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What An Orthodontist Reminded Me About Youth Ministry

What An Orthodontist Reminded Me About Youth Ministry

A couple of weeks ago, I took my oldest daughter to the orthodontist to have a procedure done that was no doubt going to be pretty uncomfortable. I had prepared myself for her to be a little nervous, maybe a little cranky. (After all, who looks forward to a trip to the orthodontist???)

And so I was surprised at how chipper she was on the way to the orthodontist’s.

Until, that is, we arrived at the orthodontist’s office. It didn’t take long for me to realize why she enjoyed what is for most people, an un-enjoyable experience. In a word, this orthodontist’s office was just . . . fun.

During the course of our time there, I noticed a few specific things this orthodontist had done that helped create what can only be called a shift in culture. And as I thought about it more, I realized that there were some significant parallels to how effective youth ministers structure their ministries.

Here are five things our trip to the orthodontist reminded me about effective youth ministry.

1. Ownership Is A Game Changer
This orthodontist equipped his patients to be a part of the process. There were several times in my daughter’s procedure where she was told by the staff person cleaning her teeth to go to the washing station and rinse out her mouth. My daughter got up by herself, walked over to this really cool little area, with special mouthwash, and these little cups, and completely on her own, rinsed her mouth. When she was finished, she walked back to where the staff person was waiting on her.

This sounds like a minor detail, and maybe it is. But I know my daughter, and I know this level of ownership helped her feel like part of the process.

In my experience, it’s hard to give your students too much ownership of your youth ministry! Whether it’s intentionally leading them to take an increasing level of ownership of their spiritual growth, creating student leadership teams, or involving them in your planning and/or programming, ownership is a game changer.

2. Know Your Audience
I watched our orthodontist go to great lengths to constantly keep my daughter informed of what he was doing. He did so using words she understood without being patronizingly simplistic. I was impressed.

The orthodontist undoubtedly knows what good youth ministers know: to be effective, we have to know our audience. What that means for us is that we must present the timeless truths of God, His Word, and His ways in a way that takes into account the cultural landscape our students live in. It takes more effort on our part. But it’s worth it every time.

3. Parents Matter
I stayed with my daughter throughout her procedure. I felt like I was part of the process. More importantly, I was a part of my daughter’s experience.

We should have the same goals with our students’ parents. We should look for strategies that help your parents share spiritual experiences with their children. The goal should be that parents feel invested in your ministry. They should feel like they are partners with you in leading their child closer to Christ.

4. Spread The Vision
Simply put, this orthodontist had a great staff. It was obvious that everyone shared the same values and vision. If you are fortunate enough to have a team to help you do ministry, it is absolutely vital that you have a clear vision, that this vision is communicated to your team members, and that they are empowered and equipped to advance your vision.

5. Environment Can Speak Volumes
This was a cool dentist’s office. Good music, TV’s all around, even video games in the waiting rooms. It set the tone for the experience from the moment we walked in the door.

Of all the elements on this list, I think this one is the least vital. Yet, when we have the luxury of creating an environment to do ministry in, doing it well can lead to us being much more effective at what we do. Think less “cool,” and more “cozy.” Creating an environment that’s conducive to doing ministry is more about a sense of place than a sensory experience.

Look back at this list. What are you doing well? What could you be more intentional about?

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