With a crackle of the speaker you hear the words, “may I take your order.” Suddenly, your mind goes blank. Have you ever experienced a momentarily lapse in memory? You knew your spouse’s lunch order, and then amnesia strikes. Have you experienced this before? As a leader, have you had this moment when leading?
I found myself more confused than when I began. A desk covered with an empty soda can, notes, ideas, prices, financial statements, potential event dates, and crumbled up papers surrounded me. Planning one of our upcoming ministry seasons proved to be more challenging than previous seasons. After several hours of brainstorming, I had fewer ideas to bring to the team than I had when I began.
The moment I hit the end of my rope, when I was mentally exhausted, I realized I forgot a few essential questions. What were we trying to accomplish? What are we hoping will occur in the lives of our students? How do we wish to reveal God’s grace to them during this season?
Asking these questions suddenly brought everything to a standstill. The answer to these questions would be hard to find in any of the events that we were exploring. Instead, the season needed a different look. So we scrapped the events. We moved away from events and towards strategic moments within our already occurring activities. Now, we wait. We wait to see the impact of the next ministry season.
All of this brought to light a simple guiding principle that generally guides all of our decisions. When planning the future, always know your purpose. What is the end goal? For me, that question is answered through our mission statement and by asking how we are revealing God’s grace to our students. For some reason, I was experiencing a bit of leadership amnesia. It took getting to my mind’s end to remember- always know your end goal.
Just out of high school I worked as a pitchman. My job was to speak about products in a compelling way as to make the audience want to purchase what I was presenting. I would set up at flea markets and festivals attempting to draw the largest crowds I possibly could. The larger the crowd, the more I sold. The lessons I learned from this job have been invaluable to me in ministry.
One such lesson that I am often reminded of is that the immediate audience is not always the primary audience. The hardest part of developing a crowd is getting the permission to begin a presentation. Permission was granted when I could get one interested party to stop and listen to my presentation. What I found most interesting is that the person who purchased my product was usually not the one who gave me permission to present. Instead, my sales generally came from the onlooker, the person who joined the presentation late and listened from a distance. My immediate audience, the one who gave me permission to begin, rarely became my customer. My customer was the secondary audience.
The same is true in ministry. In youth ministry we have our primary audience: our students, parents, and families that are part of the church. We can have a positive impact on them for Jesus. My experience though is that when our primary audience gives us permission, and we seek to do our presentation well, then a door is opened to the curious onlookers. These onlookers are many times the ones that we get the opportunity to share the gospel with for the very first time. These onlookers or secondary audience can quickly become our “customers” as we share the good news of the resurrection.
A friend once shared with me that he was praying with a church member who was in the hospital. The nurse came into the room and asked to speak with my friend. He was worried because he often prays loudly and was certain that she was going to tell him to keep it down. Instead, the nurse said that her other three patients heard his prayer from their rooms. They all wanted to know if he would also come pray with them.
Friends, may we not shy away from our calling. May we seek to do well in our presentations, whatever they may be, so that we are presented with more opportunities to speak to this secondary audience. After all, the second audience is ripe for the harvest!
Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of my first day in youth ministry. It seems like yesterday that I started serving God through youth ministries. I was only 19 and what a ride it has been. One of the greatest hypocrisies of my life is that I was blessed to serve in youth ministry roles at such a young age and today I’m not certain that I would put a 19 year old in similar positions. Regardless, I’m thankful for the past 10 years. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve learned a lot. There are many things I would do differently if I could do them again. As I was reflecting on my past 10 years, I figured I would put together a list of 10 things I’ve learned (I could count more but I’ll save those for my 20 list that I’ll be doing in 10 more years). Take some time and read through my list. Some of the lessons on my list, I believe, can apply to anyone.
10 Lessons From 10 Years
- Youth ministry is full of highs and lows. From the highs of camps and retreats to the lows of the teen you invested so much time in giving up on their faith. Expect both and know that neither last forever.
- We must remember our place. Although it may be significant in its impact, we must remember that we only play a small role in the broad spectrum of a person’s life. Let’s not over emphasize our importance and remember that Jesus is still in charge.
