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Right person, wrong program

I had coffee with a ministry friend yesterday. His church plant is about 5 years old so they aren’t completely tiny but they aren’t so big that they’ve become a thing.

He said something pretty radical. Allow me to paraphrase.

“About a year ago my youth ministry guy started a youth group. I think he thought it was the right thing to do. But it was really unnatural for us as a church, cost him a lot of energy, and took him away from being on campus– the thing thing he’s best at and gives him the most life. So we just agreed to kill youth group so he can go back to what he was made for.” 

Sssssccccreeeee-aaaacccchhhhh!

Say what? You mean the church launched something. Then they realized it wasn’t going to work so decided to kill a program instead of fire an employee? Yup, that’s what they did. They didn’t double-down on youth group. They folded and placed a new bet on a different form of youth ministry.

Bend your mind around that for a second. 

Building a ministry around the gifts, dreams, and strengths of a minister instead of asking them to conform to a culturally created expectation for what a youth worker does– imagine the possibilities. I’m not trying to sound sarcastic but you have to know that this is a radical concept!

All-too-often I meet youth workers who feel the program they run, mid-week youth group / small groups and a Sunday morning thing, drains the life out of them. Meetings and planning suck joy from their soul.

And what they really live for that brings them life? The thing that keeps them in it? It’s something they do on the sideThey coach their kids soccer team. They go to conferences to see friends. They volunteer at the high school.

It makes me wonder if we’re all doing it backwards?

What if churches hired the right people and asked them to build a ministry around what brought them joy? What if they built their ministry around what they are good at, what they are passionate about, what their spiritual gifts lead them to, and chasing the unique dreams God has called them to.

Is that even possible? 

12 Responses to Right person, wrong program

  1. Matt Steen July 6, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    I would love to hear more about what this looks like for them as I believe it is more in line with where I am headed…

    I am glad they are not allowing the popular metrics of youth ministry to determine the best course of action for their church.

    • Adam McLane July 6, 2012 at 10:22 am #

      I can’t speak too much into that particular church, I just don’t know a lot. But I do know that the central idea was to stop doing traditional youth group for the sake of being involved on campus more. They’ve built very strong ties with some local schools, they’ve earned 100% access, so the idea is that it was awkward to have that person feeling like he needed to invite people to youth group when he should just be more engaged and making a greater impact at the places inviting him in.

      Two phrases that no school district can resist right now:
      1. How can I help you do your mission better?
      2. What are ways I can rally people to better serve the students in this school?

      • Matt Steen July 6, 2012 at 10:30 am #

        What irritates me about this is how many people will look at this and say that the church is failing at youth ministry because they don’t have the willowback mega-ministry model going.

        That is pretty cool.

        • Adam McLane July 6, 2012 at 10:39 am #

          And I’m 99% sure they just don’t care because they’d rather reach people than impress their friends in ministry. :)

          • Matt Steen July 6, 2012 at 10:42 am #

            That must make for some pretty boring conferences. ;)

  2. Vik Schaaf July 6, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    i like it. When i start to feel the energy is being sucked from my soul, I just go back to middle school. Cause hanging out with kids and making them laugh (or letting them chuck dodgeballs at my head during recess) brings me joy.

  3. Kurt J. July 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    I think this is awesome…and very radical! Radical ideas are a dime a dozen…not risky to have a radical idea. What IS risky, though, is the willingness to move on such an idea. Kudos to this guy!

    And, I cant help but be a bit defensive for a minute.

    Adam, your statement in response to the “willowback” comment: “I’m 99% sure they just don’t care because they’d rather reach people than impress their friends in ministry” is interesting.

    Based on that comment alone, it seems safe to assume you believe:
    – Willow Creek, Saddleback, and anybody else doing similar style of youth ministry, is only doing it to impress their ministry friends, and…
    – You can’t reach people doing it that way.

    Weird. I’m pretty sure Saddleback and Willow Creek have reached at least SOMEBODY. Maybe only one….at Saddleback. Which means Willow Creek has done fruitless youth ministry for 25 years. Those slackers!

    Lots of ways to do healthy youth ministry. How about if we all do ministry in a way that seems to work within our context and our gift mix and cheer on the rest of the body who do things a bit differently?

    • Adam McLane July 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

      Hmm… maybe that was my inability to communicate clearly? Because I actually meant it just the opposite. (And laughed out loud, literally, at the thought that those places haven’t reached people! Gosh, so not true.)

      I was trying to say that they care more about reaching people than they do about implementing things that work in other contexts and with their talents/gifts/resources. I’ve sat in meetings with people who are trying to “Out-Willow Willow” or “do the Saddleback thing” and I think, Gosh, why not just do your thing? Not to reinvent the wheel but just to be true to yourself and what you see before you?

      Even in this conversation with my friend, the church planter, he wasn’t looking down on or judging things that are working. It just wasn’t working in their context and he was trying to give his youth worker the freedom to do what he loves. Which I think is awesome!

      I know too many people who just don’t find joy in that stuff who end up getting fired because they are great youth workers, just not really great at growing a more traditional youth group thing.

      Like you said, there’s a lot of ways to reach students. I just loved stumbling across this church who looked at their youth worker and said, “We like you more than we are stuck on that way of doing things.” Gosh, it was so refreshing! That’s all I was trying to say. :)

      • Kurt J July 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

        Thank for clarifying.

        “I know too many people who just don’t find joy in that stuff who end up getting fired because they are great youth workers, just not really great at growing a more traditional youth group thing.”

        This is a drag. It leads me to wonder if in such cases somebody (either the church or the youth worker) wasn’t completely honest up front. Do these youth workers say what the church wants them to hear on the front-end assuming the church will change its mind concerning its ministry philosophy….or visa-versa perhaps?

        The scenario your church planter friend describes…a willingness From the church to change…is rare, and indeed radical!

  4. Chris Schaffner July 7, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    This just BLEW.Y.MIND. Awesome!

  5. Bronco Huge July 9, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    Totally with you on this one Adam. I often think the “cookie cutter” style youth ministry is out the door and the relational is still the key to being effective. Our staff at YD use their passions and live within them to minister to youth. Thanks for highlighting this difference.

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