"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Cross Cultural Ministry

Building Ministry in Your Context

Dave Livermore

(Editor's Note: To put this chapter in context with the rest of his book, author Dave Livermore has argued in his prior eight chapters that we should make disciples in the way Jesus made disciples, but that this may flesh out differently in diverse cultural contexts. This first involves living out living out the Great Commandment: loving God and loving others. Love should permeate all we do in life and ministry. He then identifies four phases of ministry: preparation, building, equipping and multiplying. In this chapter he begins to discuss how Jesus' ministry priorities can be applied in various cultural contexts.)

Now that we've looked at the Great Commandment values that must permeate our lives as disciplemakers and the nature of our contexts, let's shift attention to the Great Commission priorities. Christ uses the Great Commandment values to yield these Great Commission priorities. This is more than a collection of principles for effective ministry; it is the DNA of ministry demonstrated in Christ's ministry context as well as in the context of the early church. This same DNA should flow through your ministry, but with the uniqueness of your own context.

Consider the implications of the way Christ began his public ministry. You may want to go back and peruse what Christ intentionally prioritized as he built his ministry (chapter 6). What follows is intended to stimulate thought about how to minister as Christ would minister in our unique contexts. It is a question with which we must continue to wrestle as we minister in the kingdom. Think about the Great Commandment values as lived out in the building phase of ministry and the Great Commission priorities that resulted.

What resulted from Christ's prioritization of the Great Commandment as the foundation for life and ministry? These values of loving God and others are the ingredients he put into the soil; they are what he personally lived and they are the values he called his followers to embrace. As he built his ministry, he established ministry patterns which resulted above the soil from Great Commandment living. These are the Great Commission priorities we must emphasize when we gather believers together. These are uniquely created for followers of Christ.

Among Jesus' followers and later in the New Testament church, believers gathered around the priorities of the Word, worship, community and serving. All four may not have been present at every gathering, but they were all regular practices among the believers assembling together. Think of these four priorities as the cylinders of a four-cylinder engine. I'm not an expert when it comes to cars, but I know that a car can run for a time without all its cylinders. It won't run as effectively, though, and eventually it will die altogether. We must evaluate our ministry programs that help believers grow and analyze the balance of all four of these priorities.

Brazil is one of the countries where I have ministered often. For several years, Brazil has received more missionaries than any other country in the world. As a result, there is every variety of church throughout the country, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. In attending many Brazilian churches, I have observed several ministries running strong on one cylinder of the engine while the other cylinders sputter or appear completely dead. Some of the churches have great teaching from the Word, but the singing is weak and people have little interest in one another. In other churches, the worship time is incredible but the teaching from the Word lacks depth and people have little opportunity to serve one another. In others, Sunday morning feels like one big party, but the time in the Word is short and little time is made for the church to corporately respond to God. A healthy ministry is one where all four cylinders of the engine (Word, worship, community, serving) are running simultaneously. I suspect that what I have observed in Brazil is true in some churches in most every country and I know it's true in North America. I should say I have also observed some incredibly healthy churches in Brazil that have taught me volumes about giving attention to all four of these areas. All four are not necessarily present at every gathering of believers every time they meet, but over a short period of time, all four regularly surface and are given primary attention.

Remember that only the Holy Spirit ultimately causes growth. However, as we faithfully embrace and live out the Great Commandment values, we will structure our ministries around these vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others) priorities of Great Commission ministry.

1. Word

As you may recall, this priority refers to encountering the living Word of God and allowing the Spirit to mold us. Clearly this is a natural outgrowth of the Great Commandment value of God's Word in our lives as shepherds and in the lives of our sheep. There is a time, however, for communicating the Word to the group collectively - encouraging personal Bible study is not enough.

Effective communication of God's Word depends less on communication ability and more on:

1. Developing strong habits of personal Bible study

Read the Bible as a Story and see how the passage you are studying fits in with the broader Story. Look for the original intent of the passage. What does it tell you about God? About yourself? How will you respond to what you understand?

2. Allowing teaching to flow from personal study

3. Integrating truth and life in your teaching. A helpful outline for making your teaching connect with believers' lives is Hook, Book, Look, Took (1):


Hook: How will this lesson be relevant to my class? Why should they listen? How can I get them interested in this lesson?

Book: What does the Bible say? What was the original intent? Are students in the Word? How will I get them to explore the Word? Am I lecturing again?

Look: What are the implications of this passage? How does this passage help us understand who God is and what he has done for us?

Took: How will I challenge people to personally respond? How will I ask the Spirit to work in lives?

