Lessons from 317 Million Miles Away

I was listening to an NPR news report this morning about the landing a spacecraft on a comet 317 million miles from Earth. The Rosetta probe dropped its payload named, Philae, on the 2.5 mile-wide mass, called 67P/C-G. But there’s a problem. Philae is stuck in a shadowy crater. Its solar panels are unable to absorb the light of the sun. Its battery is dying. So what happens next? And what can this situation teach youth workers?

Philae Touchdown on 67P/C-G

As I considered the story, I was immediately struck with three thoughts worth considering for our ministry with youth. Take a few minutes to ponder these questions and consider their impact:

  1. Are young people able to absorb the light coming from our life?
  2. Are we intentional about taking time to recharge their batteries?
  3. Are youth exposed to dynamic adults or isolated in the shadows?

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how to cultivate a culture of commitment

Many issues we face in youth work can be highly discouraging. Commitment—or the lack thereof—might top the list. This was the case as mentioned by a frustrated youth worker on Facebook recently. He was justifiably upset and disappointed that the adult musicians he recruited to lead worship for their youth ministry ditched their duties. They called him last minute to say they wouldn’t be showing up for rehearsal. He closed his post with this question, “Why can’t we get commitment?”

On the surface, we could classify this common scenario as a “crisis of commitment” in the overall culture. There’s certainly an argument for that diagnosis in the Church today as well. In my 22 years of ministry, I have experienced my fair share of irresponsible people (even been one myself from time-to-time), but I’ve also learned some leadership principles that increase responsibility and cultivate a culture of commitment.

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stuck on the youth ministry highway?

Highway Engineer Pranks

Permission to use granted by xkcd.com.

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).

Timothy Eldred | Whiteboard BoundariesThat 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, WHOWHERE, 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.

free resource download

Endeavor | Seven PromisesDownload this simple, 7 Promises, poster. Print it and hang it on your wall, as a reminder of your real role of releasing young potential.