In 2010, our youth ministry program offered some sort of youth program (be that Sunday school, youth group, special Bible studies, retreats, trips, etc.) on 205 of the 365 days in the year. That is just counting the number of days, not the number of programs to account for when we offered 2-3 things in a day like Sunday School in the morning and various Sunday evening programs…it was probably about 255 programs in a year. Almost all of the programs offered were led by adults – either myself, another staff person or adult volunteers. We had a fantastic youth leadership team and the students gave input on our plans, but if I’m really honest, most of the planning was done in our offices and most of the details were taken care of by staff. If I say so myself, it was very professional looking, details got taken care of, we had a cool logo and everything. I think it was run by adults because that’s what we believed we were expected to do & if it succeeded or failed, we got to hear about that first.
It wasn’t until I read the book “4-Hour Youth Ministry – Escaping the Trap of Full-Time Youth Ministry” by Timothy Eldred that I got the courage to stop the insanity.
Now, for years I’ve been on the bandwagon for having a student led ministry. As a youth minister, I believe my job is to coach students how to develop their own gifts and to do their own ministry. The young people I’ve known are talented, gifted, amazing, creative. We did increase the amount of student leadership in the church, but I am almost embarrassed to admit how much of the ministry work I did when I should have been coaching students to run the show.
Tim’s book reminded me that my calling was not to run a program, essentially being like a wedding planner for youth events. I knew this in my heart already, but I found myself caught up in working really hard to make sure programs were successful. Sometimes implied and sometimes clearly stated, my success or failure was measured by how many people showed up, so I wanted everything to be perfect, welcoming, cool, whatever it needed to be so more people would come, and bring friends, too.
Tim points out the obvious – it’s about relationships. And relationships don’t grow as well when you’re at a desk planning programs. And the probably best way students can learn ministry is to do ministry first-hand. So after lots of prayer and discussion as a staff team, we changed our ways of doing things. We came to our student leaders with a blank summer calendar, talked about our purpose as a youth ministry, and asked the student leaders to prayerfully decide what the summer calendar would look like. As they selected each event, they decided which students would be leading it, when they would plan the details, how they would promote it. You could feel the excitement grow as they realized that they were really going to be in charge.
When you’ve got a team of students responsible for greeting new students and making them feel welcome, another team in charge of each aspect of the program…and you can even leave the room with no worries, that’s a beautiful thing.
Did I end up doing youth ministry in 4 hours a week after reading the book? Maybe not immediately, but things are definitely in a healthier place.
Book review in short: it’s excellent. It takes about 4 hours to read. It may change your life in a very healthy way.