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Sometimes You Have to Cheat the Church to do Ministry

Let’s start with this reality. If you think ministering to teenagers is easy, simple, turnkey, low commitment, or something you can package into a program you are sunk. 

That’s why I’d rather teach youth workers transferable principles than give them prescriptive solutions to the things that I talk about.

Question: Adam, I just read your Immerse Journal article about re-embracing the priesthood of all believers and I don’t know where to start. Can you give me five action steps?

Adam: No. Because if I give you what those 5 things are for your ministry that’s all you’ll hear and you will ignore what the article was challenging you to do… reject the preisthood of the staff and embrace the high trust, low control environment the New Testament teaches.

I’m OK with ideas. And I’m OK with exploring case study. But giving you 3 quick things to try to get your students excited about their relationship with Jesus? It’s just not that easy.

Entertainment vs. Transformational Ministry

At this year’s National Youth Workers Convention I made an intentional, strategic decision about my time. As I hung out with my fellow youth workers between my seminars, at meet-ups, and so on I knew I wanted to get past the “nice to meet you and connect a face to a name” spot and talk about this concept of looking for philosophical, missiological solutions to the problems our ministry is facing. Maybe you don’t need a new small group curriculum? Maybe you don’t need a new worship display device or a new way to design t-shirts? I tried to guide these conversations to one of philosophy of ministry– maybe what you need isn’t a round of encouragement but and encouragement to stop working so hard on a strategy that makes you tired?

At the same time I’m always careful to point this out. We know it’s not the church that is the problem. We know it’s not that the program is bad.

It just isn’t enough. Jesus didn’t give his life so we could create religious organizations and programs to serve people interested in attending an institutionalized church and it’s programs.

Jesus died for something so much bigger and better, didn’t he?

Sometimes You Have to Cheat the Church to do Ministry

A few years ago Andy Stanley shared a message at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit with the main point being about family. He said, “Sometimes you need to cheat the church for your family.

Agreed. We all need to embrace the reality that our job is just a job and it can’t take over our life.

Yet, as I meet more and more frustrated youth workers stuck in the reality that their employment is tied to running a program only 2%-5% of the general population is interested in, my encouragement becomes… “Maybe you need to cheat the church to do ministry?

In other words: Maybe the solution to your frustration with your role running the program is to give it less of your time so you can redirect your time to reaching the lost in a missiologically appropriate way for your context?

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7 Responses to Sometimes You Have to Cheat the Church to do Ministry

  1. Ben Patterson November 23, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    For sure! We’ve gotta be about less program and more friendship.

    • Adam McLane November 23, 2011 at 8:14 am #

      I wouldn’t argue for any strategy until I knew your context. But I do know that I don’t want to be a students friend. I’m 35 years old… I don’t want students as friends and I’m pretty sure they don’t want me as their friend! 

      • Ben Patterson November 26, 2011 at 7:34 am #

        Ha! Fore sure. It’s not about being friends with the students, it’s about cultivating programs that are geared toward Christian community and not Christian consumerism.

  2. Jon Huckins November 23, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Good word, my friend.

  3. Matt Steen November 24, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that we need to re-evaluate our philosophies of youth ministry.  But I also think that we need to go one step up.  In most cases the philosophy of our youth ministry is linked to the philosophy of ministry for our entire church.  In these cases, there is a bigger problem all together.

    My undergrad in youth min was done at two different colleges.  At one, the main youth professor worked to develop us as critical thinkers, leaders, and cultural exegetes.  His desire was to see us go into an environment, get a sense of what our students needed (not wanted) and work to develop a ministry from there.  At the other school the main youth professor would tell people “my goal is to make sure you don’t get fired during your first two years as a youth pastor.”  At that college, we learned about maintaining programs and fitting into the church’s program.

    The first prof had a bunch of guys going out to churches and getting fired because they wanted to rock the boat, the second one’s students kept their jobs but became program managers… 

    How do we do we make major philosophical changes in our ministry that contradict our church’s philosophy of ministry?

    • Adam McLane November 24, 2011 at 7:31 am #

      That’s why I’m saying sometimes you have to cheat your church to do ministry. Do your job to run the program but spend your time doing actual ministry with or outside of the church.

      As for getting fired, that goes with the territory. The best ones get canned!

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