Beyond the conference: 4 questions to transform your ministry training approach

Steve Argue, PhD Image Steve Argue, PhD | Sep 6, 2016

Photo by Nicholas Swanson

I’ve attended my share of ministry gatherings and conferences, and I’ve loved most of them.

I loved the energy. I loved the camaraderie. I loved the conversations, the perspectives, and the new ideas.

However, I became increasingly restless with where I was investing my resources. The conferences were encouraging (sometimes we need that), but too general. The seminars were interesting (sometimes we need that), but too short.

And here’s my true confession—I had a lot of notes, programs, and resources that found their way to my bookshelf never to be touched again. It didn’t mean that the event I went to, or I took my team to, wasn’t meaningful.

It’s just that whatever we captured at the event had a hard time making it home and into our actual ministry priorities.

This pattern got old.

Finding new pathways toward long-term change

The more I attended events, the more I realized that I had a responsibility to invest my ministry’s resources in ways that had the potential to make a lasting impact on me, my team, and ministry.

I realized that the event or conference was not the goal, but the first step toward a potentially new trajectory that leveraged some of the most important things we valued in our ministry. This realization changed the way I picked conferences and the way I evaluated how well we “conferenced.”

When I first met Kara Powell, she told me about a new initiative that the Fuller Youth Institute was launching. It was a cohort for church teams interested in applying research and implementing new initiatives to their ministry contexts that would advocate for young people and their faith journeys.

I was intrigued because I realized that I wanted more than a one-shot ministry adrenaline rush. I wanted something that leveraged what I felt was most important for our young people, our leaders, and the church.

Leveraging team training: 4 deciding factors

These 4 questions guided our process toward leveraging training opportunities in more fruitful ways, and made me a believer in the cohort approach:

1) How are we connecting research and practice?

The temptation in ministry is to default to anecdote. Too many seminars and events work off the premise that one person’s successful endeavor is generalizable to every other context.

The reality is that we don’t need the secret sauce. We need research. Research expands personal experiences and situates our thinking in broader contexts.

In our context, we pushed each other to not rely simply on our instincts or past experiences. We expected each other to root our ideas and evaluations in the research and literature we knew—how does theology, sociology, or developmental psychology shape our understanding of faith, small groups, or winter retreats?

The Fuller Youth Institute's Cohort helped us connect good research to our ministry initiatives. It gave us the “why” behind the “what”. You need this or else your ministry defaults to the strongest opinion or greatest adrenaline rush. Faithful ministry needs to be informed by good research.

2) How are we connecting here and there?

One of the most challenging aspects of learning is to be able to transpose what one learns in the classroom to real-life contexts. We also witness this challenge in ministry when we have epiphanies in the seminar and then have no clue how to actually bring that idea to our ministry contexts.

I was tired of classroom epiphanies. I wanted real-life ones.

The Cohort emphasizes bringing great ideas back home. This meant turning the ideas into tangible changes within our ministry context. Faithful ministry needs real ideas to support real people.

Faithful ministry needs real ideas to support real people. (tweet that)

3) How are we connecting me and you?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve gone to a lot of training alone. But I found that solo attending put me in an echo chamber of ideas that only I had experienced. Instead, when there was a team of us who participated in a cohort, we were doing more than attending something together—we were embarking on a journey together.

In the Cohort I have experienced the most important conversations not being what the presenters told us, but the conversations our team experienced in between—the early morning coffees and the late-night drinks. Together we were trying to figure out how to cultivate good news for our kids, students, and congregation. Faithful ministry emerges from conversations, not echo chambers.

4) How are we connecting us and (the broader and more diverse) us?

I’ve done it too many times. I have an idea that I think will change the world. I tell a few others and they get excited and before we know it, we’re running after something that we’re sold on, but about what no one else knows or cares.

Within our own faith community, we realized that the choices we were making had the potential not just for good youth ministry, but also for good church ministry. It is the job of youth ministry leaders to remember the broader conversation and how their actions affect (for better and worse) the whole church.

The commitment of the Cohort is to work with leaders who are passionate about young people and care about the whole church. Faithful ministry shifts youth ministry from an end-goal toward a portal for all ministry, not a siloed segment. Faithful ministry steps into the broader conversation to listen and humbly speak.

What is your best next step in ministry?

There are lots of options for ministry leaders out there—great, inspiring, motivational conferences that all serve a unique purpose. Our team loves supporting and speaking at many of these across the country.

For our church and for the many churches that I have coached over the last five years, leaders have determined that they need something that really leverages their priorities.

What they really need is to test their ideas against good research. They need to prioritize their ideas and walk them out. They desire to end up stronger as a team in the process. And they long for their ministries to engage in the most important religious and spiritual conversations they can.

I have seen the Growing Young Cohort do that for our church and for many others. Maybe you’ve had similar longings. You want this chapter in your ministry life to matter for everyone.

If so, check out what FYI has to offer and let us help you channel your thinking and passions in ways that bring sustainable change and the faithful ministry of which we know you are capable.

Discover the Cohort

Steve Argue, PhD Image
Steve Argue, PhD

Steven Argue, PhD (Michigan State University) is the Applied Research Strategist for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Steve researches, speaks, and writes on adolescent and emerging adult spirituality. He has served as a pastor on the Lead Team at Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids, MI), coaches and trains church leaders and volunteers, and has been invested in youth ministry conversation for over 20 years. Steve is the coauthor and contributor of a number of books, including Growing With, 18 Plus: Parenting Your Emerging Adult, and Joy: A Guide for Youth Ministry.

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