4. Common Mistakes in Handling God's Word:

  • Talking a lot about the Bible without actually studying the Bible
  • Overuse of favorite subjects
  • Lack of creativity in teaching methods
  • Wandering through a random collection of verses or ideas
  • Being guided by curriculum rather than using it as a tool to help you.
  • Failing to see the overall Story of the Bible as you study and teach it.
  • Failing to acknowledge the baggage your context brings to your understanding and teaching of the Word.
  • Worshiping the Word in itself rather than using it as a means to the real end - Jesus!
  • Discounting people's interest in the Word.
  • Failure to see God's Word for what it is first and foremost - unfolding of who God is and accounts of how humanity interacts with him.

Ask yourself:

  • Are people in your ministry growing in their ability to relate the Word to their lives?
  • When your ministry gathers, do people interact with the Scriptures and with each other?

A few years ago, I became frustrated when I met with a small group in our youth ministry. No one came prepared. I challenged them with the importance of studying the passage before our weekly meeting, having allowed the passage to penetrate their own lives. Some of the more aggressive members spoke up. "Dave, try to see how impossible this feels to us! On Sunday mornings, we go to youth group time and you teach us from one topic. Then we go to Sunday morning worship and Pastor Rudd teaches us something else. Then we come back to church Sunday evening and hear another message. Several of us are trying to do personal devotions every day and some of us are involved in Bible studies at school. A few of us are on the ministry team, where you have us doing additional work, and then there's this Bible study. Many of our families do family devotions. Those of us who attend Christian school have Bible class every day, chapel regularly, devotions before sports practices and on it goes. And you wonder why we aren't prepared?!"

I was speechless. I knew they had made a valid point. We had made it nearly impossible for them to dig deeply into the Word. That challenged us to communicate the Word differently. Our congregation was beginning to study the book of James. In response, we decided to make James our sole focus as a youth ministry for the next year. I wrote a daily journal that our youth used throughout the week to study the passage of Scripture that would be taught the following Sunday. We would hear a message about the passage with the whole congregation, and then talk about age-appropriate applications in youth group. In small groups, we shared the personal implications of the passage for us. On our weekend retreats and other activities, James and its many topics became the common thread. I learned the hard way that communicating the Word is more than simply preparing a thirty-minute lesson. I need to help the believers in my ministry use the Word as their lifeline to God.

Don't forget the importance of Spirit-dependence through prayer and your attitude as you prepare and teach. Ultimately, the Spirit will bring about the right application!

Disciplemaking Around the World

Australia: St. Martin's Church in Australia, targeting Irish immigrants, features clear and relevant teaching of the Word during services. The Word is communicated in a way that faces daily issues as well as the ultimate issues in life. Teaching features storytelling because of the way that Irish souls are deeply engaged by stories.(2)

Chicago: Each Sunday when I attend my church (Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois), I receive not only a sermon outline allowing me to take notes, but also a couple of pages of study questions for my own follow-up. Rather than limit the teaching of the passage of the week to the thirty-minute Sunday sermon, we are encouraged to do the follow-up study in same form-personal devotions, family devotions, accountability partners, cell groups, etc.

Gabon: On the Western Coast of Africa, Gabonese youth workers take their young people through TEE (Theological Education by Extension) courses. While the youth workers were initially told the material would be too intense and deep for the youth in their ministries, the youth proved otherwise. The youth meet in one another's homes mid-week to share the few copies of the studies that exist and prepare for their weekly cell group meetings. They look forward to getting together to learn from God as a group.

Indonesia: Because of the sparse number of people in churches to work with youth in Indonesia, many churches share a youth worker - even if they are located several hours apart. The youth take turns traveling to one another's locations so that they can study the Word together. Several travel by foot for many hours on a regular basis and then spend the night with their peers in another village just for this reason. Because of the strong commitment that is demanded, the time these youth share together is deep and powerful.

Northern Ireland: One of our ministry partners has strongly encouraged Scripture memorization in the cell groups of her ministry. Everyone memorizes at least one verse in their group each week, and they hold one another accountable for it. Youth are also encouraged to express that verse in a creative way. Some write poems or songs reflecting the meaning of the verse. Others paint pictures, create videos or write stories. The verses become much more than syllables locked away in their minds - they transform one another's lives. 

