“A youth ministry and church divided amoungst itself shall not stand.” –Abraham Lincoln’s second cousin, Jerry, 1863

Every book on leadership talks about setting the course for your ministry and making the big decisions – and how it all rides on your shoulders. If you’re in youth ministry, you’ve got to learn to be a good follower.

It’s natural, even essential, for you as the leader to have a vision for the students entrusted to your care. But the silo mentality has been the downfall of many youth ministries. It works like this: the youth ministry is disconnected, away from the “normal” congregation and pretty much the youth pastor is left to do his or her own thing. It is an island, a church within a church, and as long as the church van is clean everyone is happy.

One big happy family

But is it really a happy arrangement? I have talked to many youth pastors who have their own vision for their ministry, which is indispensable (the alternative is not having a vision at all), but I feel one of the most important decisions you can make as a youth worker is honor your senior pastor’s vision for the church.

I am shocked to hear so many youth workers who allow their vision for their ministry to stray from the overall vision of the senior pastor and church as a whole. Yes, having our own vision for our ministry is great but can’t come at the expense of diverting from the vision or offer a competing vision against the direction of your senior leader.

Double vision brings double the problems.

When ministries do not match the overall vision of the church, it can cause some problems. Even if we don’t mean for them to, it really does. I have heard horror stories of splitting churches because of two separate visions. One ministry is doing very well and the church is not and it’s because they are headed in another driection (even if it’s the right direction) creates tension. It will create division when within one church, there needs to be unity.

That’s why double vision will cripple a church! That’s why so many youth workers tenure ends well before they’re time. That’s certainly one of the contributing factors in youth pastor turnover. Don’t let this happen to you!

Here are some challenging questions I’ve had to ask myself about my ministry. My prayer is that you can strategically work alongside the leadership of your church to streamline your double vision into one unifying purpose statement:

  • Do you know the heart of your senior pastor for the students in the church? Whether you believe it or not, your senior pastor cares for the students in the church. If you work on staff, he hired you to take care of them. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t need to hire anyone.
  • Have you asked your pastor what his desire for the students of his church? This simple but revealing question allows you to understand what desires your senior pastor has for the church as whole. As someone on his staff, it’s your job to help carry out the desires and vision of the pastor. It’s amazing to me how many student pastors have not asked this simple question to get some insight of their leader. I know when I asked my senior pastor what his heart for the young people of the church is, I was blown away with how much he cared for their well being and had some good insight for direction on where I should go.

DO THIS: Align the vision

What is the vision statement of your church? What is the vision statement of your ministry? Does it match? These are simple but important question in which I think a lot of student pastors look over. Your church has a vision and it usually matches the senior pastors vision. There are so many student ministries that have vision statement, which is great, but there are many groups in which their vision is different from the church as a whole. It’s like the church is going one way and the student ministry is headed in another way. I think in order for us to be most effective in our churches, with our senior pastors, we need to make sure our vision statements are somewhat similar. We want our values to be the same:

Christ Church of the Valley Purpose Statement

To create fully-devoted followers of Jesus in every home in our valley and beyond.

Shift Students at Christ Church Purpose Statement

To create a place where students are challenged to be a fully-devoted follower of Jesus in their homes, schools and beyond.

No double vision there! While I would have loved to create my own statement, I know the importance of alignment. Leave no doubt where our heart lies when it comes to why we do the programs as a church. We’re all clearly headed in the same direction. The end results is less friction as we continue to move forward and grow totally aligned with the church. 

When you’re on your own page, it is anything but humble. This arrogance rears it’s ugly head and heart “know better” and your vision is “right” or even secretly that “your senior pastor has lost touch”. Having a cohesive vision statement and honest lunch conversation with your senior pastor would be one of the best things you can do because it brings alignment from the top down.

DO THIS: Align the programs

What are the non-negotiables your senior pastor has for adults? What are the main values your pastor has and do you match those values in how your run your program? It would be wise to know what are the things your senior pastor wants the adults he is directly responsible for so you can figure out how to implement the same thing within your student ministry.

For example, my senior pastor and I have “stacked hands” on the following:

  • A weekly engaging worship service where students far from God can be invited to be a part of His family.
  • A regular small group community so people can experience God through fellowship.
  • A regular outlet of service to serve the people of our community.

That’s the vision from my senior pastor – so that’s my vision, too! We totally agree that we want to make sure that when students graduate through our program and enter the church as an adult, there is no real change to what their values are. They have known, participated in, and owned the values from our senior pastor from the very moment they entered our ministry.

Find out what are the things your senior pastor desires for the adults and find a way to implement it in the next season of your ministry. 


Justin Knowles