Youth Ministry Vehicle, Part 1

Standard, manual, or stick-shift cars (as they are commonly referred to) have been almost reduced to an antique status across the U.S. as their automatic counterparts have risen in demand and popularity. Perhaps, the average millennial, Gen-Zer has never seen or driven a manual car!

If asked for a quick description, an experienced standard car driver may readily begin the discussion with the shifting of gears. They may show that the driver is responsible for changing gears as the terrain changes, when changing speed, or when starting out or preparing to stop. They may further share that a transmission or ‘power train’ is essential to all the inner workings of any car.

Here, the driver possibly will begin drawing parallels with automatic cars as they both use transmission systems. He may further clarify the similarities by noting that the transmission system is the means by which a vehicle’s engine communicates with its wheels—the drive-wheel system—to get them moving.

Youth ministry leadership functions much like both manual and automatic cars. It has an engine, which is the power source, a transmission system, and a drive-wheel system. Neither of the two latter systems will function without the engine.

The power source is the means by which youth ministry exists and produces output—the discipling of youth. Jesus Christ, the Omnipotent, all-powerful, Almighty God-with-us is the power source of youth ministry. He said, “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”—Matthew 28:18, KJV. Colossians 1:17 concurs: “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

Youth leaders often comprise the transmission system of youth ministry. They speak for Jesus Christ, and should have a direct connection with the power source and should model Him. They engage, train, mentor, and empower the drive-wheel system—the youth, to live for Christ, serve Christ and others, and disciple others for the kingdom of God. They serve rich, multi-cultural populations with differences in age, gender, ethnicity, culture, and world view, among other variables. This inherently diverse, dynamic ministry zone entails focusing on various cohorts, namely children, tweens, teens, young adults, senior youth, young at heart, Adventurers, Pathfinders, ambassadors, Master Guides, AY, camping, NSO, and other youth ministry areas. Thus, youth ministry demands being able to multi-task with a multi-focus lens so that no area of ministry is left behind.

Very much like the car’s transmission system, youth leaders are called upon to serve with a flexible outlook. Recognizing that they serve in a highly fast-paced, dynamic environment often propels leaders to exercise situational planning and bring many stakeholders to the table. This is the type of leadership that is willing to shift gears as the ministry terrain or pace changes; a type of leadership that avoids rigidity, but embraces, and practices adaptability and flexibility.

In Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources (1996), the authors argue that “there is no one best way” to lead individuals, and it is not “a prescription with hard and fast rules.” Effective leadership changes and adapts based on the “readiness level of the people the leader is attempting to influence,” (pp. 190, 207).

Youth ministry’s transmission system of youth leaders will continue to be empowered by God to be skillful, Spirit-filled co-drivers of this anointed vehicle!

David McKenzie is the director for Youth, Young Adult, Pathfinder, and Adventurer ministries in the Atlantic Union Conference.