The Purpose Driven Youth Ministry. Yes, yes. I know what you’re thinking. Purpose Driven is from a by gone era Sam. But here’s the thing, I wonder if some of us need to confess we were too harsh about this ministry approach in the past and maybe it needs to make a bit of a comeback! Or at the very least we need to revisit some gems that may have been lost from the Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (PDYM) paradigm. The main reason for my harking back is this: I am concerned by the number of ministries out there that are operating on what might be referred to as ‘the weekly grind’. No real sense of an over arching plan, no obvious strategic focus to what they do; just a weekly programme that rolls around every [insert day here] and slowly dwindles as the year progresses and youth get more tied up in sports, assessments, and other extra curricula activities. This weekly grind approach is perplexing – it isn’t like we have a lack of good resources out there to help us think more strategically in our ministries!
These days there are many youth ministry books, blogs, and resources designed to help you have a smarter, more integrated, multi-generational ministry. And there are plenty of really good ideas and frameworks that are worth considering. Certainly, the recent book from the team at Fuller Youth Institute, Growing Young, is worth a read. The need to share power with young people, empathise and create genuine community, and step away from mere rhetoric to an actual prioritising of young people and families are all very important concepts and strategies that are worthy of your church’s attention. So too are the ponderings of Nadia the youth pastor, a fictional leader created by Andrew Root in his 4 book series ‘A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry’. This narrative is a great resource to help youth ministry volunteers and specialists consider important questions around the why of ministry before considering the how. The character, Nadia, explores her theology, the scriptures, mission, and the end results as she begins in her ministry – and continues to engage with her young people, their families, and their world.
But I guess the Purpose Driven Youth Ministry has been on my mind lately because of my concern for less of the weekly grind and more of a strategically based ministry with young people. PDYM is one of those books that everybody involved in youth ministry in the late nineties and early noughties had on their shelves. It got talked about constantly. Every leaders retreat, conference, and youth event referred to the 5 purposes of ministry. Every team meeting had us considering the Community, Crowd, Congregation, Committed, and Core. Though, to be fair, I was never convinced many of us had actually read the thing cover to cover and considered its value beyond some kind of ‘purpose statement generating exercise’. For instance, could you list for me the 9 Components the PDYM chapters were framed around? Just FYI, it’s the Power of God, Purpose, Potential Audience, Programs, Process, Planned Values, Parents, Participating Leaders, and Perseverance (yes I know – so many ‘P’s!!). But when you start to think again about what was in this book, you may come to realise its value once more.
So here are three reasons why I think you should ‘re-read’ the Purpose Driven Youth Ministry.
- It can work – anywhere
One of the main reasons PDYM is so useful is that it provides a very basic structure and approach to ministry – which is mostly scalable and transplantable. Certainly, Saddleback Valley Community Church was large, and this was the context in which the book was written, so it speaks of ministry in ways that most NZ churches couldn’t and still can’t replicate, but if you look at the logic of the 9 components in the PDYM you can easily understand how they could each be applied to smaller or larger church settings. Yes, the programs section needs the most consideration for many of our settings, but the other eight components are very transferrable.
- It provides an ‘all’ encompassing framework
As I have already stated, many ministries I come across these days are just rolling around week to week with no real overall sense of purpose, reason, or strategy. What the PDYM offers is a framework that encapsulates a breadth of ministry issues and thinking which – if followed – would provide a fairly comprehensive approach to preparing, developing, and delivering ministry with young people. Now, of course, this approach has its pitfalls and there has been plenty written against the PDYM paradigm, especially as it relates to the idea of ‘orphaning structures’ where the specialisation of ministry becomes such that it carries “students to the doorway of adulthood but often leaves them there”. Nevertheless, the problems associated with this ‘one eared mickey mouse’ ministry approach are not insurmountable and certainly shouldn’t make us disregard the benefit of having really good, age specific ministry within the life of our churches.
- Alongside more recent resources it can become richer
The PDYM was created – like all things – at a particular time, in a particular context. This means it is blind to certain aspects of life and ministry that exist now but not then. Not least of which is the impact of social media on our lives, or the place of smart phones, the church in decline, the shifting of census results regarding religious affiliation, the multi-faith dynamic of New Zealand schools and life, and of course the maturing and developing of ministry with youth that has occurred subsequent to the book being published. The complexities of life and ministry may appear far greater than when PDYM was written, but that does not make it irrelevant. In fact, I think the PDYM paradigm can still be a crucial element in our ministry thinking.
When you allow the theology of youth ministry emphasis from more recent resources to flavour the way you understand the 9 components as a framework it can become richer. When you consider elements of justice, as Clark and Powell encourage us to, as well as other current social convictions, PDYM can provide a helpful conversation partner as to how you can implement social action for different groups of young people within the sphere of your ministry’s influence. When we allow aspects of development experienced during adolescence – such as social, physical, emotional, and spiritual – to shape our ministry the PDYM can give us a way of better organising age specific ministry opportunities. And when it can all seem so hopeless, pointless, and defeating, maybe, just maybe, PDYM can provide us with a challenge to reach out beyond the walls of our churches and our weekly ministries, in to the community and crowd.
So yes, there is real value in the PDYM paradigm, but don’t take my encouraging of it as a carte blanche to reinstate that 5-fold purpose statement from yesteryear. Good strategy and ministry implementation must be stirred by the currents of today. But, since PDYM is a helpful, clear, structured approach to ministry dynamics; I wonder if it is worth revisiting that old friend – likely still sitting on your shelf.
Questions to Ponder
- When you consider your church’s ministry with young people, how would you describe the overall strategic vision for it? What are you trying to achieve?
- If you think about the nine components of the PDYM (Power of God, Purpose, Potential Audience, Programs, Process, Planned Values, Parents, Participating Leaders, and Perseverance) …where is your ministry strong and where might it be weak?
- What is one step you could take for the upcoming school term that might enhance the purposeful nature of your ministry?
 Doug Fields, Purpose-Driven® Youth Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).
 Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad M. Griffin, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, First Edition. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2016).
 Andrew Root, Taking Theology to Youth Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2012).
 Fields, Purpose-Driven® Youth Ministry, 87.
 Mark DeVries, “What Is Youth Ministry’s Relationship to the Family?,” in Reaching a Generation for Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 485.
 Stuart Cummings-Bond, “The One-Eared Mickey Mouse,” YouthWorker J. 6.Fall (1989): 76–78.
 Chap Clark and Kara E. Powell, Deep Justice in a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).
 Fields, Purpose-Driven® Youth Ministry, 96.