10ST will be an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
Surratt starts off with what may be the most common of all the stupid things that keep churches from growing: the pastor trying to do it all. Just to be clear, it’s not the pastor himself who is the stupid thing, but rather the action of trying to do it all that’s the stupid thing… well, usually at least. For a variety of reasons, many pastors are compelled to do way more than what is healthy, both for themselves and for the churches they serve. It didn’t take long in ministry for me to get a harsh introduction to this stupid thing.
Less than two years into my first ministry, just when I had the perfect rhythm to youth ministry figured out (right!), the long time pastor of the church (and really of the whole small community) retired. After 38 years of ministry in that place, he needed (and deserved) a change of pace. In the first meeting with the elders after his retirement, we were talking about how to go about searching for a new pastor and what to do in the meantime. As a bunch of great guys who hadn’t placed a ‘pastor wanted’ ad for almost 40 years, there were a lot of questions and a lot of decisions to be made.
One glaring query that demanded an immediate answer was, “Who’s going to be doing the preaching until we hire a new pastor?” With all the wisdom and savvy inherent in the sum of a public school education, a Bible college degree, and next to zero experience, I wondered (out loud), “Have you guys considered just taking turns preaching? Each of you elders could preach one week for the next couple months while we search and…” I don’t remember how I finished the thought, but it doesn’t matter anyway – the sound of their laughing drowned out whatever else I said.
So as an alternative, I offered to dig into the vast reserves of my Biblical expositionary wells and preach until someone was hired. It’s only a couple months, right, how hard could it be? With a few exceptions for guest speakers from NCC and tryouts by a couple hopeful applicants, I ended up preaching each week for the next 70 weeks or so. In addition to my regular youth minister duties, with almost two whole years of experience, I was allowed to speak to the whole congregation every week!
I’ll be completely honest and tell you… I loved it.
Planning and leading worship most Sundays that went hand in hand with the messages I’d prepared with my own two wits (I had two back then), teaching youth and leading worship with them on Wednesday nights, teaching a Sunday school class, participating in small group… all while being the high school girls soccer coach. Did I mention that for about half that time, there was no church secretary… and we put out a weekly newsletter in addition to the Sunday bulletin.
As I look at the to-do list now, my stupidity is almost overwhelming, but in the moment, it was a rush! I was being productive and it felt good. And in all honesty, I think the time was good for the congregation as well. They heard stories every week about how awesome their students were and how God was working in the young lives they’d been praying for. They began to see youth and youth ministry a little differently. It was good.
But it was not sustainable. The grace of God is sufficient to fuel every move of God, and He was moving, but I was doing way too much. The results of carrying that load long term would have been disastrous for me, for my students, and for the church.
Today, I still struggle with the ‘do it all’ mentality. I am terrible at asking for help… I feel like I’m imposing, asking someone to do what I should be doing. I still have a long way to go, in practice, but I’m learning, by God’s grace, that it’s better all the way around when I don’t do it all. Youth pastors, we need to stop robbing the church of her ministry by doing it all for her. (Check out Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries for more on how a church can build it’s ministry to students.)
- Students need to see themselves as vital contributors to the church’s ministry to the youth of their community, not just spectators & consumers.
- Families need to be networked into webs of influence for the benefit of each other’s kids.
- Students need adults in addition to their parents who will love and mentor them.
- Students need to have a safe place to learn new ministry skills and try them out without the burdening expectation of perfection.
None of these occur when I plan everything, when I drive everything, when I make every meaningful decision for the student ministry. If you’re making all the decisions for your youth ministry, picking all the songs, running all the games, teaching all the lessons… I know it may feel good for a time, your ego will be stroked greatly if you keep all the plates spinning well, but it will kill the growth of your ministry (not to mention the negative impact on your own growth and the welfare of your family).
Don’t do it all.
That got a bit long, didn’t it?! Sorry… I’ll try not to make each post as long as the 10 Stupid Things chapters themselves!