Are You Leading Your Youth Ministry in the Wrong Direction?
I distinctly remember pulling up and thinking to myself, "Yeah, this isn't right."
Years ago, I was driving from Birmingham, AL to Pensacola, AL, for an engagement at a church. This was in the relatively early days of GPS. I'll date myself here, but part of my preparation for the trip was printing off the directions from MapQuest. LOL!!!! I left Birmingham in plenty of time to make the four-hour drive with a little wiggle room for the traffic. Everything went great until I got closer to the church.
I notice that the part of town I was in wasn't the kind of surroundings I expected the church to be in. But I had never been to this church, so I didn't think much about it. I made the last turn according to the directions and pulled up to my destination. Much to my dismay, it was an abandoned lot with four gentlemen burning trash in a barrel. We made eye contact, I smiled, and, ascertaining that this wasn't a deacon meeting and that I was indeed lost, I quickly reversed and went to the nearest gas station to ask for directions.
I don't know of a youth worker who doesn't want to lead their youth ministry in the right direction. The only problem is that you can't say for sure if your youth ministry is heading in the right direction unless you know where you're going. In the story I just told, I only knew that I was lost when I didn't pull up to the church where I was supposed to be preaching. Similarly, we have to know where we're headed for us to know we're leading our youth ministries rightly.
Do you have a destination?
How do you know where you're headed in your youth ministry? If I asked you where you were headed, how would you respond? Do you have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish? If not, you'll never know if you're lost. You won't know if you've failed to "arrive" at your destination unless you have an actual goal in mind.
What does this look like? The complete answer to this question is somewhat outside the scope of this blog post. But the quick answer is simply to define what you want to see your students be by the time they leave your ministry and then reverse engineer a plan to get them there. This work is almost always done better in a team, so find some friends to help you. However this looks for you, you have to know where you're going. Because that's the only way you can ever tell if you're lost. Which is my next point.
You have to recognize when you're lost.
In the story I told at the beginning of this article, I had a hunch I was lost when I began to see landmarks that didn't line up with where I was headed. I had a "this isn't right" moment, which was ultimately confirmed when I pulled into an empty lot and not a church parking lot. One of the main ways we make sure we're leading our ministry in the right direction is being aware of those "this isn't right moments," the moments where we first get an idea that we may be losing our way.
In youth ministry, this looks a lot of different ways. Maybe we have a few interactions with parents where they are all bringing similar concerns to us. Maybe we watch our attendance decline (attendance should NEVER be the only metric for measuring a healthy youth ministry, but it is a valuable metric when it serves as a part of a holistic ministry evaluation). Maybe we have a hunch that we've become too dependent on events or gimmicks and need to return to more foundational discipleship approaches. Whatever it looks like, the idea is to recognize when we're drifting as it's happening and before we wind up completely lost, which brings me to my last point.
Pay attention to those "re-route" warnings.
We've probably all had the experience. You're on a trip using Waze or Google Maps or whatever. You pull over to get gas or grab a bite to eat or use the restroom. You've not gone too far when you hear your phone, often loudly, hit you with the "re-route" alert. Sometimes it's a sound. Sometimes it's a sound and a voice, which can be incredibly funny if it happens in the men's restroom of a truck stop. Lol. What your phone is doing is simply what you've told it to do: it is alerting you to what it perceives is a route that will take you off course.
As you strive to lead your ministry, you must be aware of "re-route" warnings. What are the flashing warning signs that you aren't just off course but in danger of getting hopelessly lost? Are you at risk of burnout, and do you know the signs if you are? Are you in a relationship that is not an edifying relationship to your ministry or your marriage? Do you have a sin-habit that could derail your ministry efforts? Is your ego in need of checking? Do you have an angry or critical spirit that is keeping you from being more effective in ministry? All of these are routes that will take your ministry way off the map. We need to be aware of the warning signs so we can get back on the right road.
Who in your life do you trust to ask about any warning signs in your life? It's hard work, but it's work worth doing. Your ministry could be at stake.
I know that you desire to lead your ministry in the right direction. And I believe that with diligence on your part and with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, you can do just that.