Singapore: Youth often lead large group Bible studies in some Singaporean youth ministries. Drama is often used to help youth interact with the Word instead of simply talking about it. Sometimes drama is prepared ahead of time, but other times the youth are broken into groups and randomly assigned a passage of Scripture to act out. Sometimes everyone acts out the same passage and other times each person has a unique one. After fifteen minutes to study the passage and develop an idea, youth act out their passages for each other. Groups finish by debriefing within their drama groups or with the whole group to talk about the application of the passage.

Action Plan for the Word in Your Ministry

? What are the highs and lows of this priority in your ministry?

? What ideas do you have for strengthening this priority?

? What needs to happen first?

2. Worship

Worship regards and adores God by glorifying him with our thoughts and actions. Worship without the nurturing of the Word is an incomplete growth experience (just as teaching the Word without worship is incomplete). Worship allows us to respond to God for all he is and does.

? What happens at your regular gathering that directs attention upward toward God?

? Can people of diverse ages and backgrounds freely express their adoration to God at your growth times?

? Are there outlets for public worship beyond music? If so, what?

? How else can you foster public worship as a group?

Throughout my years in ministry, extended times together have often been some of the most meaningful opportunities to corporately respond to God. It's no accident that the priorities for growth fuel one another. As we build community, dig into the Word and serve God and others together, our response to God in worship becomes more meaningful. I have also found that many of our best times of responding to God happened when we didn't expect it. Sometimes after a great rehearsal, when all the instruments were perfectly tuned and the sound and lights were running well, our worship time has been weak. Other times, when sitting stranded on the side of the road, we have spontaneously begun talking aloud to God, singing, sitting quietly and reading Scripture together.

We must regularly create opportunities for believers to collectively respond to God. We must also be sensitive to times when the Spirit wants us to lead our groups in corporate worship, even, if it isn't planned.

Disciplemaking Around the World

Australia: St. Martin's church in Melbourne is known for its spontaneity and openness in worship. Services are planned but also leave room for redemptive moments that are unprogrammed. They encourage the full expression of Christian imagination, featuring indigenous art with Christian themes (much is postmodern). Wall hangings by church members fill the sanctuary.(3)

England: Revelation Church in southern England works hard to discover ways to worship through visual symbols and creative arts. Sometimes during services, artists are encouraged to draw what they feel as the body worships together. Sometimes sculptors and potters work on the side during the meeting. The art-often speaks for itself, while other times artists are encouraged to interpret their portrayal of worship.(4)

India: Some of my richest times of worship in recent days have been with our partnering ministries in India. As the churches in India undergo intensified persecution, their corporate times of worship also seem to intensify. Several churches I have visited allow time in their services for church members to spontaneously come forward and sing a song reflecting their hearts' desire to worship God. Before and after the song, Scripture is usually read and testimonies are shared about how God has superseded in one's life amid spiritual persecution during the week.

Kenya: Many European-driven churches in Africa have floundered because of their failure to engage Africans emotionally as well as intellectually in worship.

In contrast, those African churches that have moved away from some of the styles brought to them by Western missionaries have lively worship that allows them to express themselves holistically. For example, foreigners sometimes mistake prayer meetings for dance parties because dance has become an integral part of African worship. Many African believers look forward to this time of expressing love to God with their whole selves.

Malaysia: To help youth make prayer more than simply asking God for things, many Malaysian youth ministries have incorporated concerts of prayer as a regular part of their gatherings of believers. Youth will sometimes spend several hours moving through different elements of prayer. They praise God for who he is through singing, stating names of God and sharing testimonies of his character and work in their lives. They spend time in silent confession-sometimes on their knees and other times with their faces in their hands, expressing shame. Psalms and other Scripture passages are often integrated throughout the concert of prayer. The prayer times include a time of petition and opportunities to pray for rescue from the evil one. While youth initially dreaded the thought of extended prayer times, they now wait with anticipation for the monthly concerts of player.

Seattle: Church members have regular opportunities to express themselves during worship in ways other than singing. Newsprint fills the walls of the church and participants write a name or attribute of God for which they are especially thankful. Non-musical members often express their gratefulness for an outlet that extends corporate worship beyond songs.

South Africa: The large gathering of believers in Johannesburg includes a diverse mixture of races at any given service. You better check your pulse if you aren't moved by joining the corporate praise with the multicultural congregation at Rhema Church in Johannesburg. The musical genres purposely reflect the diverse congregation. While a great deal of the country still remains racially divided, Rhema Church and others like it are pictures of the new earth and the body of Christ worshiping together for eternity.

Action Plan for Worship in Your Ministry

? What are strengths and weaknesses of the worship in your ministry?

? How could the priority of worship be strengthened in your ministry?

? What is the first step?

