we always share food and it gives us an opportunity to share Christianity with everyone in attendance. Engaging students and leaders in that time of prayer can be one of the smallest but most influential parts of your ministry if you train your leaders to pray both passionately and confidently in public.
Some of our students love structured times, services with quick and to the point messages, and worship that only lasts an hour during their already busy week. However, many of the students that will dig deep in your youth ministry may not feel at home in such a rigid structure. Organic ministry is built more on relationships and less on a rigid structure. The great thing about organic ministry is that we give space for God to move. When we push programming out of the way and look deeper into what it means to be a disciple of Christ, we find that Christ taught as he went from town to town and even Deuteronomy 6 encouraged all people to talk about the Lord’s commands at all times. As a leader of an organic ministry, we have to continually practice letting go of control. It can be both exciting and challenging when we take a step back and let God have more space to move. Continue to practice letting go of the control of programming and allowing God’s word to teach and stir in our hearts. Sometimes a little bit of chaos is just what God needs to move in a powerful way.
Jen Willard is a full-time youth pastor in Charlotte, NC where she lives with her husband, Bryan. She is currently attending Nazarene Theological Seminary to obtain a Masters of Divinity. Jen is a coffee snob, beach addict and travel enthusiast who loves walking with teenagers toward Jesus! Find me on INSTAGRAM and TWITTER as @DUCKJD.