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Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts: Organizing, Leading, and Managing Your Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts: Organizing, Leading, and Managing Your Youth Ministry

by Duffy Robbins

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If you stand back and look at a thriving youth ministry, you probably won't notice all the pieces and parts that are working to keep that ministry together and functioning well. But the reality is, there are important, behind-the-scenes mechanics of youth ministry that are essential if you're going to keep the ministry moving forward and impacting teenagers' lives.


If you stand back and look at a thriving youth ministry, you probably won't notice all the pieces and parts that are working to keep that ministry together and functioning well. But the reality is, there are important, behind-the-scenes mechanics of youth ministry that are essential if you're going to keep the ministry moving forward and impacting teenagers' lives.

In Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts, youth ministry veteran Duffy Robbins helps you build a strong ministry as you understand how to:

build and manage a budget

deal with conflict

work with parents

make decisions (without making enemies)

manage staff and volunteers

evaluate your ministry

find a youth ministry job that's a good fit for you

survive for the long haul in youth ministry

These, and a range of other issues, are the things that keep a ministry working. The reality is, nobody gets into youth ministry because they want to think about these things; but a lot of people get out of youth ministry because they didn't think about them!

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Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts, Revised and Updated

Organizing Leading, and Managing Your Youth Ministry
By David W. Robbins


Copyright © 2010 David W. Robbins
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-67029-2

Chapter One

Getting Them Through the Roof

Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:3-5)

Let's begin with a mind experiment. Jesus is coming to your town, and you have a dream-a big idea. More than anything, you'd love to arrange for the kids in your youth group to have some face time with this guy! You're convinced that if you could just get your youth to the feet of Jesus, some amazing things would happen.

How cool would it be if he came to your youth group and gave the talk Sunday night? (Can you say, "Powerful testimony"?) Maybe you could snag a picture with him for the website; maybe have him shoot a video plugging the upcoming events ("Hi, I'm the son of God, and I look forward to seeing all of you at the Winter Retreat!"); maybe arrange for him to have a one-on-one encounter with that troublemaker kid. Oh, baby-that would be the best.

But how to pull it off? What could you do?

You know the itinerary: Where Jesus is going to be and when he's going to be there. But so does everybody else in town. The place is going to be jammed. And, of course, there will be security. The disciples will have those cool robes that say "EVENT STAFF," and a few invited guests will have passes that say "ALL ACCESS." But you and your kids would be lucky to get access to the T-shirt table. You don't want to be disrespectful to others who might want to see Jesus, and you're not trying to cause a scene, but this is going to be complicated. How do you get your group from where they are to where Jesus is? That's the question.

So how would you do it? Before you read any further (even if you know where this is headed, Mr. I-Know-My-Bible-Stories!), take a minute to think about this dilemma. How would you get your group from where they are to where Jesus is? That's the question.

To make this interesting, why don't you come up with two plans. The first will be a plan of complete lunacy. (EXAMPLE: Your youth steal some "EVENT STAFF" robes, then begin circulating through the crowd explaining that this man claiming to be Jesus is an impostor-the real Jesus is in the house next door. Then, as the room empties out, go up to Jesus, apologize for calling him an impostor, and ask him to sign your Bible and pose for a picture with your group. Granted, it's a long shot-but you never know.)

Your second plan needs to be feasible. I'm not saying it has to be fully orthodox. In most cases, when passion and faith come together, creativity is the midwife, and that's when the best ideas get hatched-and those ideas are sometimes a little unorthodox. But it's got to be a realistic possibility. (EXAMPLE: You move as far forward in the crowd as you can, and then, when it's impossible to move any closer, try to disperse the crowd by shouting loudly, "Fire!" or "Lepers coming through!" or-worst-case scenario-"I've got a group of middle school kids here!")

Let's stop here while you think through your options.

PLAN A (Lunacy):

PLAN B (Realistic Lunacy):


It wasn't just a mind experiment on that day about two thousand years ago. It was a very different time-around 30 AD-and a very different place-somewhere in Capernaum-but this was precisely the same dilemma facing a paralyzed man and his friends in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus is giving his homecoming address at a friend's house in Capernaum (Mark 2:1-12). Hordes of people jam the main room, with hundreds more waiting outside, hoping for a glimpse of this one about whom they've heard such incredible stories and rumors.

The room is hot, the air close, and the crowd is absolutely silent as they strain to catch every word of the Master. Suddenly, those nearest to Jesus feel pieces of roofing falling down, showering them with clods of dirt, twigs, and finally larger slabs of tile. Heads tilt back as the amazed crowd sees a ragged hole open in the ceiling and a mat lowered into the house. The glare of the sunlight shining through the hole obscures the four men as they lower a man suspended on rope and mat so that the paralytic passenger stops just in front of Jesus-a first-century elevator, if you will.

