Motives for Youth Ministry

28 November 2011 — 22 Comments

I’m wanting to do a little bit of informal research around Christian youth work/youth ministry, and our motives as workers for doing it.


I believe that most Christians would understand a scriptural mandate for working with young people. Many of us would quote [youversion]Matthew 28:19[/youversion] and the Great Commission as a reason to do evangelistic or proselytisation work, and many of us would also state that simply serving or ‘loving’ others (as commanded in [youversion]Matthew 22:37-40[/youversion]) is an equally important aspect of the Gospel. Some Christians will be doing youth work in a church environment, while others are working in statutory or community settings taking a very different approach, yet still citing their faith as the motive for their work.

There are a number of books out there on the theology of youth work/ministry, and some of you will have studied this in depth on a degree course, but I’m particularly interested in hearing from YOU about how you understand your work in light of scripture. Your interpretation will define how you do youth work, and the sort of activities, events and general approach you take. Do you have a rigorous theological framework for youth work? Or to put it more simply, how does your faith as a Christian motivate your practice with young people? What does that look like?

I would be very grateful if you would leave a comment below so we can get some discussion started on this subject! Go!


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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

22 responses to Motives for Youth Ministry

  1. Just this morning read Judges chapter 2 and a few sobering passage is included there. It reads: (Judges 2:8-10) 8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.

    Joshua is one of the heroes of the Old Testament, and yet only 1-2 generations later, no one continues to love and serve the Lord. In point of fact, they don’t even remember Him. This is a sort of wake-up call. Both in America (where I’m from) and here in this country (where I’ve lived and worked for over 3 years now), we are facing the possibility (probability?) of a similar fate.

    I can’t say that this passage has been fuelling my youth work, as it’s a recent re-discovery. But it is certainly timely, and I do have evangelistic motives for doing youth work.

    I also work with a lot of non-Christian, non-religious youth. I am happy to serve them, but I do so in hopes that they’ll come to know the love of God as well.

  2. Ultimately it is because I believe youth work is the good works that God created me to do (Eph 2.10), it is my vocation and everything else flows out of that. Youth Ministry a multifaceted approach the book I have just edited shows some other motivations and has an index of biblical references too. Could write something more complex but I think this is the essence of why I do what I do.

  3. Psalm 139. The God given potential inside each and every one of us that so often goes to waste and is not realised just because we didn’t have someone walking this journey alongside us. Encouraging and nurturing us through it all and seeing all that God made us to be, rather than what the world, our environment, our upbringing, our circumstance tells us we should be.

    A number of people have been that person for me, helping me through the bad and the good and I am eternally grateful for their efforts. My motivation is to be that person for the children and youth that I work with.

    • Thanks Pete, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the importance of encouragement in my role. I think your comment rings true for me as well – I want to encourage and inspire young people to fulfil their potential.

  4. Hmm, I have studied Youth Ministry and yet my reason for ‘doing Youth Work’ is much more intuition and genetically lead! Genetically because my father went before me, he was one of the first generation of paid Youth Ministers in the Baptist church and of course I grew up watching his passion for young people coming to know God. Intuition because it feels natural, I tried not to be the same as my Dad and that was hard work! God has definitely called me with confirmation from a number of sources, and a genuine love of spending time with teenagers. My faith impacts my work as the lens through which I look at what I do on many levels.

    It’s a good question, and perhaps I need to sit down again (ministry training was 10 yrs ago now!) to look at what motivates me. Thanks for the challenge…

    • Thanks for taking time to comment Jenni. I love that you’re doing youth ministry because of your dad – that’s cool!

      I guess many people would articulate a sense of ‘calling’, but that seems to outwork differently with everyone. That’s part of the reason I asked this question!

  5. My main reason for doing youth ministry is that I love young people. I discovered this when I was sort of signed up for teen ministry by my younger sister who was still a teen back then. I thought I’d give it a try and I never left. I ache for young people to find Jesus, to spend their lives following Him. Sure, there are several passages from the Bible I could quote, the great commission being one of them. But I could have applied them to any sort of outreach or ministry. The reason that I chose youth is because God gave me a special love for them. Somehow I just get them, I’m able to connect with them despite the fact that I’m from another generation. It’s a God-given passion that drives me.

  6. I started out in youth ministry because I had grown up in a church which generally didn’t ‘do’ young people very well – part of a church where I didn’t feel I had a place.

    Through youth ministry ‘done to me’ outside the church (Scripture Union) I found a place where I recognised my identity in God for the first time, through sport and music, and my motivation for leading as a volunteer, then training professionally was to repay some of that by including and enlivening the next generation.

    What’s interesting now as a 40+ year old, is that I’m drawn toward emerging church which tries to include those who feel excluded from (or by) the mainstream church, echoing my own feelings as a teenager and my motivation for youth work. Perhaps the next challenge for me is whether that redirects my passion from young people to those of my generation who don’t have a place in church.

