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The Difference Between Program and Ministry

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Years ago, I sat in at Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention, listening to Kara Powell, talk about her research connected to the new Sticky Faith book. I remember her on the main stage talking about programs being a tunnel to ministry but not being our ministry.  She warned the crowd to make sure to be careful to not trade program for ministry.  Even further back, I remember the late, Mike Yaconelli, speaking similar words of warning and inspiration over a crowd of youth workers. Like the grandfather of youth ministry that he was, he lovingly commanded us not to go back to our churches and get sucked right back into a system of programs, losing our pursuit of true ministry to students.

Pursue Ministry, not programs

Twenty-three years into youth ministry, I still find myself having to be reminded of these words. The difference between program and ministry.  A few years ago, I intentionally decided to make myself and my team a short list as a reminder for the year to pursue ministry and not just put on a program.   I attached the list inside each leader folder as a constant reminder.  I am now once again, providing a similar list to my new team at my new church as a foundation for our year.

Here are just 15 of those reminders for your year as well- the differences between “Program” and “Ministry”. May this list help you and your team, as you move forward into the year as well.

15. Program is about Quantity; Ministry is about Quality.

14. Program Spends money; Ministry Stewards money.

13. Program is about Tradition; Ministry is about Trajectory.

12. Program has Shoppers; Ministry has Members.

11. Program Plans; Ministry Prays.

10. Program meets a Social Need; Ministry meetings a Spiritual Need

9. Program seeks Success; Ministry Seeks Blessing.

8. Program is a Job; Ministry is a Calling.

7. Program is another Option in a busy schedule; Ministry is a Priority in a busy schedule.

6. Program is Led by a Leader; Ministry is Guided by a Team.

5. Program is about what People can Get; Ministry is about what People can Give.

4. Program is about Bodies in the Seats; Ministry is about Hearts in Eternity.

3. Program Teaches; Ministry Disciples.

2. Program is about Entertainment; Ministry is about Relationships.

1. Program is about Individuals; Ministry is about a Community.


dan.DAN ISTVANIK is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own blog “The Middle Years” at   WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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