Turning Towards Holistic Ministry

Mark Maines | Jan 4, 2007

All kids are at risk and all kids have resources.

This is the conclusion of Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Pam King after reviewing the latest research coming out of the Search Institute (www.search-institute.org). Surprised? I am. We might not think twice about the latter half of their statement; all kids do have resources, albeit limited in certain areas. But are all kids at risk? Every kid, everywhere? Are we now confident that regardless of students age, gender, ethnic or socio-economic background, they are at risk by the very fact that they are adolescents living in this era? If all kids are now at risk, how will the Church change its approach to students in order to better minister in this new reality?

While the Church is often hesitant to change, the Bible itself appears to be a change document. If we think about the concepts of conversion, repentance, transformation, and renewal, they are all examples of God-initiated change. The God of the Bible is interested in changing His people into His image. In II Corinthians 3:18 Paul writes,

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. [[NRSV]]

Here, we discover that we are being transformed (changed) by the ministry of the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ! Our changing into the image of Christ is the Holy Spirits ministry to us. Therefore, according to Erwin McManus, the local church is to be Gods expression of his radical commitment to change. [[Erwin McManus, An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 2001), 82.]] It is safe to conclude that if we are not personally being transformed, and in turn, partnering with the Spirit to bring transformation to the Church, we are not fully engaging the God we serve and the ministry He has called us to enact. In a student ministry context, we do not change for changes sake but initiate and implement the kind of change that leads students and families toward the person of Christ.

Function versus Form

Any discussion about change needs to differentiate between function and form. When we speak about what the Church must do, we are referring to its functions. Functions are the scriptural commands that the church interprets as what must be done. [[There are various models that attempt to explain the functions of the Church. Saddleback Church would define the Churchs functions as worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. Others use the language of establishing, evangelizing, empowering, equipping and encouraging. Regardless of how you frame it, the churchs functions are its roles as commanded by Scripture.]] Yet, you cannot have functions without forms. How the church actually lives out and implements those functions are its forms. In other words, function describes what we must do, while form describes how we choose to do it. Functions are non-negotiable and timeless, while forms are negotiable and temporary. Forms are flexible and are shaped by culture, history, personal preference, and tradition. Ministry forms require constant change and innovation as a result of our changing culture and its people being in constant motion. A biblically based ministry will always be faithful to function and creative in its forms. [[For further CYFM resources on approaching the change process, see Why Dont Good Ideas Fly? What Youth Ministry Can Learn from Innovation Research, at http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/wp/2005/12/why-don%e2%80%99t-good-ideas-fly. For more on the forms of ministry and the implications of changing them, see Technology Matters: Provocative Ideas about Media and Ministry from Shane Hipps, at http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/wp/2006/08/technology-matters.]]

The forms of student ministry have only changed slightly in the past decades despite the undeniably enormous changes in our culture. I believe we have reached the point in time when we must acknowledge the Church has tried to perfect and replicate a tired form of student ministry that is no longer effective. What we are feeling today is the slow, and at times painful, recognition that our current ministry efforts were designed and built for an era that has long since past. All students are at risk means the Church must revisit and re-engineer its ministry forms in order to help all students move towards Christ.

What should we change toward?

We are beginning to hear several suggestions as to which direction the Church should travel. Introducing our students to passion may play an important role in the future of student ministry. The re-emergence and practice of ancient spiritual disciplines may help our students experience and encounter God in fresh ways. In an era of cultural systemic abandonment, the role of a caring and nurturing adult community will certainly play a role in the future. In the midst of learning from all of these possibilities, I would like to add one additional form of ministry to the conversation: an integrated asset-based model of student ministry.

