If you were to take a poll of youth workers in the United States and ask them, “Who is the most influential youth worker in America today?” I think the overwhelming response would be Doug Fields, the Pastor to Students at Saddleback in California and author of the book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry.
Like many of my colleagues in youth ministry, I was surprised at Doug’s resignation from Saddleback this week and in particular at one comment from Pastor Rick Warren regarding Doug’s resignation: “When the beautiful Refinery was finished, I knew that Doug felt this was the capstone of the most successful youth ministry in America.”
Though I have no doubt that Pastor Warren meant this as a compliment to a friend and a colleague, to me it seemed to short-change the far reaching impact that Doug has had in the youth ministry world – An impact that I know well because of the role Doug has played in my own life.
As a rookie youth pastor, one of my youth ministry mentors, Tony Jones, gave me a copy of “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry” and said it was the first book that I needed to read. The book encouraged me, challenged me, and helped me structure my first youth ministry. Doug’s resources through his company, Simply Youth Ministry, and his constant mantra to “Take my name off and put your name on” helped me to train my leaders and ensure that on weeks when I didn’t have time to create my own resources, I would still have a quality lesson to use with my teens.
Doug’s 2nd book, “Your First Two Years in Ministry” and his seminar of the same name is a major reason why I survived my first two years in ministry and am now entering my eighth year in ministry. I read it as I was transitioning from my first call into my second, a particularly dark time in my faith journey.
Beyond that, hearing Doug speak at the Purpose Driven Youth Ministry Conference & countless National Youth Workers Conventions never failed to simultaneously equip, encourage, and challenge me. In particular, his constant reminders that no one ever wins in the comparison game and that in ministry, people matter more than programs have become ingrained in my own youth ministry philosophy.
This year, his book “Help! I’m a Student Leader!” has enabled me to challenge and equip my student leaders for ministry.
Though I’ve never so much as had a one on one conversation with Doug, through his books and seminars, he has served as a very influential mentor to me.
I can only hope that at the end of my career in youth ministry, I will have had a fraction of the impact that Doug has had on youth and other leaders. If I can do that, I will have done my job well.