Friday, June 29, 2012

The Youth Ministry ICU

Early ICU planning meeting from Springfield Friends
This week I was blessed to have 4 talented youth pastors share some thoughts on things they might do differently if they were starting over in student ministry.  While there are many things I would change about my own years in ministry, there is one thing that would remain constant- Relationships would remain Job #1, the most important part of the job.  Over my many years as a youth pastor there was one program I kept trying to initiate (with mixed success) that was/would have been a great help in keeping relationships on the front burner of ever every ministry I served.  That program was the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

I had been doing student leadership retreats and thinking about leadership training for several years when I first read about the ICU in J. David Stone's brilliant little book Spiritual Growth in Youth Ministry (Group Publishing, 1985).  The idea was not new, but it was in a format that intrigued me.  Dave suggested that you invite a group of student leaders to be a care unit for the other students in your ministry.  In later years I opened it up to anyone willing to make the commitment.  This involved training sessions and a covenant commitment to both the ICU and the youth ministry in general.  The primary focus of the ICU was on building relationships and making students feel significant, wanted, needed and prayed for.  Here's an actual copy of the list of responsibilities I put together for one of the churches where we used this program:

The "Love Lists" were just our way of splitting students into small groups (6-8) that were then assigned to an ICU member for care.  These lists included active and inactive members, and anyone who showed up at youth group even once was immediately added.  Membership in the ICU came with no power or privileges, only responsibilities.  We wanted to help those who wanted to be student leaders understand sacrificial ministry.  Among the things they agreed to with the covenant they signed were:

  • Being faithful in attendance to our youth programs and our church.
  • Attending a monthly ICU meeting.
  • Praying for our ministries.
  • Getting to know students who were not in their usual circle of friends.
  • Praying daily for the 6-8 students on their "Love List."
  • Taking seriously the assignments given to them by the ICU.
  • Keeping the youth pastor up-to-date on all issues and problems encountered.
  • Keeping anything discussed at ICU meeting private and confidential.
I started using the idea in the late 1980s, and used it for the rest of my career.  To be honest, it was very hit or miss, depending on the students in the group.  Some years the ICU was a very important part of what we were able to accomplish. Other years it was just a monthly meeting to report on how things were going.  And some years it just didn't work at all.  But when it worked, it was amazing.

So if I were starting over again, one thing I would do would be to make the ICU an ongoing priority in my youth ministry.  Look again at the lists of responsibilities and commitments.  How much better would your ministry be (and this would be true in the church as a whole, too!) if everyone got a weekly phone call or text from another student?  How much more connected would they feel if their special occasions were always remembered and recognized?  How strong could relationships be if everyone knew they were being prayed for every single day?  And how much better would your ministry be if you were training your teens to be ministers among their peers, not by giving them power but by teaching them to serve?  If I had it to do over again, I would have put much more of my energy and prayer into the idea of the ICU.  I think it could have changed lives if we had just been a little more consistent.  I have lots of other information on ICU training and covenants that I would be glad to share with anyone who is interested.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the idea and ways you could use the ICU in your setting.  Thanks for reading!

Because of Jesus,

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