By integrated asset-based model of ministry, I mean using Search Institutes 40 Developmental Assets [[See http://www.search-institute.org/assets.]] as the guiding framework that influences every aspect of your ministry. At NewSong Church in San Dimas, the developmental assets influence our ministry forms in five specific ways:

  • What we do
  • What we teach
  • Who we call to serve
  • How we develop our leaders
  • How we use our collective voice

What We Do: Ministry Programs and Philosophy

The 40 Developmental Assets are holistic building blocks based on research with over two million youth in the United States and Canada. The more teenagers are able to access these assets through their surrounding communities and relationships, the more likely they are to succeed in school, avoid high-risk behaviors, and exhibit leadership. In other words, the more likely they are to thrive. These findings indicate that one of the most effective ways we can spend time with students is by developing assets. Which raises the question, why should we do anything other than the specific things we know will have a direct result on our students holistic formation and development?

At NewSong, we went through a process to identify the assets over which we had direct influence. [[The Church will not be able to address every asset. The number of assets you are able to develop will be largely determined by your specific context. At NewSong, we determined that we had influence over 18-23 of the 40 Developmental Assets. It takes a collaborative effort between the family, school districts, and the Church to help form all 40 Developmental Assets.]] Then, we began to re-design all of our ministry programs to help ensure we were developing assets every time we were with students. For example, we redesigned the traditional Senior Banquet into a more intentional night of blessing and honoring for each student to help reinforce their awareness that the community deeply values and cares for their person (asset #7). We discovered at least 5 assets can be intentionally developed while engaged in local service and mission. Our annual calendar now includes as least 6 cross-cultural experiences (mostly all local) to build the assets of planning and decision making (#32), interpersonal competence (#33), cultural competence (#34) resistance skills (#35) and peaceful conflict resolution (#36). We should not be surprised that so many assets are developed when we are faithful to fulfill the biblical functions. Another example is our commitment to have as many adults involved in the ministry as possible, believing it helps foster other adult relationships (#3) and adult role models (#14). These might seem like subtle changes, but the assets help validate and focus what you already do and also allow you to better inform others of why you do what you do.

The 40 Developmental Assets provide the framework and permission to create entirely new and innovative ways to spend time with students while keeping specific results in mind. And when we are tempted to do something that does not intentionally develop assets, we do our best to resist that temptation, knowing that someone else will more than likely take them to Disneyland.

What We Teach: Curriculum Development

Developmental Assets can also serve as the framework for what you teach and how you develop curriculum. Finding curriculum that teaches to the level you expect, on the topics that are important to your ministry, at a cost you can afford is difficult. Believing everything we do communicates something about God and our theology to our students, our team was looking for a way to connect what we were doing with what we wanted our students to learn about God. We were looking for a way to better integrate our programs and our curriculum.

We began by taking the list of assets and searching for the biblical antecedent. That is, we asked ourselves the questions, Where does this asset first show itself in Scripture? or Does it show up at all? Once we determined the scriptural antecedent (if it had one), we began to tailor our curriculum and programs around texts and assets. [[Ray Anderson develops this idea of biblical antecedents more extensively in Ray S. Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).]]

For example, one asset we would all affirm is the asset of family support (asset #1). We know if students are a part of a healthy family system, their chances of becoming healthy adults are increased dramatically over kids who are abandoned, neglected and lack family support. So where does family support surface in scripture? We immediately see in Genesis what happens when family systems tragically break down in the stories of Cain and Abel and Jacob and Esau. We see Gods charge to the Israelite community in raising children in Deuteronomy. We see themes of abandonment, adoption and redemption in the stories of Moses, Samuel and Eli. Jesus speaks to the nature and composition of family (Mathew 10). Paul gives instructions to parents in several of his books (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 5). Scripture is filled with stories that speak to the asset of family support.

Another example might be teaching the asset of equality and social justice. You could begin in Genesis with the Tower of Babel, teach about the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus, and pick up any of the prophets or Jesus own words about caring for the least of these. Teaching in this manner is not only true to the whole gospel but also helps your students become more whole through your teaching.

All of your programs can directly reinforce the scriptural truths you are trying to communicate and what you are trying to communicate can be directly reinforced by what you do together as a community. The assets provide the framework which allows you to fully integrate your beliefs, attitudes and values into behaviors you can experience together.

