stuck on the youth ministry highway?

Highway Engineer Pranks

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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.

with—the ethos of leadership

This message was spoken at the Ward Church Leadership Summit in Northville, MI, on Janury 18, 2014. Listen to this challenge to model, mentor, mobilize, and multiply emerging young leaders who have a safe space to discover their identity in Christ and have the permission to risk failure to become the person whom God designed.

Invite Tim to speak at your next event.


determine to ride shotgun

“Dad, can I drive this morning? Please?”

I hear those words almost everyday again, since my youngest son has his learner’s permit. Typically, there’s no problem with putting Kelton behind the wheel of one of our cars; however, I’m a little wary of handing over the keys for winter driving.

Winter weather in Michigan brings ice, snow, and slow travel (especially for an inexperienced driver). Honestly, I’m not so concerned about safety—primarily mine—but speed. And efficiency. I like to get where I’m going and get things done quickly. After nearly 30 years of driving slippery roads, I’m confident in my ability to get to our destination in one piece and on time.

But my son must learn to navigate his own way in treacherous conditions. So I relent,

“Sure, pal. Of course, you can drive.”

Sitting in the passenger seat makes me crazy. Sitting at stop signs 10 times longer than I like does, too. Reminding him to watch, slow down, speed up, use two hands. It all makes me a little twitchy. I find myself constantly having to remember my role; I’m here to teach. Prepare. And release his potential (Ephesians 4:12).

Whether you work with youth in a ministry setting, mange people in a business, teach in a classroom, or parent children at home, there’s a critical lesson here.
I implore you this week to make a list of everything you do and determine to ride shotgun. Give others the change to become. To learn. Grow. And thrive behind their own wheel.

Speed is not the goal. Neither is perfection. Training is the key. So model and move over!

Be a driving instructor—the most dangerous, fulfilling job you will ever experience.

Bob Newhart Driving Instructor Sketch