I’ve been a big proponent of self-awareness.  It kind of goes with the territory here at Pathway Vineyard having had the privilege of being under the leadership of Phil Strout and Allen Austin.  Ever since I’ve been introduced to self-awareness, I’ve been captivated by it.  Self-awareness says, ‘we must have the desire to know ourselves better; to understand our attachments, our beliefs about ourselves, and others; and be willing to adjust.’  On my journey with Christ, self-awareness has been that spiritual discipline that helps define my identity in Christ.  This is a great responsibility.

As a youth pastor, I also have the responsibility to manage the group-awareness of Pathway Youth.  It’s my job to take time and ‘go to the balcony’ to see how we are doing–to really examine if we’re doing what we are called to do and if anything needs to change.  These moments include prayer, Bible reading, and gaining perspective from others.  For me ‘others’ include God, teens, parents, senior leadership, and fellow youth pastors.  I also read up on how the top dogs are ‘doing the stuff’ of youth ministry.  This is a process of digging, and I love to find gold when I dig.  Last summer, 2013, I found gold.  While reading up on Youth Ministry I came across this one sentence that and it jumped out.  I couldn’t go any further.  I was both challenged and inspired–I knew then it wasn’t fool’s gold.  Here is that one statement:

Very few kids step out of youth ministry because the programs are lousy.  Kids will actually forgive all kinds of programmatic mediocrity if they are certain they belong.– Mark Devries, Sustainable Youth Ministry

I was challenged because I’m a program guy.  I get excited about all the details of throwing a party.  I value the ins and outs of planning a youth group.  From games to worship, there is plenty to do.  After reading that statement and my initial defensive complaining subsided, I was reminded of when Jesus visited Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.

38.As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  39.Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.  40.But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing.  She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work?  Tell her to come and help me.”  41.But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!  42.There is only one thing worth being concerned about.  Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

– Luke 10:38-42 (NLT)

Martha’s focus—what mattered most—was based in details.  The program.  She was consumed by getting things in order.  Mary got it right.  Her focus—what mattered most—was based on one-on-one interaction.  Relationship.


I approached our leadership team with this new found concept.  Relationship or Program?  Which is most important?  Here is a glimpse at that Saturday morning process.  Questions asked:

  • What does God have to say about relationship?
  • Do our students really feel like they belong?
  • How much time is spent on relationship building versus program planning/implementation?
  • Are there any tasks getting in the way of connecting with teens?
  • Is preparation for youth group completed ahead of time so that details don’t overtake relationship building?
  • When thinking about Wednesday night youth group, what takes up the majority of our time?
  • What about events?  Are they just program ideas, or are they a result of a relationship?

We listed everything that we did and then labelled it under “Relationship” or “Program.”  After meeting we concluded, we needed to tip the scales and redirect our time and energy at building relationships, caring for teens so they would know that they know, “I belong here.”

So what were we going to do about it?  We realized that at the core of our leadership behavior, we needed to adjust our worldview.  We needed a constant reminder that RELATIONSHIP TRUMPS PROGRAM so this new-found realization wouldn’t just be a flash in the pan.  This brought us to the 70/30 principle.


As we look at how we approach youth ministry, we will put 70% of our attention into building relationship and 30% of our attention into concentrating on the program (because program shouldn’t be completely discarded).  So what does this actually look like?  Here are a few examples.

    • A leader is given a post-it with a teenagers name on it.  Post-it is placed on the forehead so that they do not know who they represent.  As leaders in the group explain this teenager, the clueless leader has to guess who they are.  Here is the twist: You cannot use descriptive words for hints.  Phrases should start with, “I like that you…”, “It was awesome when you…”, “I really appreciate that you…”.  This allowed us to see just how connected we were with teens by revealing whether we knew of teens (acquaintances) or knew teens based on interaction.  If we aren’t connected, then our relationships are probably not as good as we think they are.


    • Announcements were initially discarded completely so we could focus on the power of personal invitation.  The success of event attendance would rely on relationship not on blurting out information in front of everyone.  We also prioritized our focus to connecting with teens, inside and outside of youth group.  We have encouraged each other to connect with teens outside of youth group because youth group shouldn’t be our only intersection with teens.  One way we have done this is to go to the school during lunch and bring pizza.  We sit with our teens and naturally their friends are right there.


    • Another new approach is taking attendance.  Instead of just writing down each student name on the attendance page or checking a box in the database, we go have conversations with them.  When the conversation is over, we then add the teen to the attendance.  This has been fun because we have had to train each other on how to start up conversations and dig a little deeper with teens, instead of being okay with yes and no answers.  (Open ended questions are miraculous.)


  • A simple wink and saying 70/30 is a little secret code we share among the leadership to celebrate when we do it right or redirect when we need to immediately adjust.  Here’s what I mean: “Great job including John in youth group by inviting him to sit with you… 70/30 *wink*” or “Hey Jennah, I noticed those two new teens that just walked in—70/30.”

I guess the final piece to remember in all of this for us was to take our lead from Jesus.  If ever there needed to be that ONE GREAT example, it would be the J-man.  The relationship between God and man was reconciled through Jesus Christ.  He came to where I was at so many years ago and started a dialogue that continues to this day.  He is very purposeful about that relationship so that I can feel like I BELONG.  Because according to Him, I DO.  This reminds me of another piece of gold I found many years ago which is embodied in the chorus of the song “Where I Belong” by Cory Asbury.

I finally found where I belong
I finally found where I belong
In Your presence
I finally found where I belong, Lord
To be with You, to be with You.

If an adjustment is in order for you or your ministry, here are a few helpful tips:

Take Time for Self-Awareness and Group-Awareness. Think you’ve found gold?  Dig deeper by including others in the process.  Some ideas have value and others are just plain silly.  Make sure you are not making decisions in a vacuum.

Ask Hard Questions.  Truthful assessment can be painful.  You may be like me and have a tendency to ask the right questions to the right people :).  But asking hard questions to people who will be objective usually yield more fruit.  Honesty is the best policy.  Take your pride, insecurities and attachments to your ministry and hold them openly before the Lord.  This self-awareness adjustment wasn’t easy for me, but the result has been much better because of a healthy level of vulnerability and honesty.

Give It Time!  Change takes time so give it a chance to play out.  You may not immediately see results.  When implementing change or adjusting Youth Ministry methodologies use a 6 to 9 month to a year time frame and then re-assess.  We are now 4 months into our adjustment.  There have been failures, but we are seeing more and more victories as we learn how to make the adjustment stick.

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Mike Lyle
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