On the outside basketball court, just down the road from where we live, we spent time as a family helping our eldest daughter with her bike riding. For a few hours we were focussed on helping her with her coordination, pedalling, steering, and balance as she learnt to ride a bike without training wheels.
It quickly became clear that this was the right time to do such an activity; she soon became a duck to water and was riding around too fast and confidently for her parents liking. At times she was overconfident, which resulted in a couple of crashes. But generally, she moved from training wheels to the two-wheeler without much trouble. It’s now time to keep the practice going so she continues to grow in confidence and skill.
If you’re involved in youth ministry I wonder whether it’s time for you to take the training wheels off?
What’s that mean, you ask?
Perhaps the following points might help that.
People Over Program
Starting out in youth ministry finds all leaders more concerned about the program than the people coming to said program. Every rookie leader I have seen is more worried and anxious about pulling together a good program than they are in building relationships with those in attendance.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning the ropes about how to put together and run some games, write and deliver a talk, lead a discussion group, understand the flow of the night, and be involved in set up and pack up are all important parts of youth ministry. It is natural, and far easier, to learn the skills that are associated with those kind of tasks than it is to learn the art of conversation and care. It’s far easier to deal with these task-orientated responsibilities than being intentional about relationship building.
A leader who takes their training wheels off will be one who begins to focus more on people over the program. They understand the relational connections with those who come along far outweigh whatever activities are happening on a particular night. Soon enough the programmatic nature of the ministry takes care of itself and conversations with leaders, parents, and students become the priority.
Character Over Competence
This, in reality, is a must at any stage.
From a personal point of view, this is the idea of working on one’s character over working on one’s competency. Competency can include all the planning and organisation ability, relational nature, program tasks, idea generation, and even leadership skills. Yet, if the character of the person is not something you want modelled by others then it is probably best to reassess the situation.
Someone who is taking the training wheels off in this regard will be intentional about their growth in character. In Galatians 5 we read a list of character traits, known as the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’, which are more worthy to be working on than any particular skill and ability. These include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Other character-forming virtues include, truthfulness, humility, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and the like. It is these things that we seek to work on, be intentional about, and realise they all take a long time to grow within us.
At the end of the day, character trumps everything.
Initiative Over Instruction
So you’ve been involved in your church’s youth ministry for a while. You build relationships. You can run a good game. You can do a talk. What’s the next step?
And this isn’t just doing those things above without thinking, or seeing the need to do more of these things and going for it. While that’s great, and it is an example of taking initiative, there are other areas to begin to explore.
Taking initiative might look like:
- beginning to think about how you can catch up with the one or two students after school.
- sending a text or two during the week to encourage someone from the group.
- asking a parent how you can pray for them and the family this coming week.
- sharing a bible verse or thought to someone who God puts on your heart.
- vacuuming the floor after the youth night is over without being asked.
- getting to the event early and making sure you’re setting up and prepared.
- writing an encouraging card to someone who you think needs it this week.
- engaging with the strategy, vision, and big picture of how the youth ministry services others and the wider church.
Initiative is doing those things that you know are worthwhile and important without being asked. And while initiative includes doing all the tasks required to pull off a great youth event, it is again centred on people. It is beginning to think and act in a way that actually ministers to people, not just performing a task.
I wonder how you operate? Do you still have your training wheels on?
Is it time to take them off?