Recently, I finished reading Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. It’s a book that I received from a friend in ministry who swears by it as a handbook for youth ministry health. I had put off reading it, but upon his persistent urging, I picked it back up and read it.
I’m thankful that I did because it’s a short, but extremely helpful read.
The Right X
The premise of Sustainable Youth Ministry is that succeeding in youth ministry is not dependent on the “right guy” or the “right facility” or even the “right program” but is the result of consistently working a systematic process. The remainder of the book describes how one builds such a systematic process of discipleship that is sustainable, apart from a dependence on “the right X.”
Instead of focusing on that one thing that would change the ministry forever, DeVries suggests that a systematic approach is foundational to creating a sustainable youth ministry. This means clarifying and articulating things like vision and mission, values, measurable goals, yearly events, job descriptions, etc. DeVries also discusses the process of shifting culture from the negative to one that is positive and conducive to building momentum.
In thirteen chapters DeVries raised a number of questions and considerations with which I had never dealt. It is an intimidating thing, because merely reading the book revealed how little of a plan I had before reading it. But that is part of the strength of the book. Because in shedding light on “what I don’t know I don’t know,” I at least now feel more equipped with questions that I need to answer in order to provide a clearer path for our youth ministry.
Overall, Sustainable Youth Ministry is like a trip to the dentist. No one likes the dentist, except the dentist and his banker. But going to the dentist is a lot better than a mouth full of cavities. In the same way, DeVries challenges his readers to evaluate how ministry is done at a foundational level. Instead of avoiding the problems that cause so many youth ministries to fail (such as unmet expectations, conflicting definitions of success, political turmoil, etc.) DeVries challenges us to define success, clarify expectations, engage in strategically supportive relationships within the church, and to work a strategic process consistently instead of reactively doing ministry like Olympic ping pong match.
This is an important read because doing youth ministry well over an extended period of time is important. We don’t just want growth and success here and now. We want success that is sustainable.