I’m reading The Seventh Sense by Joshua Cooper Ramo. I can’t remember who recommended it, but I made it my test run in ordering a book through the inter-library loan system through the Chicago Public Library. It arrived two weeks ago. Someone else has already requested it, so my time with it is running out. Hence the actual reading.
So there’s a handy distinction in here between tactical, operational, and strategic levels of action. This post is an adoption of those levels for youth ministry.
Ramo says tactical is the most practical. “It’s the choice to use machine guns instead of tanks to secure a street in Kabul, for instance, or to buy up gold for a central bank or to allow high-frequency stock trading.”
In youth ministry, tactical decisions are daily and weekly choices about communication and curriculum. Do we send a weekly digital newsletter? Do we do our mission trip sign ups online only or also with paper forms? Do we use “Never Have I Ever” as a warmup exercise yet again?
It’s the most practical, yet the tactical level of action is the one I fret the most about.
The operational level is the one “where decisions are made about just how various levers of power might best be moved. Should we send bombers to set back Iran’s nuclear program or rely on cyberattacks? Will tax dollars fix aging highways faster than tolls?” In a great phrase, the operational level is where the “bolt tightening for revolutionary change occurs.”
Do we have a weekly youth group and when will it meet? Do jr. high students have their own mission trip, or do they come with the sr. highs? Do we schedule regular feedback sessions with parents? How do we organize and support volunteers?
These seem like some of the operational questions youth ministries deal with. They’re more about infrastructure. I enjoy this level. It’s where you can most easily experiment with things that feel significant.
Finally, there is the strategic dimension. “Here, overall design is considered and implemented.
“Strategy imagines how whole structures such as nations or corporations [or congregations] might be directed in the service of the most ambitious goals.”
This is where your scope and sequence plan lives, at the strategic level. Are you marching through a year of discussions on lectionary texts, or are you focusing on issues of social justice?
Just what are the ambitious goals driving your youth ministry? Youth’s integration in the worship and service of the adult congregation? Intimacy with the Biblical narrative? The formation of a tight-knit community of teenagers?
Strategy, operations, and tactics work together. Youth ministry work that fails to focus on any one of these three will suffer. But it feels like the biggest payoff comes from investing in the strategic level first.