Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    Back to School: Are We Planning for Ministry or Programs? Pt. 2

    As we enter a new fall season, are we preparing for ministry or programs? This was the question we posed in part one of this two-part series and we offered a way for you to help your teens define their ministry together long before you fill the calendar with activities.  In this post we'll offer a way to help your group formulate a mission or vision statement that can become the yardstick by which you measure all your ministry together in the new school year.

    After helping youth determine the "who" of your ministry together (i.e. who will you invite to be part of your fellowship), it's time to focus on the "what."  The following is an example of how we helped our youth explore the mission of our group.

    Step One:  We introduced the group to the following quote from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as way to frame our discussion: "There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting experience of genuine Christian community at least once in his or her life.  But in this world such experiences remain nothing but a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life. We have no claim to such experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of gaining such experiences. It is not the experience of Christian community, but firm and certain faith within Christian community that holds us together. We are bound by faith, not by experience." -- D. Bonhoeffer

    To my pleasant surprise, this quote stirred up an amazing amount of conversation among the youth.  They latched onto this idea that the purpose of our time together is not to be the activities and programs that we schedule -- the experiences. Sure, we enjoy the lock-ins and the pizza-making parties, but these should not be the focus of our ministry nor the main reason that we decide to participate.  Experiences are important but we have to be grounded first and foremost, the teens argued, in our faith as a community of Christians.

    Step Two: Next, we split into smaller groups and introduced several biblical texts that connect with the understanding of mission in the New Testament.  My personal "go to" scripture for this purpose is Luke 4: 14-30 (Jesus reading from Isaiah.) With these words as inspiration, we provided each group with a stack of paper rectangles like those you see in the photo below. We challenged them to work together and to think about how they would define our ministry and work together as a group.  As they brainstormed, they were to write any words that popped into their heads onto the paper, one word per sheet.  Groups were also encouraged to use some words from the suggested scripture texts.

    Step Three: After the small group brainstorm, we came back together and each group shared their words and laid them out on the floor for everyone to see. As you can see from the photo, responses included such words as faith, God, mission, inclusive, respect, love, and diversity.  The youth then worked together to sort the words, placing similar words together, grouping words that seemed related, and so on. Out of this organic process, there began to emerge a group of the words that all agreed were of most importance to defining our ministry.  Using tape, we started posting these words on the wall and arranging and rearranging them (much like magnetic poetry) until finally we had a cohesive mission/vision statement that we all felt expressed who God was calling us to be  together.  This approach is much looser and in some ways more chaotic than just sitting down and trying to write a mission statement, but I've used it with several groups now (including adults) and have found that it encourages much more creativity and freedom of thought (and much more room for inspiration of the Spirit!).

    Our mission/vision statement will remain on the wall of our gathering space all year and we will turn to it regularly as we begin to plan programs, events, and ministry to be certain that all we do stays focused on that vision for ministry.