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Saddleback youth pastor echoes purpose-driven ministry thrust

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–A healthy youth ministry is a purpose-driven youth ministry, and a purpose-driven youth ministry will have programs and structures that reflect evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, said Doug Fields, youth pastor for one of Southern Baptists’ largest churches.
Fields, a staff member at Saddleback Community Church in Mission Viejo, Calif., directed his comments to youth ministers and pastors taking part in a combined academic workshop and continuing education conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary May 18-22. In all, 170 ministers and students from not only the southern United States but also Michigan participated in the week’s events.
The conference introduced Fields’ new book, “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry: Nine Essential Foundations for Healthy Growth,” released in January. by Zondervan. His book follows the successful book written by Rick Warren, Saddleback’s senior pastor, titled “The Purpose Driven Church.”
Though Fields regularly leads his Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry Seminar, this was his first conference since the release of his book.
In writing the book, Fields said, “I was trying to get my arms around what health is and how to build a healthy youth ministry that is not dependent on one great youth worker.
“Problems revolve around leadership,” Fields said. “Healthy things grow and we have to move away from the youth minister being just an activities director and doing advanced baby-sitting.”
Youth ministries need to be focused more on being healthy rather than having a lot of hype, Fields said. “If we do not have the power of God, how are we different from the local YMCA?”
“Baptists are good at adding programs to youth ministries, but not good at eliminating things that no longer work,” said Allen Jackson, assistant professor of youth education at New Orleans Seminary and co-teacher during the week-long workshop and seminar. “The guiding light is to stop having activities just to keep junior high students off the streets.”
Jackson said “churches need to arrive at purpose statements that will provide the hooks to hang the rest of their youth ministry programs on.”
The wrong question is, “How do I grow my youth ministry?” Fields writes in his book. The right question, he says, is, “Why does my youth ministry exist?”
“Jesus was very purposeful in what he did, and he did not have time for those things without purpose,” Jackson said. “Have we supported the institution of the church more than the cause of the kingdom? Our efforts need to disciple those in our church and reach those not in our churches.”
Although Saddleback now attracts hundreds of youth to its weekly programs, Fields is quick to point out his ministry began with only 35 youth. He emphasizes a healthy youth ministry takes time to build, and his book is more about “principles and not about the size of the youth group.”
Not only are all youth ministries different in size, but each ministry also has youth who are at various stages in their commitment level to Christ, Fields said.
Fields gave five general characteristics essential for all programs, regardless of commitment level. Healthy programs need:
— to put relationships first.
— a fresh source of ideas.
— strength beyond a personality.
— an ongoing follow-up system.
— clarification of their purpose and potential audience.
“Clyde Hall (manager of the youth section for the Baptist Sunday School Board) has been saying these things for 15 years,” Jackson said. “This is nothing new under the sun. It’s just that Doug has put it all in one place.
“As a practitioner, he is making it understandable to youth ministers in all types of churches. The fact that 170 students (at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) want to hear him talk gives credit to the need of such a strategy.”
Bryan Howell, a master of religious education student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and youth intern at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, attended the workshop and said he appreciated the way Fields laid out biblical principles and did not come in with just another youth program, but said why he was doing what he was in his youth ministry.
“I can take his principles and not his programs back home where I can adjust those principles around my programs to build a healthy youth ministry,” Howell said.
At the end of the workshop, Jackson helped students customize applications from Fields’ book, giving students a rough draft of ideas that could be used in their own ministry settings.
As Fields mentions in his book, a purpose-driven youth ministry will have programs and structures reflecting evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry. He also addresses, by chapter, nine essential components to be used to develop a blueprint for building a healthy youth ministry:
— Power of God: “helping passionate leaders with pure hearts to rely on God.”
— Purpose: “knowing why your ministry exists, writing it out, and putting leadership behind it.”
— Potential Audience: “Identifying your students and their receptivity to your purposes.”
— Programs: “Creating programs to fulfill the purposes and reach the potential audiences.”
— Process: “Showing how you intend to move your audience toward spiritual maturity.”
— Planned Values: “Identifying the beliefs and styles that will help support the purposes.”
— Parents: “Teaming up with the family for a stronger youth ministry.”
— Participating Leaders: “Knowing how to bring others on board to help fulfill the purposes.”
— Perseverance: “Knowing how to stay focused, remain fresh and stay alive.”
Fields has been in youth ministry nearly 20 years. He has written more than 20 books, including “Creative Dating” and “The One Minute Bible for Students.”

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  • Steve Achord