    So my theology of that I guess comes from the covenant theologies round the nation and family of Israel, and body of Christ and family of the church where all ‘sinners’ have a place.

    • Thanks Robin, so you’re motivated by a desire to include those who may otherwise be excluded, and you outwork this with young people through your faith. Brilliant and thanks for commenting.

  7. My motivation sometimes varies, depending on the kind of work I am doing. Whilst I work in a faith based context, a lot of my work is trying to work for government funders and deliver on youth work outcomes.
    I think the tension here is do we see our youth work as evangelism or social action? Can it be both and…
    For me, by all means I want young people to see and know Jesus through our work, but I also believe the young people I work with need to discover themselves, figure out who they are and then living out as the best expression of themselves, becoming relational, resilient young adults.
    So, my motivation is to open up honest conversations with YP so they can tap into the self. Through this young people may well encounter christ, but my motivation is primarily to deliver meaningful, high quality youth work which is rigorous, in line with standards, but that continues to live in the tension of confusion over my remit.
    I often think back to conversations, encounters I had as a young person and believe ultimately that is my call, to be there when I’m needed, journeying with YP and accompanying them in whatever sphere that may be.

    • Hi Mark, it was great to meet you the other week!

      I totally understand that tension you describe between facilitating young people to thrive as humans, and wanting them to know Jesus – that’s exactly my experience too.

      On a deep level, I believe the very best for anyone would be to know Christ, but realise that many people will not agree with me and will have difference beliefs and agendas that I would respect. Therefore I’m motived to enable young people to recognise and realise their full potential – with the hope that may in some way involve Jesus at some point in their journey!

  8. Being a Christian drives my work with youth, in that, I want to care for them and live out Christ’s love and forgiveness for them each day. I don’t work in ‘youth ministry’ in the strictest sense, in that I work with unchurched youth, usually who are disadvantaged like young offenders, school drop outs, etc. I don’t view my role as ‘getting them saved’ I want to live out my Christian walk for them in as real, transparent and honest a way as possible, without it being some sort of agenda about salvation. Jesus will do the ‘saving work’ I just need to do the ‘being me and loving them work’ and I’m ok with that. I actually wrote a post on my blog about our ability in youth ministry to be both holy and holistic ( . Thanks for the great post!

    • Brilliant Shae!

      I love that you’re doing more community-based work with disadvantaged young people – that’s my background too. I think being authentic, honest and open about faith without having an directive agenda to convert others is very important.

      With regard to your blog post, I think ‘Christian’ youth ministry (that is, work with young people exploring the Christian faith) is often way too focused on teaching biblical stories and lessons rather than simply modelling how to live life together. Ironically the latter is far more effective at building committed disciples of Jesus! There’s been a big resurgence in “relational” youth ministry and I love what Andrew Root says about it in ‘Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry‘ and ‘Relationships Unfiltered‘: it’s more about being real and present with young people than trying to influence them to any decision.

  9. Hi Jon. I’ve been pondering my motives since I saw your post. I sort of fell into volunteering to help out and it all grew from there. I love the energy and enthusiasm, and I despair at the lack of understanding from the ‘adult’ world. But for me personally there are two sources of inspiration that drive my understanding.

    The first came from a book about the Holy Spirit that I have lost over the years and cannot remember the title of but it talked about the way some people will say ‘There but for the grace of God …’ about some situation. Almost a sense of rejoicing that it hasn’t happened to us and how lucky we are. Or as the Band Aid Christmas song would put it “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” The author of the book suggested that this attitude was reminiscent of the first Adam or the Pharisees who felt that as long as they were good enough nothing would happen to them and that’s all they needed to do.

    The author suggested that as Christians our attitude should perhaps be “There with the grace of God am I”. Not put other people’s problems at a distance and remove ourselves from them but living alongside them in relationship, sharing their burdens, working to transform the situation for everyone.

    The second book that has inspired me was The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. In this examination of the parable and in particular Rembrandt’s painting of it Nouwen explores his own life in parallel from the time he was like the younger son, then in his middle years acting the role of the elder son. What attracted me most though was how Nouwen saw the Christian role as becoming like the Father in the parable – equally accepting and loving of both sons saying “I would do it for both of you”.

    For me the heart of youth ministry and youth work is to accept young people where they are, to live alongside them, to guide and shepherd, to cry and laugh, and to hope that through this they can learn to love the Father.


Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Jon Jolly (@bobweasel) (@bobweasel) - 9 December 2011

    Have you shared your motive for doing Youth Ministry yet?

  2. Pippa Winterburn (@this_is_pip) - 9 December 2011

    Why do you do Youth Ministry? Mr Jolly wants to know! @bobweasel

  3. Motivation | - 30 January 2012

    […] in November, I wrote a post titled ‘Motives for Youth Ministry‘ where I asked Christians working with young people to explain why they did it. I had some […]

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