My friend, Brian Aaby, posted an great question on a youth ministry Facebook group yesterday.
Meeting with another Youth Pastor tomorrow to discuss some “long term planning” aspects… on average, how many months in advance do you have the specifics of your ministry planned (not just big picture, but who’s doing announcements, leading the game, which game, etc.)?
The sincere replies nearly caused an aneurysm for me because they typified much of what has us driving around in circles on the proverbial youth ministry highway.
I weighed into the conversation, but I deleted my brief response this this morning to avoid sounding like a complete, insensitive jerk. So I’m going to take some time to share my thoughts in detail—which will confirm that I’m a complete insensitive jerk.
framing the right questions
Brian’s thought-provoking inquiry opens the door to my favorite activity—coaching youth workers. I want to share a strategy for answering Brian’s question that allows you to bring out the gifts, talents, and passions of students without feeling the need to provide all the answers.
I’ve discovered in 24 years of youth work that my job is very simple, if I follow this principle. I prepare saints for service; I don’t prepare services for saints. (Ephesians 4:12).
That formula puts everyone—including me—in their proper position as integrated members of the Body of Christ. Instead of calling plays, I determine to only define boundaries. This image illustrates it well.
Last week, I sat down with our student leadership team to address some needs we’re facing. I took the time to describe upcoming obstacles from my perspective as their advisor, coach, mentor, and guide. Some of the items on the agenda I distributed were weekly issues, others monthly, some annually. A few were simple. Some complex. We discussed each aspect, and they accepted my POV that these were important matters that required attention. Then I exercised the most critical element of my job—I left the room and gave them time to problem solve on their own.
Six trained, capable, emerging teens wrestled through every item until they created an action plan for their ministry. They presented it to me for input and troubleshooting. I asked a few questions they failed to address, but in the end, they owned the outcome.
My responsibility in defining boundaries is to clarify WHAT needs done to ensure that lifelong discipleship and leadership development is taking place in context of a youth program. Providing a safe space and place for young people to answer the HOW, WHO, WHERE, and WHEN of the what empowers them to enact a ministry and mission they own, as they experience God working through their lives.
Perhaps we’re stuck on the youth ministry highway because we have too many good answers for problems we don’t need to solve. Let’s begin asking more and better questions of the youth we serve. Train them in a messy environment where their voice matters and has meaning. In the end, it will produce the outcome we desire—a generation of youth in ministry for Jesus Christ.