Our theme this year is “The Life.” Today we explore that theme with….

The Life and the Method to the Madness


Jamie Mackey is the Minister to Students at First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama. Jamie has been doing this ministry with students for 24 years. He is married to Hope, and they are parents to Cade and Story.

I’ve been doing this student ministry thing for a while now. The first five or so years, I was a complete mess for how I systematically did things. (If you are wanting to stop reading at the notion doing anything systematically, please hang with me.) I needed some organization.
How was I a mess? Just look at this list:

  • No clue for what I was doing for Bible studies from week to week.
  • Did not know what was next on the schedule much less a full year’s calendar.
  • Or compensated with just the opposite – had so much on the calendar that a student once said, “Another pool party? I’m tired of those.”
  • Wondered if anyone would be there to help serve the pizza.

The list could go on and on. I was exhausted and not enjoying the day to day and week to week side of ministry. I decided things had to change.
Change began with observing the sanity of colleagues. I began asking questions of how they planned studies and activities. I saw rhythms and flows to their schedule. Their volunteer teams seemed happy and organized. My mind was blown at this new possible reality.
Now came the quest to turn the possibility into reality. It didn’t happen overnight. As I mentioned, conversations with colleagues became vital. Journals, articles, and blogs became a part of my reading. Conference breakout sessions became strategic as to what to attend and who to listen to.
Let’s be honest, we rarely come up with something purely original. We take ideas and adapt them to our context. We glean from others. We put critical thought to if, how, and when it could work. Some things make the cut. Others don’t.
Some concepts and changes will come easy. Creating a Bible study schedule for a semester and then for a school year was easy for me. Implementing a parent team rotation system to handle events was a game changer. These two actions and a series of others over time gave me a good system for how to do youth ministry. But it also created a larger question — is there a method to the madness of why we do what we do?
This question of method takes our ministries from publishing the year to year calendar to having a strategy to deepen student discipleship. What are the foundational structures of ministry that give a balanced approach enabling sustainable depth for the Christ-follower? This question required more soul searching than copying the best mission statement of someone else. Four areas of ministry surfaced — Bible study, healthy relationships, serving others, and fun, enjoyable atmosphere — as the vital parts of ministry.
We took those four areas and turned them into one-word actions: GROW – CONNECT – SERVE – PLAY.

These four words would become the driver in all that we do. Everything we do has to encompass at least two of these actions. For example, Sunday morning Bible study is primarily a grow event; but it’s not just for Bible study. The time should encompass the opportunity to also connect and play. Let me unpack that a little more. The adult leading the study facilitates growth through the study of scripture related to current events and life issues. The student is able to connect to both peers and adults he/she knows genuinely care for him/her. Play comes into action because the gathering for study should be enjoyable.
The actions of grow – connect – serve – play spread across everything we do. A mission trip or service project in town is to serve obviously, but the participants should experience connection with others they are serving with and the recipient of the ministry. When a ministry event has multiple actions tied to it, that ministry event’s potential for depth deepens.
The overall calendar is affected by these four actions as well. As with the example of the Sunday morning Bible study or the mission opportunity, there is a lead action that drives the ministry event followed by supporting actions. When we look at the overall calendar year, there should be a balance of each action to be driving purpose. Play should be the lead occasionally because play ministers to stress. There will be times like promotion Sunday or a parent meeting that connection is the primary purpose. Having a balance gives a good rhythm and flow to your ministry.
Four big picture action words make up the method to my madness for how to do youth ministry. I’m not running weeks to week wondering what to do. There is balance of what we do, when we do it, and why it’s being done. The best part of it, I’m not a complete mess — at least most of the time.