Saturday, December 16, 2006

    The Biggest Mistakes I've Made in Youth Ministry - Pt. 2

    What are the worst mistakes you can make in youth ministry? Consider these:

    1) Competing with other ministries - It's hard to resist the temptation to want to see what the church across the street or across town (or across the country) is doing and wondering "Hmmm. Maybe I should be doing that, too." If the other church seems to be attracting more youth or more attention or more praise, I suppose it's human nature to want to emulate their program. I used to be hyper vigilant about trying to discover the latest trend, the latest gimmick, the newest "approach" to youth ministry and then implementing it, figuring that if it worked somewhere else, it would work with my students. This sort of approach assumes all youth and thus all youth ministries are alike and that what works across the street will work just as well on our side of the street. But the truth is - every ministry is particular to the setting and the individuals that we serve. It might be interesting or even helpful to know what others are doing, but ultimately our focus needs to be on the particular youth we serve. These days, I don't even copy my own youth ministry program from one year to the next because over time the group shifts and grows and their needs change.
    2) Doubting my age - When I was a younger man just starting in youth ministry, I feared that I was too young, too close to the age of the youth to make any lasting impression on them. Then, as I grew older (grey hair...less hair...reading glasses), I began to wonder if I was getting too old to be effective with the youth. Was this a job for a younger person? The truth is, if youth ministry is your calling, then age has nothing to do with your effectiveness in ministry. There were advantages to being a twenty-something youth minister: I had lots of free time to give to the youth, I understood their culture because it was similar to mine, I had lots of energy, and the youth could relate to me because I was close to their age. There are, of course, many advantages to being an "older" youth minister: I have much greater experience and a more mature faith, I've made lots of mistakes and learned from them, I've had more time to learn what youth ministry is and can be, and I've reached a much more relaxed time in life that allows me to offer the young'ns a different perspective on the world than the frenetic life they believe they are destined to lead.

    3) The "Family Guy" Error - I can sum this one up in three words: Preview! Preview! Preview! Just to assure you that I still make mistakes: At a recent youth group gathering which we call "free night" (an evening of unstructured fellowship time), one young man offered to bring episodes of "Family Guy" to show for those who wanted to watch TV. I had only seen one short clip of a "Family Guy" episode on YouTube and it seemed funny and fairly innocuous so I figured it was no problem. Wrong! Trust me on this one: "Family Guy" is hilarious and it is also completely inappropriate for a church setting. After about 3 minutes of viewing -- three minutes replete with curse words, sexual references, and an image of the father character in black lingerie, I switched in a Disney movie (and then asked the young man if he'd let me borrow his "Family Guy" DVDs to watch later in the privacy of my own home!).