3. Community

Community is the oneness Christ offers in place of the loneliness produced by sin. As we pursue time with people in their environments and make our ministries a place where love is experienced and expressed, we need to develop community as a regular component of our ministry gatherings for believers.

I recently observed a church in Singapore where the students knew Scripture remarkably well. The people who taught the youth dug deeply into the Word and even allowed for meaningful worship together with the students. In spite of this, everything still felt dead. As I sat back and observed, it became clear that the element lacking in this ministry was community. Youth didn't seem to enjoy being together. Not only did students not talk to one another; it was actually discouraged. They were told that talking with their friends was to be done outside of church. I don't think this accurately reflects what Jesus had in mind for a gathering of believers.

Community is seriously lacking in many ministries. In many churches, I turning to greet one another during a worship service is the extent to which people connect with one another. The remainder of the time is often spent passively sitting through the other growth components.

One of my previous ministries had little community when I first started there. Not unlike the church I observed in Singapore, these youth knew the Word of God and attended church regularly, but did not seem engaged. Because it was a large ministry, I was struggling to remember all the youth's names, so I privately asked some of the kids on one side of the room the names of some youth on the other side of the room. They replied, "I don't know." I asked, "Oh, are they new?" They said, "No. They've been here for years. I recognize their faces, but I don't know a thing about them." We didn't eliminate the strong Bible teaching or regular worship, but we worked hard to spend time together so that students would build community. We-went bowling together. We went to the beach together. We camped together. I looked for every excuse possible to get together. Youth who had been together for years without knowing each other discovered one another in new ways. Interestingly, the worship, study of the Word and desire to serve became much more alive as well.

Community requires breaking down barriers between people and getting them to work together. It means allowing people to have fun together! Ultimately, spiritual fellowship-deep interaction around kingdom priorities - is the objective of community.

? To what degree is community a part of your gatherings as believers?

? How are you fostering community in your ministry?

Disciplemaking Around the World

Brazil: Birthdays are festive events for Brazilians, so many of our partnering ministries there use birthdays as an excuse to gather Christians together. If you are going to one of these parties, plan on spending most of the day, or at least a full evening of fun, games and plenty of rice and beans. Since sixteenth birthdays are especially important to Brazilians, many youth ministries make them special events. Everyone is asked to bring along a few words to share with the youth having a birthday to affirm God's work in his/her life and challenge him/her to remain faithful.

Australia: St. Martin's Church illustrates a commitment to fostering community among believers. The sanctuary features two open fireplaces to suggest that the church is a "house" of God. Throughout the service, one can smell the soup cooking behind the pulpit in preparation for the communal meal that concludes the weekly gathering of believers. Church members describe their bond as stronger than any other friendships they've known.(5)

Chicago: The other night I met with the guys' cell group that I am leading at my church. To make our study of spiritual gifts more than an exercise in the Word (although a powerful one), we also made it an opportunity to build community. Based on my belief that discovering our spiritual gifts is closely related to the body of Christ affirming those gifts in us, we spent time arming the gifts that we saw in one another. It was a rich time of building community as well as hearing from God through these inspired words.

New York: Even large ministries can prioritize community at corporate gatherings of believers. Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City regularly plans time in their services to break into groups of four or five. For five to ten minutes, people exchange names, share something that is happening in their lives and pray together.

Singapore: All Saints Church in Singapore divides their ministry among cell groups. A great deal of care is given to foster community during the weekly gatherings of cells, but during the in-between times, they use email circles to keep communication flowing. Sometimes the message is just a reminder about the next meeting or a joke to pass along. Other times it's a word of encouragement, a verse or a prayer request. They have found it to further what happens when the group gathers physically.

South Africa: If you want to gather a group of South Africans, include a game of cricket (either playing or watching your favorite team) and some good food to guarantee a good turnout. Many youth ministries make "cricket parties" a regular part of their programming and look for ways to redeem this gathering. Some of the ministries rent a video to watch after the game that will foster good dialogue among the group about living like Jesus in a fallen world.

Action Plan for Building Community in Your Ministry

? What are the highs and lows of this priority in your ministry?

? What ideas do you have for strengthening this priority?

? What needs to happen first?

4. Serving

Serving prioritizes time with others to the extent that we adjust our lifestyles to express care and tangibly meet others' needs. This fourth ministry priority, consistently modeled by Jesus and the early church, is necessary for a complete environment for growth in making disciples.

Serving begins with the ministry leadership. An attitude for serving is contagious-people in our ministries will quickly discern whether we intend to serve or be served.

