Is Speed An Asset In Youth Ministry? Or A Liability?
I had dinner a while back with a friend. He was talking about his new phone. The juxtaposition was notable: we were sitting in one of the oldest barbeque joints in Alabama marveling at the data rates his phone was capable of. We value speed.
A couple of days ago, my computer was running uncharacteristically slow. I found myself so annoyed and agitated. I had a tight schedule and my computer was not cooperating. We value speed.
A good friend of mine applied for non-profit status for a ministry he founded. We had no small amount of jokes at the IRS' expense and how long he had to wait for his approval. We value speed.
Speed is innovative. Speed is efficient. Speed is expected. Speed is a daily part of our lives. Fast food. Fast cars. Think about how many things in your life are sold or bought based at least in some part to how fast they are or can do something.
We are absolutely conditioned to see speed as the result of something working right. The problem is that so much of what we do as youth workers and youth ministers runs counter to this.
To be effective in many of the aspects of our job descriptions, we must slow down and take our time. Think about it . . .
Certainly not in every case, but in many, overnight growth is not always a sign that what is drawing an increase in students is good youth ministry. We have about 2000 years or so of case studies that show that the Gospel is a better way to thin your crowds than to make them swell. (See: The entire New Testament). Fast growth is also unsustainable in many cases, because there aren't the proper systems in place to effectively deal with the increase.
This is the most obvious one. While it's common (and really, really fun) to see explosive spiritual growth in the life of a new believer, here's a newsflash: discipleship is a long journey. And it's never one that's walked in a straight line. It's full of detours, switchbacks, and false starts. Discipleship is slow going.
We could rightly say that the two foundational principles of youth ministry are the Gospel and Relationship. And relationships take a long time to build. We can be fast friends in no time. And that's an important part of growing a relationship. But a lasting relationship that is open to mutual influence, one that is conducive to growth and transformation, takes time.
Here's my point . . .
We would all be better off if we adjusted our behavior to fit the nature of what we are trying to accomplish.
Wouldn't our ministries be more solid if we weren't focused on how fast we could grow numerically? Or how fast we might hit the next benchmark or goal? What if we slowed down and laid the groundwork that precipitated slow but sustainable long term proficiency?
Wouldn't our students have a more vibrant relationship with Christ if we allowed the "process" of becoming more devoted Christ-followers its room to grow in an organic, less pressure-packed pace? A friend of mine used to say that discipleship was a crock-pot thing, not a microwave thing. I think he's right.
Wouldn't our relationships with students be better if we allowed them as much time as they needed to grow instead of having this internal clock that says, "hurry"? When we put expectations, however subconscious, on some sort of timeline for our relationships, we starve them of the time they need to truly grow and develop.
Going slow. It's counter cultural in every, single way. But it seems to me that it's a critical part of some of the critical parts of our ministries. Too often, when we try and apply the "speed = effective" metric, it just doesn't work.
What do you think?