Who We Call to Serve: Recruitment

An older form of ministry might perpetuate a myth that the only adults who can serve as youth leaders are college students, or young married couples, or those under thirty. However, if your context is like mine, skilled leaders are in limited supply and you are constantly working to lower your adult-student ratio. Recruiting the right people and placing them in ministry is not only one of your most important roles, but it also requires a great amount of time and energy. When we shifted our thinking to an asset-based model, we found that our leadership pool increased exponentially. We discovered that regardless of age, gender, occupation or education, almost every adult in the community was a potential volunteer leader because almost every adult can help develop and nurture at least one asset in a students life. The question behind recruitment begins to shift from, Do I have enough leaders? to How can we all use our unique contributions to build assets into the lives of our students? We believe this approach to recruitment helps us become healthier as we decrease the emphasis on personality while increasing our attention to the uniqueness and potential contribution of every individual. We believe this shift in form also brings us into greater alignment with the New Testament teachings of how the Body is supposed to function every person using their skills, passions and giftedness to serve the entire Church, in order to help form one another into the likeness of Christ (see Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12).

How We Develop Our Leaders: Training

Proverbs 22:29 states, Do you see those who are skillful in their work? They will serve kings; they will not serve common people (NRSV). How we go about our work and ministry is important to God. Skill is expected. The 40 Developmental Assets allow us to train our leaders in a manner that directly increases their skills. By integrating the assets into our training, we are able to teach our volunteers how to meet and address the precise needs of our students. We teach them about the assets, train them how to develop assets, and then release them to become agents of change and hope within the community. The assets focus our time together and increase our effectiveness as we serve the King.

How We Use Our Collective Voice: Advocacy

The Israelites recognized Gods calling to speak up for others. According to Quentin Schultze, Leviticus 5:1 warned the people would be held responsible for failing to testify publicly about what they knew. Sometimes silence is a sin. [[Quentin Schultze, An Essential Guide to Public Speaking (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2006),16.]] Beautiful things can happen when Gods people come together and say the same thing at the same time, whether it is lifting our voices in song, responding together in prayer, or collectively advocating for what we believe to be true and best. Using the 40 Developmental Assets, our church now knows how to use its collective voice to advocate for our kids. Whether its the training seminars we offer parents, how we encourage public school administrators and influence the policies they create, or the way we work alongside local authorities to decide how to best distribute limited grant funding, our church is now more informed and more equipped to use its collective voice to help ensure that the young people of our community have the resources they need.

Integrating the 40 Developmental Assets does not mean we have arrived at the final or perfect form of ministry. Nor do the assets provide the only framework that should be utilized in constructing new forms. There are many models that can and do influence the lives of young people towards Jesus, whether the ministry model is built around small groups, camps, teaching, or highly-evolved programs. However, the needs of our students are indeed changing, and if you have yet to consider (much less determine) what direction your ministry is changing towards, maybe you will consider an integrated asset-based form of ministry. I have personally found it to be exciting, rejuvenating and deeply rewarding. Perhaps this new form of ministry will ultimately help transform our students and their families more into the image of Christ.

Action Points:

  • As you refer back to the list of assets at http://www.search-institute.org/assets, which assets does your ministry have direct influence over?
  • Which assets do you feel are most important for your students to develop?
  • Which ones do you consider the least important?
  • Which assets does your ministry naturally build?
  • How could you celebrate and communicate the good work that is being done?
  • What could you modify (in what you do, teach, who you call to serve, or how you train) to help ensure more assets are developed?
  • How could your church use its collective voice to raise your communitys awareness of what adolescents need?
Mark Maines

Mark Maines is a Navy Chaplain currently assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. He is committed to helping individuals and organizations thrive in both their leadership and their followership. He holds an MDiv from Fuller Seminary, and serves on the Advisory Council for FYI. He can be reached at mark.maines@usmc.mil.

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