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3 Leadership Tips I Learned From An Escape Room

3 Leadership Tips I Learned From An Escape Room


Have you ever been part of an escape room? Did you make it out alive or at least within the given timeframe? 

A few years ago, I had the privilege of doing one with a team of people. The staff began by giving us a whole list of information; don't do this, do that, watch out for that, and please don't break the furniture – probably wasn’t exactly what she said, but you get the gist. 

As I entered the room, I quickly began to take notice of my surroundings. I looked the room up and down; my thoughts filled with where the clues could be and what I needed to investigate first. The staff member was still giving some information, but I wasn't paying much attention to her because I was on a mission. The next thing I know, she handed me a radio and said, “Push this button and call for Help three times.”  Then, she walked out of the room and locked the door behind her. 

I missed it! I didn’t know what I had missed, and I certainly didn’t know how important or unimportant whatever I missed was. I found myself looking at the others in the room with me and asking in a bit of a panic, “What just happened? What did she just say? Why do I have a radio? Why am I calling for help, and why does it take three times for them to respond to me?” 

Over the years serving in youth ministry and even leading a youth ministry team, I’ve found myself thinking back to that escape room experience quite a bit.

Ministry is hard. Leading a ministry is harder. There have been many times in ministry where I felt the same way I did back in that escape room; utterly confused, not knowing what to do in a specific moment, and staring at all the things happening around me. 

Have you ever been there? Are you there right now? (You will be okay!)

[Back to the Story] The team looked at one another, then back at the half-built puzzles around the room.

Quickly seeing all the things that needed a solution, each team member started using their different strengths and problem-solving in a different way. Some team members decided to find one thing to capture their focus. A few were working on several problems at once. And yes, there was some bickering back and forth as to which thing was more important.   

Boom!! – OPENED door. We had somehow unlocked another door. The small door led some of us into another room with just as many clues and puzzles to solve as the one we had all just left! There was excitement by some, confusion by others, and a few still focused on an earlier riddle back in the original room. 

It was an amazing experience as a team, even though we 100% FAILED to escape in time.

Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” During the escape room experience, I definitely found 10,000 ways that didn’t work, but I also learned a few things about leadership that I will never forget.  So, here are three of the things I learned from my first escape room experience that I still use in leading my team and my ministry today. 

1. Work As A Team!

After failing to escape in time, our team sat down and reflected on our time locked inside. What I noticed was that part of our failure came from each of us working separately on our own problems instead of working together as a team. Each of us running off to solve the problem that most caught our eye resulted in lack of communication, decreased awareness, and the team ultimately losing focus on the greater problem to be solved, escaping together. 

As you look around at your team of staff or volunteer youth workers, are they focused more on their own problem than the collective vision? If so, it’s probably a good time to call a time out to refocus and regroup around a common vision or goal. 

Are you in a room surrounded by a team of staff or volunteer youth workers? If so, be intentional about taking regular “spot checks” with your team. Ask yourself:

  1. Are WE working together as a unified team?
  2. Does everyone appear to understand the vision, mission, goals, and their role in accomplishing them?
  3. Is everyone on the team working with a singular focus to live out the vision, mission, and goals of this ministry?

Once you’ve asked and answered those questions for yourself, be bold enough to ask the members of your team:

  1. Do you feel WE are working together as a unified team?
  2. Do you understand the vision, mission, goals, and your role in accomplishing them? Do you think the others on the team understand them as well?
  3. Do you have what you need to work with a singular focus to live out the vision, mission, and goals of this ministry? Do you feel that everyone else on the team is working with a singular focus to live these things out as well?

Are you in a New Room by Yourself? If so, there could be a couple of reasons you find yourself there, and

each has a different way to unlock the door to a healthier ministry context. On the one hand, maybe you look around and don't see a team of people around you because you haven’t prioritized building your team. If this is the case, I'd suggest you make it a priority to invite some God-honoring people (who see value in teenagers) into solving the puzzles and projects of student ministry with you. On the other hand, maybe you look around and don't see a team of people around you because you ran ahead and left everyone else behind. When you look around and see that you are running faster than the team around you, take time to slow down, communicate, re-evaluate, and refocus. John Maxwell once said, “If you think you’re leading, but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk.”

2. Use The Radio And Accept The Help.

There continue to be times in ministry where I feel like I’m back in that escape room; pushing the button on the radio multiple times and asking for help. But admittedly, there have also been other times in ministry where people have offered to help out, and I brushed them off thinking that I could do it all on my own or that I didn’t want to give someone “busy work.”  

As my experience, leadership acumen, and amount of ministry responsibilities have grown, I’ve learned that there is great power, growth, and freedom in saying yes to asking for help and to accepting help when it is offered.

When someone offers to help, my answer is a resounding Yes! Our ministries should have entry points for all types of people with all types of skills, talents, and time to give. I will do the hard work of figuring out the best fit or role for that individual and the best way for them to help out. It might be as simple as cutting some papers, painting a wall, or serving pizza slices. It might be as involved as leading a small group or helping students get checked in. If someone wants to be a part of what God is doing in my ministry, then it part of my role as a pastor to guide and direct them into places where they can serve, contribute, make an impact, and thrive.

3. There Is A Clock Ticking Down.

The clock is a very real thing. Whether it’s a countdown clock in an escape room or the number of ministry weeks you have left with a middle schooler, there is a finite amount of time to accomplish the things you want to accomplish. The time you have to disciple and minister to your students is limited. Whether you have a student ministry that is heavy in sixth graders or heavy in junior and seniors, there is going to come a time when you run out of time with them. I feel it, and I’m sure you feel it as well.  This race against the clock, however, makes student ministry unique and incredibly important.

The Clock Adds Pressure. 

Yes, the pressure is real. We all feel this pressure as we lead and serve in student ministry. Here is some good news. Diamonds are formed through pressure over time. Your heart uses pressure over time to move blood through your body and keep you alive. Our ministries and our approach to discipleship can be refined and utilize pressure over time. And most importantly, God (who knows no boundary of time) is very much in control even in the pressure of a ticking clock. He loves and cares for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of these students, parents, and volunteers more than you or I ever could. It’s easy to feel like a failure in light of the pressure of passing time coupled with so much ministry to do, but I encourage you to consider it from a different perspective; these students are becoming young adults and developing the foundation of their faith, and our Holy Father is using YOU to lead, guide, shepherd, and encourage them along the way.

The Clock Keeps Us Focused. 

The reality of a countdown helps us to stay focused on the most important things. When we feel the pressure of our limited time with students, it should spur us on to prioritize, focus, strategize, and continuously evaluate every area of our ministry.

Since that first time in an escape room, I've had another experience watching a team go through one more recently. This time, the team was wise enough to keep asking, “How much time is left?” They didn’t fear the clock, but on the contrary, they used the clock as a tool. 

I don’t know where you are with your ministry or what you are experiencing in your life or leadership journey as you read this. Here is what I do know; today might seem challenging or defeating or overwhelming, but hang in there. What you do matters! God’s got you and you’ve got this!


Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • Do you a unified team that is working together? Does everyone appear to understand the vision, mission, goals, and their role in accomplishing them? Is everyone on the team working with a singular focus to live out the vision, mission, and goals of this ministry?
  • When is the last time you asked for help or said yes to an offer to help?
  • How do you prioritize, focus, strategize, and continuously evaluate every area of your ministry to make the most of the time you have with your students?

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