- Teaching behavior modification does nothing for our teens and only makes happy parents and happy church members. We need to remember that our time with teens is short and so we should use that time to influence how they perceive and process information. Think tools for a lifetime not just tools for next week.
- Passion for change and passion for others are fickle and should not be trusted. On the flip side, deeply held convictions can be stale and stubborn. Instead we should seek some balance of passion for change, passion for other people and our deeply held convictions.
- The greatest life transformation happens in the small chunks of time and conversations that happen with individuals or small groups of individuals outside of the classroom or worship settings. Let us remember to take advantage of these times, even when we’re tired.
- Graduating kids out of the youth group every year is tough. Every year, between the months of May and August, I will grieve.
- Let’s not kid ourselves, the opinions of parents and church members matter. Even though at times we feel like they don’t understand the reasoning behind what we do, let us try to do our best to communicate the why behind everything. Many times people are not against what we’re doing, they just need the fog removed a little so they can see what’s really going on.
- Organization in youth ministry is rare. Strive to be organized. There are seasons when youth ministry runs at lightning speeds and organization becomes nearly impossible. Strive to be organized the rest of the time. It’s amazing how much credibility and trust you can gain from parents, church leaders and outside organizations with just a little organization. Someday when you mess up, you’ll need to cash in some of that credit you’ve gained.
- Think long term. Your attendance is down by 10% this semester; you’ve graduated your top singer and guitar player; you just can’t seem to win with a parent…no matter what you’re facing just remember that longevity and faithfulness will win out. In the end fun, passion and excitement are short lived and will never beat out faithfulness.
- The struggle between family time and youth ministry time is real and never gets easier. You will always be battling that balance. Try your best to set boundaries and don’t be afraid to defend those boundaries. I will always flex days so that I am not depriving my family of the time we should spend together. Always remember that you LOVE your family and CARE about the youth ministry- it should always fall in that terminology and order.
So here’s to the next 10 years and many more lessons!
Who are you?
Simple question, right?
Recently I heard a church leader say, “the longer you are in youth ministry, the more it becomes who you are.” There is terrible truth within her statement. In fact I believe it goes far beyond youth ministry. She could say, “the longer you are in (fill in the blank with your profession), the more it becomes who you are.” What a sad reality. Although you and I know that there is more to you than just what you do for a living, it is hard to look beyond your work (I know for certain this fact is especially true for men but I suspect it is also relevant for women). You have depth and dynamics that reach far deeper than the one dimensional profession that we so often define ourselves by.
Why do we define who we are by what we do? Jim, he’s a teacher. Sally, she’s an accountant. Carl, he’s homeless. Maybe we define our lives as well as the lives of others so haphazardly because well, its easy. Maybe it’s because our job is always demanding attention. Regardless of the reason, I decided to look beyond what I simply do to provide for my family and seek much of who I am. The good and the bad. The happy and the sad. The heart and the brains. Below is my developing list of who I am.
I am a husband; father; sinner; server; current mourner of losing the tv shows Lost and the Office; mower of a seemingly never-ending yard; fan of many Ohio sports teams; pizza connoisseur by both choice and force; horrible responder to text messages; dreamer; wannabe drawer, painter & musician; author; speaker; train conductor in the game Ticket to Ride; homeowner; shortstop; taxi & bus driver; horribly impatient; theme park fan, especially Disney; taxpayer; the guy who takes 12 strokes to complete a par 4; prince Eric; not yet but should be diagnosed with a case of Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte addict; know-it-all; an American who is acutely aware that he is first Christian, secondly American; bowler; in many ways a germaphobe; emotionally and spiritually a bi-polar person whose heart can quickly move from selfishness to being broken-hearted for those in need and back again to selfishness; heavy user of Ortega Mild taco sauce; an individual that desires right; surrounded by an incredible family and friends; child of God…
I think I will stop there but most certainly if I kept searching my mind and heart, I would discover more of who I actually am. So, who are you? Easy question…right?
Take a while, think about it. You may just surprise yourself.