All over the room there is whispering, a sense of shock and nervous excitement. What is this about? What's going on? How will Jesus respond to this shocking intrusion? But Jesus silences the crowd with a strong, clear proclamation. Looking directly into the eyes of the paralyzed man, he proclaims, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Now the confusion and stunned conversation in the room below is matched by the confusion and stunned conversation up on the roof.

"Did you hear what he said?"

"Yeah, Jesus said his sins are forgiven."

"Well, that's just great. A lot of good that's going to do him. If we went to all this trouble just so Charlie can have a clear conscience [names have been changed to protect the innocent], I'm gonna be ticked off!"

But, then, down below, the Son of Man speaks again. With all the authority of heaven, he calls to the paralyzed man, "Get up, take your mat, and go home." And to everyone's amazement, that's exactly what happens. The man rises, stretches limbs that seem to be awakening from a deep sleep, and then picks up his mat and walks out in full view of everybody.

Meanwhile, up on the roof, four guys are laughing, yelling, and giving one another high fives.


Most of us would like to think the hushed mob listening carefully to Jesus' every word is reminiscent of the way the high school youth listened to our talk at the last Sunday night youth meeting. (If I'm honest, when I read about the ceiling damage and the hapless man being lowered from the rooftop, it sounds more like my first youth group lock-in!) But whether we see ourselves in this scene or not, this is a story very close to where most of us do youth ministry, and both the plot and the plan are as recent as this week's calendar. That's because this story is more than an account of divine power-it's a drama of determined friendship. It's a story about four individuals who went to incredible pains to see that their friend got to the feet of Jesus.

Jesus was impressed by their faith. I am, too.

But I'm equally impressed by their ingenuity and determination. Absolutely convinced Jesus could heal their friend, and motivated by authentic compassion for the paralyzed man, they overcame all the logistical, interpersonal, and physical obstacles to get him to Jesus. And that's a key component of this narrative. It wasn't enough that they had faith, or even that Jesus had power. For this healing to take place, these guys had to have a plan. They had to organize and pull off a complex strategy.


The task faced by those four men on the roof in Mark's narrative is the same task volunteer and professional youth workers face every week. We know these teenagers are needy, and we know Jesus has the power to heal. But how do we help this to happen? What kind of equipment will we need? How do we recruit the personnel required? How do we get everybody working together? How do we fund this little roof-top adventure?

Now, admittedly, these are not the questions most youth ministers get excited about. Florists don't embrace gardening because they like the smell of fertilizer, teachers don't sign on as educators so they can grade papers and keep attendance, and youth workers don't get into youth ministry so they can do administration. But blooming flowers, effective classrooms, and fruitful ministries all require someone doing the dirty work behind the scenes. Those who have a heart for youth ministry have to be prepared to get their hands dirty dealing with budgets, weighing legal issues, working through conflict, recruiting volunteers, doing careful program evaluation, involving parents, laboring over ministry decisions, and pondering the politics of staff relationships. Nobody gets into youth ministry because they want to think about this stuff. But a lot of people get out of youth ministry because they haven't thought about this stuff. It's the behind-the-scenes dirty work, week in and week out, that ushers our teenagers into a place where they might have a healing encounter with Jesus.

I wish every book I write could be about seeing youth who were once maimed and paralyzed by sin throw their crutches and hurts away and walk into new lives of wholeness. It's the excitement of being a part of that kind of transformation that motivates otherwise normal adults to tolerate lost sleep, lousy food, low pay (or no pay), loud music (and loud body noises), and little recognition for the privilege of walking alongside teenagers. Sure, there's sacrifice. There's a price to be paid. But that's why we got into youth ministry! We've never gotten over the wonder of being there when a teenager crippled by fear, hurt, anger, insecurity-you name it-discovers that life change comes in the healing forgiveness of Jesus.

It would be more fun to write another one of those books. But this book addresses instead the not-so-glamorous, behind-the-scenes work of youth ministry administration.

Paralyzed people don't get around too well on their own. There have to be people willing to go to the trouble of "carrying." Someone has to lay out a strategy for breaking through interpersonal, logistical, and physical barriers so our youth can actually get to Jesus' feet. We know the kids have a need. We know Jesus has the power. But how do we get through the roof to bring them to Jesus? That's the nuts and bolts of youth ministry.


Although the actual healing of kids may take place at a Sunday night youth meeting, during the fall retreat, or at a Friday night coffeehouse or mid-week club, much of youth ministry happens unnoticed and behind the scenes. The nuts and bolts of youth ministry are those Monday morning staff meetings, Tuesday afternoon planning sessions, and Thursday night team gatherings.

