4 Tools to Reveal Your Ministry Priorities

I recently wrote about my brief stint as a vegetarian (link to food waste blog). During that time I organized dozens of youth events where food would be served. Every single one of those events featured meat. Why? Because people love meat, and they expect to have it when meals are served. Vegetarianism is important to me, and kids knew about it, but it wasn’t the hill I was going to die on. It wasn’t one of the theological rocks of my ministry.

4 Tools Ministry Priorities

Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

Here is your talk for next Sunday, if you haven’t already used it:
Your life (or your ministry area, or marriage, or whatever) is an aquarium/vase/clear jar. There are a million types of things that can go in it, but they can’t all go in it.

Before program, grab some large rocks, some pebbles, and some sand, measured out so that when you put in the rocks, then the pebbles, then the sand, it all fits—barely. Show your young people each of the objects, and explain that some things carry weight and occupy real space—rocks. Other things are flexible and fleeting—pebbles and sand.

Begin to fill the aquarium with sand, then pebbles. Try to put the rocks in, and point out that when you start with the small stuff, you will not have room for the rocks. Take all the stuff out, and try again, starting with the rocks. Show your young people that when you start with the rocks, the other stuff can fit. You have to start with the rocks, and build around them, like what Jesus said (Matthew 7:24-27). And then you give the benediction and everyone goes home and sorts out their lives.

How is God going to use my gifts, and the gifts of my team, in my context? You’re not the youth minister down the street, and your church is not the church of the guy in the video. How do you do ministry, how do you live out your calling?

Knowing your theological rocks, your non-negotiables, is imperative to crafting a healthy and thriving ministry. When you build your ministry calendar, do you spend the most time doing the things that are most important? When you look at your budget, is it aimed towards your priorities?

Do you know what your priorities are? 

You need to. Here’s four steps you can use to find out:

1) Theology

Start here. What do you believe about God and the Scriptures? Consider the faith tradition you grew up in, talk to people who are smarter than you. Put in some hours, take a class, go to a Flagler Youth Ministry Seminar. You need to boil your theology down to your non-negotiable in two ways:

A: What are my core beliefs about God, humanity, sin, grace, Scripture, salvation, and church?

B: What are theological beliefs I ascribe to that are secondary (important to me, but not core to my ministry)?

Here’s one example of how it looks for me:

Core: God created a good world

Secondary: The power of the Holy Spirit makes living in perfect love possible

Implication: I won’t teach in a way that creates a good/evil dichotomy between “the world” and “us” even though I believe we are capable of living in a way that looks wildly different than people around us.

Pro Tip: Don’t major on the minors. You may REALLY care about a truly biblical issue—that doesn’t necessarily make it an imperative part of your ministry.

2) Ministry Style

What am I trying to accomplish in my youth ministry? What has God called me to? How is God going to use my gifts, and the gifts of my team, in my context? You’re not the youth minister down the street, and your church is not the church of the guy in the video.

How do you do ministry, how do you live out your calling? If we know what we believe (step one) and have a sense of how we do ministry (step two) we will be well on our way to a sound strategy.

How it looks for me:

Core Belief: Kids move towards Christ on a continuum (not an on-off switch)

Implication One: Don’t balk when “almost Christians” or “baby Christians” make bad decisions.

Implication Two: Programs should have varied opportunities where kids from different places in the continuum can relate.

Pro Tip: Don’t figure this out alone. You are on a team. You (probably) have a boss. You (God willing) have volunteers. You definitely have teens’ parents. Listen well to them and build a solid ministry structure—together.

3) Personal

You need a well developed sense of who you are in order to survive in ministry. Know your personality and your gifts. Be aware of your shortfalls and your own context: how and where you were raised, what you were taught. With this knowledge, discern what the non-negotiables are for your life in ministry. Need help discovering this? Ask a lifelong friend, talk to family members, see a counselor for a few sessions.

How it looks for me:

Core Belief: Good, clear boundaries make relationships healthy and sustainable

Implication One: I know when I am at work, and when I am not. If I am not at work, I won’t do work.

Implication Two: My family is usually happy with my life balance, church folks are sometimes frustrated or let-down by my (lack of) availability.

4) Reverse Engineer

In the last three steps, I have essentially asked you to search your soul and find the biggest chunks of the most important parts of your being. That’s a tall order.

If this is too much for you, try this: examine what you already do or don’t do. Search your personal and ministry calendars, as well as your personal and ministry budgets. Look back at the talks you’ve given over the last year. You’ll see what you care about and what you believe. (Unless “ease of use” is one of your ministry style rocks, in which case you’ll just discover which curriculums were hot last year.)

Anyway—discover where your time, energy, money, and passion go. Then look at those things with a critical eye, discern which ones snuck in and which are actually your core-values. Once you’ve discovered them, adjust your life, time, and money towards them.

How this looks for me:

I did middle school ministry for many years. Every year I would spend 1-3 weeks addressing healthy and holy sexuality from the stage. In those talk series I never once talked from the stage about same-sex attraction. If I were to reverse engineer that ministry decision I would discover that addressing matters of sexuality is important to me, but addressing same-sex attraction is not a non-negotiable—it’s not a rock for me—especially in the context of middle school ministry.

Maybe you disagree with this non-negotiable. That’s fine; I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other. I’m just trying to show you what it may look like to reflect on your ministry practices to discover your non-negotiables.

We have a comment section—what are your non-negotiables? I’d love to see some!

 About the Author: Tyler Fuller
The only job I have ever pursued is vocational ministry. I spent over a decade doingtyler fuller Young Life and church Youth Ministry. I am now the Missions Pastor at a mega church in the panhandle of Florida (who still gets to work with youth every day!)