Read Godin’s post before you continue, so you’ll know where this is coming from. It’s ok, I’ll wait…
I think that one of the particular neurosis in youth ministry is the tendency to pander. More often than we should, I’m afraid, we make use of shortcuts that will get students to show up and make it look like things are going well. We dangle carrots to convince students to attend camps and events and conferences that they’re not really ready for – but it feels good to take a bigger group, so we do it anyway.
I’m not sure all the blame lies with the current crop of youth pastors, though. In many ways, it’s what we’re expected to do. If groups aren’t getting bigger, people wonder what we’re doing to earn our salary. If students aren’t having a good enough time to keep showing up, “what are we paying him for?” Sometimes, we pander to justify our own existence as youth ministers. Too many churches don’t actually want to minister to young people. Instead, they want to pay a youth minister to oversee a program that makes their church look like a young, exciting place to be. This is a pretty tenuous wire from which to find motivation in youth ministry… we can’t stay perched there for long.
So what can you do when you realize that even with your great intentions, you’ve stooped to enticements and spiritual chicken fingers for the kids menu? Where do you go when you realize the short-term gains have left a hole where your vision for ministry used to be?
I guess you could pretend to not know what you really do know and just keep pandering. That may allow you to run what looks like a very successful program… maybe even for a long time. But I wonder what the cost will be to you and to the next generation.
Or, (allow me to twist a quote from Godin’s post a bit)… you can acknowledge the truth that “if you want to build a reputation that lasts… this is nothing but a trap, a test to see if you can resist short-term greed long enough to build something that matters.” I know we’re not really talking about reputation and greed, but the truth is that building a ministry that makes a difference for the long-term requires us often to set aside what may produce short-term gains.
It’s a good deal; trading short-term success for long-term transformation. How can you make that trade today?