How Do You Provide Youth Ministry Vision During Uncertainty?
It’s funny trying to write the introduction to this article.
Here we are, in October, and looking around, it’s tempting to say that we’ve adjusted to the new normal. I’ve watched our students play in high school volleyball and football games in the last few weeks. I was wearing a mask and was socially distanced, but sports happened. Students are in school. We’re gathering again in church. And while many churches have yet to start back, some churches have been meeting for months.
It’s easy to sit here and feel good about where we are. But then I try to write an article about planning and vision-casting, and I find myself hitting pause . . .
“What if there are big outbreaks of the virus again in the Winter?”
“What if a vaccine takes longer or isn’t as effective as we thought?”
“What impact will all of this have on our winter retreat? Spring break missions? What about our summer camp?”
And I am reminded, for the millionth time, what a historically challenging time this is for anyone charged with leadership.
Suppose you're in ministry for another 50 years. In that case, you'll remember this season as one that challenged you, pushed you, beat you up, frustrated you, brought you closer to some people even as it created more separation from others, and reminded you of the importance of your calling, maybe more profoundly than ever before.
One day, you’ll get to look back and remember what it was like to lead a ministry through a global pandemic. But you’re not there yet. We’re still in it. We still have to lead through a tremendous amount of uncertainty. And so while you’re still in the fight, I wanted to pass along a few thoughts on how to provide vision during such an uncertain time.
First, fall back to foundations.
Your people (your team, your students, and your students' parents) need vision. They need to be able to be confident in you and your ministry. They need to feel like you're a solid source of community, fun, and spiritual challenge in a time of uncertainty. You may not always feel equipped to be these things for them in the midst of a changing ministry reality. But do you know what it constant? The foundational purpose of your ministry.
No matter how you state it, you exist to lead students to know Jesus more and better. Period. HOW you do this may change with infection rates and state mandates. But what you do has never been in doubt. You may have to cancel events. You may have to come up with creative solutions for small groups. But if you continually keep your foundational purpose in front of people, it serves as an anchor in times of uncertainty.
Second, overcommunicate in an atmosphere of transparency.
There is a principle of crisis management that has come up repeatedly as people attempt to lead during this time of pandemic: good communication is overcommunication. Overcommunication of your vision is good on several levels. First, it provides comfort for people. With so much information flying at your students and their parents, it's easier than ever to let things fall through the cracks. Over communicating where you're headed provides comfort for your people.
Second, if things get sideways (i.e., cancellations that are out of your control), if you’ve communicated along the way, your people will know what your intentions were. They will know that you had a plan and did your best. It creates buy-in from your people.
Third, transparency in a time like this is always beneficial. If you are uncertain about something, tell your people. If there is a chance something could derail your plans, let people know early and let them know what the contingency plan is. Part of leadership is being able to see around corners. In the chaotic times we find ourselves in, helping your people see around corners is a huge win, especially when it comes to communicating your vision.
Third, honor the decisions of the decision-makers.
Part of the challenges of casting vision in a time of uncertainty is that you can find yourself having to cancel or postpone or go in another direction, and it's completely out of your hands. A governor, mayor, or even your senior pastor or deacons/elders can make decisions that cause you to change plans. This can be frustrating, to say the least, especially if you find yourself not necessarily agreeing with the decision. How do you continue to lead well through these variables?
It's OK to feel frustrated or upset. These are healthy emotional responses to unrealized expectations. But we win with HOW we handle our frustration. We have to realize that our leaders are in the same boat as everyone else. They are in uncharted territory, making the best decisions they know to make. They are answering to more people and more variables than we are. And we have to believe they have the best interest of their people at heart. And so our job is not to undercut them with grumbling or gossip or to throw them under the bus. It's to support them and be empathetic in the decisions they have to make.
We can't allow our frustration to cause us to work against our leaders. As difficult as it is sometimes, we have to honor them and their decisions, even if it disappoints us.
Fourth, own the emotional landscape of your people.
So much has been lost this year, and with every cancellation or postponement, raw emotion can rise to the top. You may hear the displeasure from students, parents, even volunteers. The key thing is to remember it's not personal. It's not you that they are frustrated with; it's the cultural environment of uncertainty and loss. Own the emotions of your people. Allow them grace. Give them room to vent. And then lead on.
Don't let people's emotions keep you from casting vision for the future, even if the future is uncertain. They need a strong leader who can see into a time where COVID isn't something that dominates our everyday life, which brings me to my last point.
Fifth, project an attitude of hopefulness.
There will be a day when we get to the other side of this pandemic. I don’t know what that looks like or when it will be. But it’s a thing that will happen. There will be a day when we return to “normal,” even if that normal is a new normal that isn’t exactly like the old days. As you cast vision in a time of uncertainty, do so with hope. One day this season will be in our rearview mirror. Lead like it.
I speak for me and everyone at YM360 when I say that we are in awe of how you have led and continue to lead. We know it's hard. But keep at it. You're people need you more than you know.