Giving youth pastors the tools they need to make and shape disciples.

My Three Pillar Process For Youth Ministry

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Three Pillars of Youth Ministry 

This past year, I felt like I was all over the map as far as programming, teaching and planning, then I had a talk with my pastor. I wanted to find out what his thoughts were about narrowing down the focus of the youth ministry to three pillars.

These three pillars would define what kind of youth ministry I’d build that looked most like the church he envisioned. We chatted and I made a few suggestions and we eventually arrived at our three pillars that would define how we did youth ministry

We arrived at Discipleship, Justice and Theology.

Discipleship is my heart and passion. I want to help students become lifetime followers of Jesus.

Justice can be a complicated subject and hard to practice in 60-90 minutes a week but because we both agree that students must understand both the theology and the practice of justice, we made it a pillar.

Theology is in our DNA with my Pastor just receiving his doctorate. We both think right biblical teaching on life’s most important questions will build a strong foundation for students.

How Do You Integrate These Three Pillars Into The Youth Ministry?


You can call this panning or programing, but the three pillars decide what goes on the calendar. Not every event or meeting is centered on just one of the three pillars, but they all have a sprinkle of one of a few of the pillars in it, as if these pillars were salt and pepper shakers.

  • I can make a retreat discipleship focused with a sprinkle of justice
  • I can have an outreach with a dash of theology
  • I can have a feed the homeless day and talk about discipleship

My goal is to cross pollinate the calendar to the point where students see the connection between all three pillars and how it looks as part of one’s life.


How many times have thought, “what am I going to speak on tonight?” With three pillars you only have three buckets from which to choose which makes your job easier.This is not say you won’t have a night that falls between two series or you may have to shorten a series by a week to cover something the Holy Spirit puts on your heart.

Having only three pillars allows you to explore each topic more deeply and find your messages within the questions you ask. Here’s an example using discipleship and asking WHAT questions,

  • what is a disciple?
  • what does a disciple of Jesus look like compared to a disciple of the world?
  • what difference will following Jesus make in my life?

Those are three different messages. You would continue asking who, where, why , when and how to come up with even more message ideas. You would apply this method to each of the three pillars and pick the best or most relevant messages you want to speak on each subject.


Teaching without practice is futile if you want to make disciples. My calendar has to reflect my pillars otherwise the pillars become just another mission/purpose statement. Some of my events may include

  • feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving (Discipleship)
  • writing letters to our congressman on a major issue (Justice)
  • doing a quiz show night on a series to see how much my students remember (Theology)

Practice can be deep, fun and all of the above but students must be offered the opportunity to practice what they believe or it will all go in one ear and out the other. 

For more ideas on practicing faith, check out my book The Disciple Project.

How Do I Come Up With My Own Three Pillars?

I want to make your job (and my job) to be easier, that’s why you might notice I didn’t make the title of this post THE Three Pillars of Youth Ministry because my three pillars will be different from your three pillars. Your context is different than mine. So, how do you come with your own three pillars?

Take Inventory

What are you passionate about? Is it evangelism? Missions? Write down three of your own pillars and tool around with them to see how they would look on your calendar in regards to planning, preaching and practice.

Talk to your Pastor

Before talking to your pastor about the three pillars, look at your church’s literature, flyers, sayings on the wall, the church calendar, your pastor’s teaching/preaching series etc.

Can you spot what’s important to your church? Write down what you think the three pillars of your church are.

Explain to your pastor what you are trying to do and then ask them, if they could narrow it down to three, what the three pillars of the church are. How close is your list to theirs?

Target the three you agree upon

If your lists are close, but not the same, ask your pastor, “Which of these three do you think should be the three pillars of the youth ministry” If you feel strongly about a pillar that should be included, ask your pastor if they are open to including it. Be sure to share why you’re so passionate about it. 

This should be a healthy discussion, not a debate. If, in end, you cannot agree upon the three pillars, go with their three pillars and sprinkle your pillar throughout the year without being too heavy on the sprinkling.

The three pillars are not law, they are guideposts. The three pillars are created to align the youth ministry and the church/the heart of the pastor. In aligning yourself in purpose and vision, you become a compliment to the church rather than a comparison. 

Aligning yourself with the pastor may even extend your stay as youth pastor, and that’s a good thing

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