Lead with Substance

Dave Rahn, Senior Vice President – Chief Ministry Officer, YFC USA, drahn@yfc.net

In the early 90s Huntington University, where I was a teaching professor, received a major grant to fund the start-up of a dream. We launched LINK INSTITUTE…for faithful & effective youth ministry. Our aspiration was to improve youth ministry practices everywhere by dedicating our efforts to original research, strategic writing, aggressive networking and regional youth ministry events. The University could expect to receive a measurable marketing and enrollment boost as they showcased a brand-enriching center of excellence to America.

We enthusiastically celebrated this donation and worked quickly to make the promised adjustments to our workload as declared in the funding proposal. My direct teaching responsibilities were sliced in half so I could give time to the pledged initiatives. New hires were made. National ads were placed in youth ministry magazines announcing the arrival of a major player on the youth ministry landscape.

I was uncomfortable with that last move. Nothing had really changed yet. We were making significant infrastructure moves that would change our input capacity. Plans for new activities were being laid and we eagerly anticipated outputs affirming that we could, in fact, make a big difference. But our vision of transformational outcomes and a world-changing impact were just dreams at this stage in the game. After all, we had only begun to sow the seeds that we prayed would be fruitful.

As it turns out my misgivings were well founded. Existing thought leaders in youth ministry rightly questioned who we were and why we deserved to be listened to. Where was the substantive evidence that we were any more than self-declared experts seizing on a marketing opportunity to claim a share of the emerging field of youth ministry education?

If LINK INSTITUTE had failed to deliver on promises made 20 years ago I doubt that I would enjoy opportunities today to influence national youth ministry practices.

In 1 Peter the Big Fisherman urges Christ’s followers to let the substance of their lives be their foremost strategy. His launch platform for such encouragement is the declaration that we are a distinctive people whose primary identity is secured by the reality of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Our membership in God’s kingdom culture is exactly why Peter urges all of us to live carefully among unbelieving neighbors (1 Peter 2:12), silencing critics by living honorably and submissively under authority (2:15), glorifying God by enduring the unjust adversity of slavery (2:19-20) or the godly witness of faithful wives yoked to non-Christian husbands (3:1-2). Husbands are told that the substance of their marriage relationships correlates with the effectiveness of their prayers (3:7). And expectations for all Christ-followers are reinforced in the paragraphs that follow.

Let’s always remember to lead with substance.