college travels

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Youth Ministry - Ego + Equipping others = Sustainability?

I have been thinking a bit more recently about some ideas from Mark DeVries' book, Sustainable Youth Ministry.  

One of his most interesting ideas was that of the Architect-Building Manager-Construction Worker.  The architect comes up with the youth ministry strategy, the building manager makes sure the strategy is implemented, and the construction workers do the work to get it all done (with Jesus as The Holy Spirit as equipment and OH&S officer?).  DeVries particularly advocates having Building Managers who are long-term members of the congregation so that when (not if, in his experience) the youth minister moves on after three or four years, the youth ministry doesn't fall in a heap because there are people who will remain in the church long time who can keep a ministry moving forward.  Given that DeVries heads an organisation called 'Youth Ministry Architects' it's no surprise that he suggests that the architect of a local youth ministry be external consultants.

The problem in most of our churches though is that if the Building manager is to be a layperson we'll be waiting a long time to find the right one, and there's always likely to be an unhelpful power play with the youth minister.  The senior minister should be that person but they generally don't want to have to think that hard about the youth ministry.  And the youth minister would prefer to be that person so they can call the shots.

When it comes to the architect, though Youthworks has filled this role to a large extent for a number of youth ministries (via the College or regional advisors), this work tends to operate mostly with smaller ministries and start-ups (either new ministries or new ministers), and even for those who have started that way, over time our hope is that they would develop the expertise and wisdom to take on that role themselves.  At Youthworks we're in partnership with the longer-serving youth ministers around Sydney to together come up with plans that will promote the Kingdom of Christ in our city (perhaps our work is as town-planners?  Devising development guidelines?).  But in the end, it's the local church that is the centre of ministry, and the local church youth minister who best knows their local situation and (ought to be) equipped to apply fundamental principles and priorities of youth ministry in that setting.

So... what if the youth minister  is someone filling all of these roles, but filling these roles in partnership with other members of the church, both the local church and the fellowship of churches (the denomination)?

Youth ministers are all local architects (they know theory and the local situation), they have the ongoing relationship with the youth leaders to be building managers, and they still have skills in engaging with teenagers to be construction workers.

The key of course is for them to not be attempting to do all this on their own.  They already enlist others to join as fellow construction workers (youth leaders), but is it practical at all for them to be looking for fellow building managers (in the larger youth ministries these would be the assistant youth ministers, the leader of different sections of the ym), and fellow architects.

The fellow architect one is perhaps most contentious but I think the contentiousness stems from two things.  The biggest challenge is that other than youth ministers (and probably other than experienced, senior youth ministers) there aren't many people in our churches or leadership teams who have their heads screwed on properly about youth ministry.  So to enlist a congregation member or the senior minister to help 'design' the youth ministry strategy is often a recipe for conflict and debilitating compromise.  So, it's just easier to 'go it alone'.  The danger though comes from the other challenge (to getting a youth minister to share the role of 'architect'), that youth ministers have big egos.

I've written about youth ministry ego elsewhere in this blog.  My fear is that our ego diminishes our ministries as much as it diminishes ourselves.  Is it ego that in the end, prevents a youth minister from looking to share the responsibility of architecture and building management with others?  Because of our big egos we don't want another congregation member or ministry team leader to intrude on our realm, and we certainly don't want the leader of another realm (another youth minister, or youth ministry organisation) to come and colonise ours!  But isn't this just unhelpful ego?

Instead, should youth ministers be training other members of the church in youth ministry theory and strategy?  If a youth minister were to decide that they had all the skills needed to disciple the young people in the church and therefore didn't need any other youth leaders to help out, we'd say that they're dreamin'.  We'd say that their ego has got in the way of effective ministry.  And even if they said, 'but there's no one in the church who has any skills for leading teenagers', we'd tell him to start doing some leadership training.  Is it right then for youth ministers to train up fellow architects and fellow building managers as well?  

Should a youth minister take responsibility for encouraging their senior minister to grow in his understanding of youth ministry theory and strategy?  Urge the senior minister to go to the Theology of Youth Ministry Conference, the Youth Ministry Conference, the Youth Ministry Intensives?  Surely that investment of time will help smooth the way for youth ministry in the church, as well as be a benefit to the next youth minister that comes along after the current youth minister leaves, or be a benefit to the youth minister at the new church that the senior minister one day leaves for?

Should a youth minister take responsibility for encouraging established congregation members as fellow building managers?  That gives a role to older members of the congregation (a useful expansion of the age range of a youth leadership team) who might not have particularly fine gifts in relating to teenagers.  They're able to be trained and equipped to be fully on board with the youth ministry strategy and able to add the organisational management that can often be lacking.

This would help establish the youth ministry of the church but perhaps needs to be done at the expense of establishing the youth minister.  Perhaps (following the line of Robert Forsyth's latest blog on this adds a bi-polar authority structure into what is currently a mono-polar structure.

And perhaps then, in that sort of climate (another one of DeVries' helpful ideas) we'd be more open to learning from other youth ministers, and thereby more open to engaging helpfully with one another to promote The Kingdom instead of my kingdom.

It might not happen overnight, and without any effort on the part of youth ministers (and youth ministry advisors and educators?) it won't happen at all.  It seems to me a way of moving away from the isolation of the one-eared Mickey Mouse, of moving beyond the distraction of our competitiveness, and of applying the central command of Christian ministry - John 3:30, 'He must increase, I must decrease'.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy New Year

The start of another year.

Today is my first day back in the office for 2010. Full of optimistic enthusiasm! So in the interests of making sure we don’t enter 2010 full of ourselves but remain filled with the Spirit of God, here are some tips on how to avoid becoming pharisaical that came from Mike Raiter (Principal of the Bible College of Victoria) at last week’s Church Missionary Society Summer School in Katoomba.

1. Keep on teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ as it comes to us in the Scriptures.

2. Annually visit a ‘heart specialist’ – someone who knows and loves you and will be honest with you. Ask them two questions

a. Do you think I am willing to receive criticism?

b. What do I need to hear from you that others won’t tell me?

3. Practice humility – not by thinking less of yourself but by ‘thinking of yourself less’ (C.S. Lewis?); remember that you can’t be arrogant when you stand beside the cross of Jesus.

4. Remember that the only heart you see is your own, so don’t impute bad motives to others.

5. Regularly survey your bank statements and check how generous you’ve actually been (we tend to overestimate our generosity when we guess).

6. Pray prayers of confession regularly.

7. Be an encourager of others.