“Leaders are learners.”
We’ve all heard this. And most people I know in youth ministry are very well read. They read a lot of books and attend a lot of training stuff.
But I also think one reason people can’t think outside of the box to solve problems is that their context is so tiny. They only really know how to “do youth ministry” one way. Sometimes I’ll sit down at a conference or spend an hour on the phone with a friend and we’ll agree… their current strategy isn’t working. But they’d rather get fired than change.
Why is that?
- Is it that they are stubborn? (No)
- Is it that they are uneducated? (No)
- Is it that they are dispassionate? (No)
- Is it that they lack creativity? (No)
- Is it that they lack the power to change things in their ministry? (No)
It’s usually because they’ve only ever seen youth ministry done the way they do it. They grew up exposed to a style. They went to college or seminary and were fostered in that methodology. Then they got hired by churches who want them to run a program that same way. And they hang out with people who do ministry like them. And when they go to conferences, they go to conferences who do ministry just like them.
You know the mantras— We do Sunday school and small groups. Or we do a midweek program. Or something like that.
These are all viable methods. But there are TONS of other methods available in youth ministry. Chances are good that you never even took the time before you started the job to figure out, “Does the method I know even work in this context?” Oh no, we usually come at it the other way. “This method worked for me in another context, it’ll work here.”
It’s not a lack of learning holding them back. It’s the lack of contextualization, study, observation, and experimentation that’s killing you.
You need to get out more
If you want to consider this a profession, you need to expose yourself to a wide variety of methods. It’s like going to a doctor who only wants to cut people open. He might know there are other types of surgery out there, and he might have heard about some pills that you can take, but he’s really into cutting people open because that’s what he knows how to treat your problem.
You wouldn’t go to that guy would you? He’s a 1-trick pony.
But that’s how we roll in youth ministry. We have tribes of people who are 1-trick ponies. It’s not that they don’t know there are other methods out there. They just do what they do. We hide behind terminology like “primary giftedness” and other ways of self-convincing ourselves that we can only do ministry the way we grew up doing it.
Learning that isn’t diverse in its approach isn’t really learning, it’s reinforcing what you already know.
You need to get out more.
If learning is a value and all you’re doing is reading books or going to conferences reinforcing what you already know, you’re not a learner. Spend some time observing other methods. Go visit other churches who aren’t like yours. Go see youth ministry in another culture. Make the time to do so. Set up some experiments. Create some brand new theories and test them out.
Whatever you do. Don’t keep working on something you’ve proven doesn’t work in your context.
That’s not professionalism, that’s insanity.