Goals Are Overrated

Youth ministry has often stressed its telos, its goal. The leaders in the youth ministry world seem to be goal-oriented people with a fairly clear vision about where they're going and what their ministry does. But I'm often staggered by many youth workers' inability to articulate a clear theological rationale, a foundational starting point, apart from their ministry's goal. The assumption, perhaps, is that ministry is essentially about goals, that all ministry must definitively have an objective to accomplish. This is, after all, a theological rationale for ministry, but I don't find it to be the most compelling or complete and I have seldom heard it articulated theologically. Instead, it's an assumption which has replaced any alternative theological starting point. If youth workers were asked about their theological rationale, the theo-logic of their ministry, most of them, I imagine, would be able to provide answers that point to "making disciples" or "introducing kids to Jesus" or even "getting kids to join the mission of the Kingdom of God." They'd have their goal, even their process, figured out. But the theological starting point (again, for most but not all) would likely remain veiled in ambiguity. Why the goals? Why ministry? Why that ministry? We're so obsessed with the teols we forgot the arche, the origin of our ministry.

Though we have treated it as such, "what are we trying to accomplish?" is not the most helpful question in ministry. It may be, from a structural and functional standpoint, the most helpful question for an organization to ask. But the fundamental and most important question for ministry is not a question of our goals or potentialities but of God's action and our participation. Youth workers, especially those who are just starting out, should not be asked about the telos of their ministry before they're asked about the theological origin of their ministry. In fact, they should probably spend lots of time thinking about this question before they even graze the surface of the question of goals. As it is, however, we have taken up the opposite methodology. In attending so carefully to the goals of our ministry, our theological rationale is absorbed into our goals and we can seldom even articulate a theology of ministry. 

This is a problem because, among other reasons, ministry itself is fundamentally responsive participation, not clerically imitative initiative. In other words, we are called to participate in the person of God through the ministry of God in response to God. We are not called to imitate the activity of God through our own human initiative. Therefore, goals themselves are in the family of illusion. The telos of ministry, in fact, is not a goal at all, at least not from our end, as much as it is a vision of the world that God is calling to present from the future. 

The better question for us to ask is "where do we start?" Without a clear vision of God's action--that in which we are participating and to which we are responding--(and how human action is rendered thereby), goals may or may not have anything to do with ministry. Our obsession with goals, with figuring out what kind of people we want to shape kids into, has handicapped youth ministry from considering its actual theological rationale.

All this is to say, goals are overrated. Let goals come second to foundations, to reasons, to the actual stuff of ministry itself. Only when we have a clear vision of God's action can we have an understanding of human action that may have something to do with ministry. Understand your starting point before you worry about what you want to accomplish. Does it begin with Christology? Does it begin with justification? Does it begin with the Spirit? Does it begin even with eschatology? When we have a handle on this, when we've articulated the arche of ministry, we have a shot at seeing the telos. 


Luke said…
I'm a believer in goals in ministry. Not big hairy idea style goals, just simple stuff for me.

One thing I've adopted is a mission statement and then three things that I will get done this year based off that statement. Just three. If I do anything else, then that's bonus.

My mission is: "Part Theologian. Part Dinosaur."
My three: 1. Develop Family Small Groups (connect more to church, like a dinosaur)
2. Leadership Retreat for Cabinet (used to do it, and need to pray hits both: theology of what we plan for our dinosaur institution)
3. Plant Teen Ministry:develop a teen-lead program

It's helpful for me as it keeps me moving. Christianity isn't a system of beliefs or an institution. It's a movement. Gotta keep moving toward the kingdom by making disciples.

The dude who developed the "three things" started at a 90 person 1 room methodist church set in a poor, rural area. He scrapped the bylaws, spent a year on Acts, and then invested in those who took notes and were "all in" and he grew that church that first year from 90 to 56. And since then they've grown to a 4 campus church, that's 4th in the UMC area. Mike Slaughter is his name. And I like the cut of his jib.