I recently completed a series of posts reflecting on Geoff Surrat’s book Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing, and how those stupid things relate to youth ministry. I want to add one last post to sum it all up and add a few extras. The book primarily addresses lead pastors and the stupid things they do, but we youth ministers do our fair share of stupid things, too. In the previous posts, I’ve noted how each of Surrat’s 10 things may pertain to youth ministry, so I won’t rehash all that, but I will add a few to the list for youth ministers:
1. Thinking parents are ‘the other side/team’. Youth ministers, please hear me on this: We are supplemental.
I’m not saying youth ministry is a superfluous luxury, or that we aren’t integral to the spiritual growth of our kids. But the families of our kids will have far greater influence than we will. We’d do well to structure our ministries to facilitate and maximize parents’ influence on their own kids rather than setting ourselves up as the main portal of spiritual growth for the next generation.
2. Failing to communicate. Do the leaders of your church know what God is doing in
your their student ministry? Whether they ask you for it or not, you should be regularly reporting to the rest of your leadership what’s been happening in the student ministry. Maybe it’s a written report filed with the elders or lead team, maybe it’s a monthly verbal report… but let them know in whatever way possible. Do the parents and students know what’s coming up and what’s been going on when they’ve gotten out of the loop? How many times has a parent come to you and asked for details of an upcoming event for which it’s already too late for their son or daughter to register? It happens. Sometimes, they just haven’t been paying attention – but sometimes, we haven’t clearly communicated what’s coming up and what’s the timetable for getting involved. Never assume everyone who needs to know actually does know.
3. Operating in silos. There may be no other area of ministry in which it is easier to segregate your work from the rest of the church. Make sure this doesn’t happen. If your youth ministry kids aren’t involved in other areas of service in the church and are disengaged from the life of the Body, stop what you’re doing and refocus on connecting kids with Jesus AND His Body – not just with your youth group. Get them serving in the band, in the nursery or children’s church, in greeting… in anything they can do with the rest of the church. Their spiritual growth will be severely hindered at best, if you keep them in your little youth ministry silo.
4. Having low expectations. They’re just kids, right? No that’s not right; the ‘just kids’ mentality is crippling a generation by expecting nothing, equipping for nothing, then complaining when nothing is delivered. Raise the bar! This generation is sailing solo around the world, shaping political campaigns, starting successful businesses, working creatively and tirelessly for a whole host of causes that matter… are we really doing them any favors by expecting them to come chug milk and be nicer people? Raise the bar! (I know I said that twice – it’s important.)
5. Letting kids drive the church van. Umm… yes, I have literally done this, though not by choice. On the way to interview for my first full time youth ministry 12 years ago, I got a speeding ticket. That blemish on my record was enough to cause the insurance company to say I couldn’t drive the church van – which was brought to our attention about 4 days before a 1400 mile trip. Apparently, they were more comfortable with an 18 year old girl driving a van full of kids across two states than me. To be totally honest, it was pretty humiliating – I’m a good driver… on the racetrack. But I’m not as concerned with literally letting kids drive the church van as I am about what that metaphor represents. If you’re shaping your ministry based only on what kids want, you can easily miss God’s vision for the young church. If God’s not driving your ministry, you better be praying for good air bags.
6. Rinsing/Repeating. When something goes well in ministry, it’s tempting to just do it again next year. Don’t. Don’t just repeat the calendar year after year because it worked before. Evaluate where you’ve been, and pay attention to where God is leading. Your students are different every year. Their world has changed every year. Don’t assume that the awesome camp/retreat/conference/series/etc. that you’ve scheduled for the last 6 years is still going to be awesome. If it’s not, and if something else will be a better next step for you and your students to be taking, don’t be afraid to get out of the spin cycle and find some fresh water. That’s not to say we should mindlessly innovate and have to rhythm to our ministries – just that we shouldn’t mindlessly imitate last year’s success.
I’m sure there are a lot more stupid things we could add to the list, so I’m going to open myself up again for your best shots: What are the most stupid things you’ve seen in youth ministry?
Also, if you haven’t seen them, check out these links to the rest of the 10ST series:
Ten Stupid Things
Doing It All
Misappropriating Your Family
2nd Rate Worship Experiences
Settling for Low Quality Children’s Ministry
Promoting Talent Over Integrity
Discipline Over Reconciliation
Mixing Ministry & Business