Teens & Faith: Hard questions about youth ministry

It's not easy to work with youth in the church, but some are gifted for it. We all need to share our experience and work together for the success of the Church.

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Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Seeking to follow where God leads, and thankful that grace covers my multitude of errors.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mother Teresa could have been a youth worker.

Has anyone else out there begun to read the new book containing the personal writings of Mother Teresa? I just started it tonight and already she sounds like the most devoted youth workers I have known. There is going to be a LOT of material here to talk about with students. I'm not sure I can even imagine what it must be like to receive and follow your calling from God and then have to endure decades without being able to sense God's presence. That's a very long, dark night of the soul. I am coming to appreciate the wisdom of the mystics again.

Who Am I?

Some leaders are born that way, others have it thrust upon them, or so I've heard. I don't honestly know which I am. Perhaps there are lots of youth workers who feel the same way. Some things are becoming clearer at this point in my life.

In the eight years or so since I began seminary and leading youth, I have subscribed to some pretty powerful ideas of youth ministry. Mike Nygren and the Joshua Team in Ohio really fostered some great ideas of what youth ministry can look like. The Tentmakers have impacted my organizational style through the Nehemiah Leadership Institute. I believe in the value of a well written action plan, budget and position results description. But I am finding that I may have stifled who God made me to be as a leader for expediency and the acceptance of others.

I am not by nature a really big go-getter. I am not type A, as my fellow staff members could attest. I'm sure my senior pastor and our business manager have been frustrated by this more than once in the last four years of my tenure. I am introverted; I am a slow thinker; I am relational rather than organizational. And yet I still recognize a call to lead.

Is it possible to lead effectively as a relational person without being coopted (sorry, but that's how I feel) by the church as business model. I am being ruined for the business model by some of my latest reads "The Irresistible Revolution," "Contemplative Youth Ministry," and "Growing Souls," for instance. Truly, it seems to me that Jesus might think we were missing the point of church in doing it the business way.

Yes, of course, some things need to be attended to in this manner. We need well planned budgets to work with. We need a goal(s) for which to strive and plans on how to achieve them. Yet our plans sometimes remove the working of the Holy Spirit, in my opinion. We sometimes (generous, I know) don't allow for options that present themselves along the way. Once the plan is in place, we go with it because it's written down.

I follow a shopping list as well as the next person, but church is just different, no?

So now I find myself blogging out my thoughts in the middle of the night prior to Sunday morning. Maybe not a recipe for success in Sunday school, but when God talks I try to listen and process as best I can.

I realize that I have been failing as a leader. As I told my wife before she fell asleep, I am inept at the business model of church leadership and I have been scared to really utilize the relational gifts God has given me. In some ways I don't understand how they can be successful in my current situation, but God definitely brought me to this place so there must be a way.

Imagine a youth group powered (and I do mean powered) by a director who seriously fosters his/her relationships with God and all the adults called to work with the ministry in the congregation. I don't have a clear picture of what it looks like but I like the possibilities that are opened by it.

How many of us as youth leaders are unwilling or unable to grow in leadership using whatever gifts we have been given, out of fear of where it might take us? Are you in that boat? Do the waves of the congregation begin to crash against the ministry's rowboat every time to try to assert your gifts? We all need to remember that Jesus is sleeping in the bow, and he'll calm the storm. We must be faithful to the journey, though. Be who you are. God has you there for a reason. Believe it.