To help yourself think about this in a more concrete way, reread Mark's account (2:1-12) of this miraculous healing. Don't try to read into the lines, but use your imagination to read between the lines, and make a list of the logistics of the dramatic incident that occurred that day in Capernaum. Use the four categories in the diagram below to help you brainstorm:


What issues would have to be addressed to come up with a plan that would get the paralyzed man to the feet of Jesus?


What sorts of issues might arise in relation to leadership and interpersonal dynamics?

Team Ministry

What questions would have been relevant in terms of how to get the necessary people working together to carry out the plan?


What considerations would come into play in terms of equipment needed to execute the plan?

Working through the passage, it's pretty clear there were some very real nuts and bolts issues that had to be addressed behind the scenes so the paralyzed man could get to the feet of Jesus. Thinking through our four categories, let's do a simple inventory.


1. Evaluation. Surely they must have considered some other plans for getting this paralytic into the presence of Jesus. Mark 2:4 suggests they must have at least attempted a more conventional approach at first. Why was the rooftop plan chosen? Why were other plans rejected?

2. Strategizing. They had to think carefully through their strategy. For example, they needed proper information. It would have been really embarrassing if they'd broken through the roof of the wrong house! "Sorry about the ceiling, folks. We're looking for Jesus." Or what if they had broken through the right roof at the wrong spot, say, two feet further back. Jesus would have been right in the middle of his sermon, and a man on a pallet would have landed on his head. Not a pretty picture.


1. Leadership Style. How does one motivate a group of people to undertake so bold a plan? And what about the person who hatched this crazy idea-what was it about that person that compelled a group of people to follow this plan? Where would such a plan come from? A dream? A vision? A nightmare? A youth group lock-in?

2. Authority. Someone had to be in charge. Someone had to call the shots. Someone had to organize and tell everyone when to lower and when to stop.

3. Mediation. Was there disagreement over the plan? How was that disagreement worked out? It's likely that a plan this wild met with some initial resistance. It's hard to imagine the friends saying, "Hey, what a great idea! We climb the roof with a paralyzed man, tie his bed to ropes, break through the roof, and drop him down in front of a carpenter!" I would suppose that plan came under a fair amount of criticism at first. Who made the final decision? Did they vote? Did it come down to one person's call? Did they pray about this?!?

Team Ministry

1. Recruitment. Before any healing could take place, someone had to have a vision, a hope that this paralyzed man could-just maybe-get healed if he could somehow get close enough to Jesus. Someone had to believe that strongly enough to recruit people to help, and so motivate them with enough of that same vision that they were willing to take part in a pretty bizarre plan.

2. Screening. Obviously, thoughtful recruitment begins with a basic question: Who should be recruited? It wouldn't do to involve someone who approached the task with the wrong motivation. This would have been, for example, an excellent opportunity for someone harboring a grudge against the paralyzed man to make a nasty scene. Common sense mandates that all the people recruited would have had to be people who genuinely cared about the welfare of the paralyzed man. There was also the question, one supposes, of physical strength. I would hate to be on the pallet being lowered through the roof by four men whose strength only lasted for half the journey. And, how many would be needed to complete the task? Mark tells us there were four men involved. Perhaps they decided one man was needed for each corner of the pallet. Too few might have made the task too difficult; too many could have made the entire roof cave in. Then, Jesus would have had lots of people to heal!

3. Training. There had to be some effort taken to make sure everyone understood the plan and was prepared to do his part. This may not have taken more than a sentence or two, but it surely must have happened. If one team member planned to lower the mat on the count of "three" and the other three began lowering the mat on "two," the result could be a very frightened paralyzed man doing a fly-by as Jesus was teaching in the room below.

4. Teamwork. Finally, it wouldn't be enough to recruit and train four individuals. They would have to work as a team. Just getting the paralyzed man up on the roof would require their strong arms working together. And then, perhaps, someone was responsible for making the opening in the roof while others prepared the man on the mat so he could be lowered safely. It was a small operation, but a challenging one. And the challenges could only be addressed if every member of the team were willing to play his part.


1. Procurement. We can assume someone gave some thought to what equipment would be needed. Obviously, there had to be rope, and it had to be long enough. As confusing as the scene was, we can only imagine what it might have been like if there'd been only enough rope to lower the man partway to where Jesus was standing. There, above the crowd, would be a pallet, suspended in mid-air, with a deeply frustrated paralytic cursing his ex-friends on the rooftop. And, of course, they had to get something to pick through the roof. Mark says they "dug" (literally, "made an opening") through it. That suggests some kind of tool or implement with which they could break through the earth-and-tile roof.


Excerpted from Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts, Revised and Updated by David W. Robbins Copyright © 2010 by David W. Robbins. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. Duffy Robbins is Professor of youth ministry at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, is a respected youth ministry veteran with over forty years of experience in the field. He speaks around the world to teenagers and people who care about teenagers. Duffy also serves as a Teaching Pastor at Faithbridge Church, Spring Texas.

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