I’ve always been fascinated with the “bigger picture”. Regardless of what it is, I want to see how what I’m doing falls within the bigger picture. This is especially true in the concept of ministry. I’ve always loved the idea of teams and teamwork, so the thought that I’m doing something that’s a role in a much bigger plan is so exciting to me—and this is not just any plan—it’s advancing the Kingdom!
On a church level, it’s so important that we understand youth ministry is one part in a body looking to carry out God’s vision. Even though we each have our area of focus, we ultimately work together. That’s what makes things like transitions, events, rites of passage, and bridge events so important. The bigger picture is also another reason the Vineyard Pilgrimage is so essential in our intentionality of making disciples.
This also reminded me of a common obstacle or pitfall that we can encounter as we try to work together in furthering God’s kingdom, and that’s the obstacle of building a silo in our ministry.
When the term “silo” comes to mind, the first place our minds go is to farming. A silo is a structure that is commonly used to store grain or other items used for farming. A silo is basically self-contained storage. It is part of the farm itself, although it may not be connected to an actual building.
In ministry, we tend to build our own silos. The ministry is still a part of the church and could be thriving, but we’ve created a self-contained, self-sustaining area of our own. At first, this may seem like independence and freedom to advance the Kingdom and we even feel like we are working together with the rest of our team, but we start to operate as our own entity. Worst of all, we don’t even see it coming or realize it’s happening. The line between freedom and autonomy has blurred.
When that happens, it can not only impact you and your ministry, but other ministries in the church and can take us off of the kingdom focus. Having worked in both children’s and youth ministries, I have been in situations where there was synergy between the ministries and where there was division – each operated in their own silos. This can have a negative impact on the journey someone takes as a believer. Removing the silos can help us see the bigger picture of God’s kingdom and someone’s journey in Christ while still moving forward with the vision, values, and mission of what God has called you to do. This opens the doors for things like milestone events, transitions, and rites of passage, and creates cohesion and continuity.
So how do silos form?
Like I mentioned earlier, we don’t notice that this is happening. I would say that most of the time, it’s coming out of good intentions and our desire to serve. For example, regardless of the ministry, there are some common stressors that we have probably vocalized in one form or another:
“(Insert name here) doesn’t understand what it is that I do.”
“People don’t understand what it’s like working with teenagers.”
“Some days, I just don’t understand what (insert ministry here) does.”
“They just assume that I don’t do much.”
This is just a sampling of things that I’ve either said myself or heard others say. Before I move further, let me offer a disclaimer: I understand we are all human. We have emotions and feelings, and there are times when we go through valleys and feel a certain way. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have these emotions, but what matters is where we go from there. We are all in a path of transformation to the image of Christ, and our goal is for us to not have these moments, but when they do happen, what happens next?
It’s important that in these times we remember who we are in Christ and what He’s called us to do. We also need to remember that we serve alongside others, whether in the church or not, who are called to serve God as well. We are all striving for the same goal: to raise up disciples of Christ.
Watch out for tunnel vision
Another way silos can form is when we get tunnel vision about what we are doing. There are times in our ministry when things are going great and you have momentum building in your ministry. Things are moving forward and progressing quickly, and we just want to keep it going. If that’s happening with you – congratulations! That is something worth celebrating!
I love those seasons, but we need to be careful. Sometimes we take the momentum and start focusing on what we are doing so much that we lose sight of being part of a bigger picture. We are part of a body, and it’s the interaction with the other parts of the body that make for a healthy ministry, church, and kingdom.
So how do we fix this?
The key to preventing silos is intentional communication. We need to always be aware of how what we do impacts the body, and how are we taking conscious steps towards working as a body and developing meaningful steps in the pilgrimage. We are making it a goal to be in communication with each other and see what is happening in each ministry.
For example, one thing we have been trying to implement is getting our youth plugged in to serving in multiple ministries in the church. Instead of just having the youth go out on their own, I communicate with other ministry leaders for areas of need, and try to match our teens in areas where they can exercise their gifts.
This is still a work in progress, but we now have teens on the ministry team, worship team, children’s ministry, and helping with our events. I am focusing less on getting our students front and center for the church to see, and more on plugging them into the different ministries in our church and learning what it means to serve. It also helps set them up for the transition from youth ministry to adulthood as well.
Our children’s minister and I always stay in touch about what’s going on with each other’s ministries, and are actively trying to figure out what is the best transition event for those making the move from children’s ministry to our Jr. High group. It would be easy for me to talk about what I feel is necessary for someone coming into the youth, but it’s more beneficial finding out what she’s doing as well and what works well from both perspectives.
We also communicate about how the students are doing in their areas of service. This helps me shape and tweak any leadership trainings we have and gives me an idea of what is happening instead of just resting on the fact that in my mind they’ve been sufficiently trained.
My hope is that you walk away encouraged and equipped. My prayer for all of us is to never lose sight of our goals, and to consciously be aware of the role we all play in the body of Christ. Youth pastors and leaders play such a crucial role in a student’s development at a critical time in their life, but we need to remember that when we receive the baton we need to be ready to hand it off when we’ve run our part of the race.