Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You might be event driven if...

Whether they realize it or not, most student ministries I encounter lean towards being relationship driven or event driven.

 In my opinion the most effective ministries are driven by relationship. A majority (if not all) of student ministry leaders would claim that relationship is their philosophy and drives their ministry.  But the question for each of us is this, does our philosophy match our practice?

By relationship driven I mean staff or ministry leadership spending significant time recruiting, equipping and shepherding other adults and unleashing them to live life to life with students.

 Relational driven ministry is most effective when adults who love Jesus are spending intentional time with students, not simply teaching them information but really involved in their life.

There is tremendous Biblical support for this ministry philosophy. From Jesus to Paul, this is the way they lead and poured into others. This has been my ministry philosophy for 24 years.

The question for myself and others is simple,

do we say we are relationally driven
but execute a different ministry philosophy practically?

Here's the problem.

Many times we don't get "graded" based on how well relationship is growing in our ministry. Often we are seen as successful when there are tons of students in one place at one time and the programming is slick and inviting. Often we are graded on how effective our "talk" is and how students, parents and peers view our ability to communicate.  How we perceive we are graded drives how we spend our time and energy.

Don't get me wrong, if we're doing large group programming it should be done with the highest level of excellence, but many times the tail wags the dog.  Before we know it our desire to have the right event steals time from where we know life change is really going to happen, knee to knee, nose to nose and face to face.

My passion for relationship driven ministry has recently been renewed.

This year I'm leading a group of 9th and 10th grade guys and to be honest time with them seems to have more impact than 5 of my talks combined. We meditate on the Word, talk about how it applies to our life and pray for each other. They ask great questions and I'm blown away by their desire to please the Lord.

For years I have been afraid that I talked about discipling students and pursuing them relationally without really putting my money and time where my mouth is.

So how do we know if we're prioritizing events and neglecting relationship? 

Sometimes it's not that easy to tell if you're event driven. In a desire to help us think through where we are in the event verses relational tension I've come up with a way to process.

You've heard "you might be a redneck if" by our friend Jeff Foxworthy, well, here's a student ministry version to help you think through your own ministry.

You might be event driven if...

you spend a majority or your time with students

I know, you're in student ministry to hang with students right? The simple truth is you don't have the ability to connect with every student in your ministry at a deep level. Believe it or not there may be someone who connects with a student in your group better than you. True relational ministry spends intentional and organic time with adults who are relating to students.

If all your time is spent with students then perhaps YOU are relational, but most likely you're not leading a relationship driven ministry. Take some time to look at your calendar. How much of your schedule is devoted to spending time with your leaders? No matter how large or small your ministry is, trained adult leaders are the key to relational ministry.

You might be event driven if...

you spend more money on pyrotechnics and moving lights than adult leaders

A couple years ago I looked at my budget and saw that a large percentage of my money was going to trips, retreats and events. Very little of it was going to nurturing and training my adults. Of course we need money for trips, they can be the most relational part of our ministry, but if your budget is dominated by special speakers, new lights and tee shirts with little to no money for adult leadership development you might have fallen victim to event driven ministry.

What about setting aside some money for them to take students for coffee? What about some money to take them out to dinner to get to know them better and show appreciation. You could perhaps bring a speaker in to train and inspire your adult leaders. If you're relationship driven put your money where your mouth is.  Spend some of your budget on adults.

You might be event driven if...

50% or more of your week is spent in event planning and implementation

Again, gatherings must be done with excellence, that means careful planning. Your teaching should be Biblical and engaging but balance is the key. If it's taking more than half your time to pull off great programming, maybe you should consider changing how often you offer events.

When pulling off great events robs you of time and energy something has to give. Does the event win or does relationship win?

You might be event driven if...

your small group ministry meets at 8:30am Sunday

When do your small groups gather? Are you giving them prime time and prime attention or are they meeting when no student will show? We need to ask the question, "if we could only do one thing in our ministry, what would that one thing be?". And then, "if we only had one time to do it, when would it be?"

I've talked to youth workers who claim their relationally driven small groups are the most important piece of their programming, yet their small groups don't meet at the best possible time. Prime time is different for different places and ministries, find out what is prime time for you and place your most important piece of programming at that time.

Your might be event driven if...

you just remembered you have a leader's meeting...tomorrow

Ok, we've all been there. Things sneak up on us but what if we spent as much time and energy planning and pulling off leader's meetings as we do student gatherings?

Your leaders need constant connection and training. They don't want another meeting but gathering together is a priority. If and when we pull them together they should never be able to legitimately say the gathering was a waste of time. Think through your gathering times and make sure they're inspiring, shepherding and effective.

So there you have it. May we be leaders who constantly walk up hill in pursuing relationship as the greatest key to ministry effectiveness. Let's do great events but not at the expense of relationship.

What would you add?  Do you feel the "event vs. relationship" tension?


  1. This is great! Meeting with students in a small setting can be awkward but once true relationship is built, its so worth it. It seems we all want to be something "great" and when we view ourselves investing in something "small" many times I lose focus on what discipleship is really about. Preciate it David!

  2. Hey, thanks for chiming in. It's funny, large ministries do whatever they can to become small, and small ministries seem to do whatever they can to become big. What does that tell us?

  3. Great post! Perception vs. Reality, sometimes it hurts. However, the hard questions bring lasting change.