I *didn’t* go to a conference recently, where I co-led a workshop and saw that one of the workshop options was “Being Intentional in Youth Ministry.” I didn’t go to the workshop because I assumed they’d tell me what I already know and do – that you need to think through what and how you do things and be purposeful in your  ministry with youth. That everything you say (and don’t say), everything you do (and don’t do) matters.

(imagining what would be covered in the workshop)

BE intentional.Think theologically about what you do in your ministry with youth. Do things with purpose, with meaning. Plan in advance. Be prepared. Work with youth and adults to nurture a holistic ministry with youth that includes service, fellowship, worship, learning, and play. Keep it Christ-centered. Ensure that you and the ministry team understand, embody, and communicate the vision well. Involve parents in the process. Involve adults who are not youth parents in the process. And by golly, make sure to include youth in the process of co-creating the ministry together.

Intentional. I use this word quite frequently. It means a great deal to me to have integrity and to be authentic in my ministry and in my relationships with others. I want my actions and words to match with my identity and call. So, to do that, everything must be done with purpose, deliberately, with intention.

What this has looked like for me is a lot of vision sharing and explaining on why I do the things I do. At best, it has led to meaningful fellowship where true dialogue could take place and youth could explore and develop their faith in ways that they would not have, had so much intentionality not gone into the process of building community. At worst, it has led to being somewhat inflexible and closed to doing things differently and the insistence of too much structure/change too soon.

As I reflect on my experiences with youth, I am challenged by this notion of what it means to be intentional in youth ministry. I am reminded of many times where things just…happened. Unplanned, unintentional occurrences of learning or play; opportunities to meet a need that led to deep connection with God and neighbor. Times when I decided somewhat last minute to change what we were doing; times when I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be; times when someone or something interrupted my well-laid out plans.

Similarly, I’m reminded of times when I’ve sat down to plan an event or experience, with the goals of the youth “having fun” or “experiencing God.”  Sometimes having fun or experiencing God just doesn’t happen when you snap your fingers (even if the “snap” included hours of preparation). Seasoned youth workers, I’m sure, can think of events they’ve taken their youth to when the same can be said – the game that didn’t go so well, the jokes that weren’t so funny, the speaker or lesson that wasn’t connecting…no matter how much time/effort and intentionality went into it, sometimes, it just doesn’t click.

I have been most humbled when my best plans have failed. When my intention was for the youth to experience God through the  music, the scripture passage, or the interactive activity, and instead they report experiencing God while walking from our cabin to the dining hall or while staying up late singing praise songs in the dark.

More so than proper planning, structure, branding, or strategic visioning, I think being intentional in youth ministry means having a toolbox filled with options and a sense of preparedness, and at the same time, an openness to the Spirit that leaves room for the presence of God to be made known. It means practicing the means of grace, individually and together, and nurturing relationships for youth and adults to walk alongside one another on the journey of faith.

How have you been intentional in your ministry?

What are some instances when plans have failed or when those unplanned circumstances produced fruit?

What does intentional youth ministry mean to you?

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