I play for keeps

I keeps it real. And I play for keeps.

It’s easy to be in ministry and lose sight of the big and obvious stuff. Such as, “Why the heck do I even do all of this anyway?

So much of the actual task in youth ministry feels like that of a cruise director. When you lose sight of the bigger picture you start to evaluate by the evidence… Are people having a good time when they are around me? Are they showing up? Do they leave satisfied? Do they like being around me? Do they laugh at my jokes?

I’ve found those to be shallow evaluation tools. Those are like eating a Twinkie when your body is craving protein. It leaves you feeling temporarily full but hungry and unsatisfied quickly.

That’s why I say that I play for keeps. Youth ministry is meaningless without evangelism and discipleship at its core. Those two things are ultimately what I’m about in youth ministry. And as much as I like silly games, worship music, and road trips… I don’t do it for that.

This ain’t the Love Boat, friends. This stuff is for real.

Proclamation vs. Relational or Something in the Middle

The best mode of how you share Jesus and disciple individuals is up for debate. I stink and pretending to be Greg Stier. (Weighted towards proclamation) But I’m also too much of a wussy to be Andy Root. (Weighted towards relationships) In truth, my time in youth ministry has seen the most fruit in a “both and” scenario.

I’m always surprised who is impacted deeply by teaching the Bible or presenting the Gospel and asking for a response. When students (er, or adult volunteers!) respond to the message its typically those whose body language wasn’t paying attention. I guess that’s how I know it was the Holy Spirit at work and not my flawless teaching abilities? And as those people take the next step in their faith journey I wonder if their testimony will include what I saw. “So, I was fiddling on my phone while Adam was talking. Then he told me to stop that so I started whispering to the person next to me and pretending to sleep, but something about what Adam said touched my heart. I can’t explain it…

At the same time, most of my ministry investment has come from getting to know people over the long haul. My ministry to some students has lasted a decade or more. What begins as a student/youth pastor relationship morphs into a long-term friendship where we take turns challenging one another to grow and mature in Christ. Maybe it’s just me… but this long lens on evangelism/discipleship is what works for me.

That’s what I mean by I play for keeps.

Longevity tip: Focus on the important stuff in ministry and find what your natural fit is for evangelism and discipleship.

Taking it a step further: Let your students know that you aren’t just in this because you get paid. Let them know you are looking to be in their lives for a long, long time.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

Leave a Reply