How do youth pastors make decisions in their youth ministries?

In the latter half of the 20th century every fighter pilot was taught how to apply the OODA loop during air to air combat. John Boyd, a deceased Air Force Colonel, elite fighter pilot, pentagon consultant and top military strategist, developed the OODA loop. The OODA loop is not popularized because John Boyd never published an official paper on the OODA loop BUT I highly recommend his biography THE FIGHTER PILOT WHO CHANGED THE ART OF WAR.   The OODA loop was designed to win in uncertain and chaotic situations.  Elite fighter pilot and retired Top Gun instructor David Berke says the loop can be used for any decision in any industry. 

I first got introduced to the OODA loop by a Rear Admiral, who’s a fighter pilot instructor and taught other junior officer’s the fundamentals of the OODA loop when in difficult leadership scenarios.  The more and more I learned about the loop the more and more I thought “this loop can easily be applied in how I make strategic decision in my youth ministry.” I believe that youth ministry leaders face the same dilemma as fighter pilots. We all need to make decisions better and faster. Youth ministry is always changing which requires the youth worker to act fast. 

The OODA Loop Outlined:

The OODA is an acronym that identifies the four steps of decision making: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. 

Step #1: Observe

Just sit back watch. Don’t talk, just look for patterns and uniqueness and listen. Being observant is about situational awareness. Gather data on what’s occurring in the environment. Evaluate past results. This is the creation of data. Some say the “art” of the OODA.

Step #2: Orient

Find the inconsistencies. The goal of this step is to predict outcomes. Take the observed data and give it meaning. Interpret the data. Think about past experiences as it relate to the current problematic situation. What’s going to happen next? Orient is the science behind the decision. It’s the understanding, analyzing and the synthesizing. This step is the most important part of the loop. The more you orientate over time, the more you will find robust results. 

Step #3: Decide

Now it’s time to make a better, faster, and repeatable decision eliminating the least consequence possible. Take the art and the science to arrive at your decision. This step is the transitional period before you act. So have that meeting to explain your reasoning and strongly state your prediction and proceed. 

Step #4: Act

Take action. Carrying out steps 1 – 3. Once action has been taken. Find more problems and start the loop all over again. 


What the Loop Can Do For Youth Ministry Leaders

Boyd made the OODA Loop abstract so it could apply to many contexts. One doesn’t have to be learning how to do invert barrel rolls in a F-16 to use the Loop. Conversely, I would argue trying to spiritually led a religious disenfranchised teenage generation to Jesus is as equally tough. Boyd saw the world moving faster and believed we don’t need any more formulas or how-tos. The Loop was designed to accommodate and thrives on disruptions. As you would know, youth ministry is full of disruptions. 


Here’s how the Loop can be immediately implemented:


Uncertainty provides new ministry opportunities. 

There are many problems in all youth ministries. No need to complain or blame about the uncertain problems. Use the Loop to creatively approach the problem. 

Trust your gut. The OODA loop builds confidence and intuition. Since it’s about moving fast there not much time to think. That’s why it’s important to be comfortable and confident in uncomfortable situations so you can act fast. Build your intuition muscle. Remember, being intuitive doesn’t give permission to make sloppy decisions. If you are making sloppy decisions you are not orienting enough. 

Make time to orient.  Boyd commented that the orientation step is where the magic and innovation occurs. Highly creative leaders can all be looking at the same situation but how they orient will determine who succeeds. Schedule when you orientate in your calendar. 

Hunt the sacred cow.  Boyd said “You have to challenge all assumptions.” Youth ministry is one big experiment. Failure is encouraged and expected.  Find those traditions or white elephants and apply the OODA Loop. The Loop will led you to a new solution that will get better results. 

In many ways, Boyd was a youth minister at heart. GO LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW BOYD WAS A MAVERICK AND PIONEER.  His OODA loop is a mental process youth ministers can use every day. Give the Loop a try.