I have discovered that while people enjoy having fun together and being entertained, there soon comes a point where they will not grow unless we offer more. The most fun I have had with people in ministry has been when we have worked together to help other people, whether painting a widow's house, caring for the children of a single mom, working in a yard, going to a home for elderly people, serving overseas etc. There is nothing like serving together with other believers!

? Do you, as a ministry, regularly set aside time to help others in need? If so, assess those times. If not, how can you add this priority?

? Do believers freely meet needs outside the group? If so, how?

Disciplemaking Around the World

Australia: St. Martin's is healthy in this priority as well. This Melbourne congregation has built serving into its core identity. The church building was primarily built by the congregation. A team of women made all the mud bricks. Some of the people who helped were seekers. This value of serving together continues through the people as they grow together.(6)

Cambodia: A thirteen-year-old boy and the youth group he leads go from house to house in Phnum Penn asking people how they can pray for them. Often they find themselves in the ministry of healing people through the power of God, but more importantly, they find themselves with more opportunities to share Christ than they know what to do with.

Hungary: Consuming alcohol has become much more common among Hungarian youth since the revolution. Some of the Christian youth in Budapest regularly visit the pubs to find their peers. They strike up conversations and offer living water that will never leave one thirsty. Though their peers often demean them and reject the invitation to life with Jesus, the Christian youth often stay with them throughout the evening and end up escorting them home in their drunkenness.

India: A pastor at a church in Delhi has a mother who is being denied her old age pension from the tribal government where she lives. She's been told to denounce her faith if she wants to receive it. Since she is unwilling to reject Christ to meet her monetary needs, her son's church cares for her needs by regularly supplying food and other necessary items.

Kentucky: Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, with more than six thousand members, serves the community amid the urban sprawl the area is experiencing. Southland is the site for community concerts, plays, elections, aerobics classes, Spanish courses and more. If you need an appliance, furniture or some vegetables, Southland is probably the place to find it. Our ministries should be characterized as places that serve one another.

Northern Ireland: Exodus, a night club in Belfast, is not like most clubs in Europe. It is run by a group of Christians who are targeting youth using hip music and a place to hang out. Christians volunteer their time playing in the band, "bouncing," mingling with people, serving food, etc. As they serve Belfast youth, they see many follow Jesus and join nearby churches.

Thailand: A young girl was thrown out of her tribal home and village because she refused to go to Bangkok to become a prostitute to earn income for her family. Some Christ-followers she met in a neighboring village worked together to make a new home for her. They share their food, clothing, beds and modest homes with her. She now works in a hostel for tribal children, where they learn how to read and write to empower them to earn a living in ways other than prostitution, and she teaches them the Word of God.

Action Plan for Fostering Serving in Your Ministry

  • What are the highs and lows of this priority in your ministry?
  • What ideas do you have for strengthening this priority?
  • What needs to happen first?


Even if you have been involved in your ministry for a number of years, you may need to devote all your energies to the building phase for a period of time. Remember, this doesn't mean evangelism is non-existent during this phase. Jesus was personally calling people to himself all throughout this period of his ministry as an outgrowth of his love for the Father and for others. However, Jesus didn't emphasize mass evangelism during this first half of his public ministry; he emphasized building a core group of followers.

Though context will significantly shape how believers express love for God and others, believers must universally embrace the Great Commandment through prayer, the Word, Christ, relationships, love and mission. These values are corporately experienced through the Great Commission priorities of Word, worship, community and serving. Churches tend to emphasize one or two of these patterns over the others. All four are needed for a healthy, balanced ministry with believers.

Like the Great Commandment values, these Great Commission priorities should continue to be characteristic of our ministries all throughout their maturing. There is never a point where these are no longer needed.


1) Lawrence Richards, Creative Bible Teaching (Chicago: Moody, 1998). 

2) George G. Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West...Again (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000). 

3) Ibid. 

4) R. Ellis and C. Seaton, New Celts (Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 1998).

5) George G. Hunter.

6) Ibid.


This article is chapter nine of Connecting Your Journey With the Story of God: Disciplemaking in Diverse Contexts, by Dave Livermore. Copyright 2001 by Sonlife Ministries, all rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dave serves as international director of Sonlife Ministries in Elburn, Illinois.

In this book he asks the question, "If Jesus were in my shoes, with my experiences, in this community, how would he make disciples?"  It helps us to think through the process of disciplemaking, based on the life of Jesus, and helps us discover how this process applies to our own unique cultural context. Order it from Sonlife Ministries at www.sonlife.com.