Seth Godin did not write Poke the Box with me in mind. There’s no direct reference to youth ministry or soccer or racing or my wife – or most of the other most important things in my life. He didn’t write about how I can maximize my talents or find untapped resources or build great new relationships with the next generation. He didn’t even write long chapters with well developed outlines and subheadings. He wrote crisp and active sentences and packaged them in bursts of motive thought. I’m glad I don’t lock my reading into one or two particular rabbit holes, because this way, I get to find gems like this that I’d never find digging around in my church leadership and youth ministry sandbox.
“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
The book asks this question, then dives headlong into making the case for why I should be “inventing the status quo” (and you should be, too). Poking the box is a metaphor for trying things. It’s taking initiative. [Have you noticed that no one ever says they were “given initiative”? Initiative is not given, it’s taken.]
This is an incredible metaphor for student ministry in a couple different ways:
- Youth Ministry can be like the R & D department of the church. We are researching tomorrow and developing disciples who will meet the world there. Only… we’re not exactly sure what tomorrow will be so we don’t quite know what to do. So we make stuff up. We try new things. Some of those things fail. But some of them lead to revolution and transform lives. Poking the box means we aren’t afraid of the failures so much that we never kick the revolution into transformation gear.
- Youth Ministry has to keep poking the box or it will die. We have to keep trying things to see what happens, if only because our window of influence can be so quickly shuttered. Even if a new peer group, or a job, or a breaking family, or dad getting a job out of state doesn’t come by and close the window, most of our students will only be around us for a few years. We have to make connections with them that will lead them to connect deeply with God when they move beyond our ‘sphere’. The opportunity is brief, so we need to innovatively initiate whatever we can think of to make these connections.
- We can’t just keep having ideas… we need to do them. I can’t think of too many youth leaders I would not describe as creative. Our tribe seems to have quite a way of coming up with ideas. I love sitting around with a bunch of youth ministers and talking about what could be… Ideas are plentiful. But we don’t always make them happen very well. At least I don’t as well as I should.
- This isn’t just about youth ministry. The church needs our boxes to be poked to keep from settling into something that’s less than following Jesus. There are lots of things we can do that look pretty good and churchy, but may not have much to do with following Jesus. Why are we doing them? Youth ministry is in a prime place for asking those questions on behalf of the whole church. Go ahead and poke the church.
So, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
As I think about my favorite moments in ministry, many of them are times when I went out on a limb and tried something new:
- taking my flat-land farm town students straight from a week long conference in the CO mountains to a week long mission trip in the AZ desert in July
- skipping a week of camp one summer that has been a mainstay of our youth ministry since Moses first took them there, so we could engage in a new (to them) conference
- drawing a distance & direction out of a bag and a spinner to determine where we’d spend a week serving (144 miles to the southeast, then another couple hundred to the east)
- booking a drama team instead of a speaker for a weekend event
- picking myself to speak for a weekend event
What was the last new thing you tried? How did it go? Email me or use the comments section below to talk about it.