Part one of a mini-series about directional signs that can help move our youth ministries to become less programmed and more missional.
Fall is almost upon us! That means that many of our fellow youth ministry colleagues have the next few months if not the entire school year planned, scheduled, and on the church calendar. Every Bible study topic is selected, deposits have already been made at a retreat center for the fall trip, leadership is in place and knows exactly what they will be doing on any given Sunday, and the location of the summer mission trip is already decided. Oh, and somewhere in the mix of all that are some teens who are hoping to be part of this crazy calendar of events which we have planned so meticulously for them.
As a minister who feels that youth ministry is way too over-programmed, my initial instinct is to tell all of us to throw out those carefully planned calendars! They might look great when we hand them out to parents, but they also communicate the idea that our ministry is just the sum total of the events we have planned to keep our teens busy (and, if we are honest, they are also a way to justify to our churches that "Yes, I am doing something to earn my salary! Just look at all the stuff on the youth group calendar!").
But, maybe throwing out the calendar is too drastic. Instead, what if we see that calendar as a suggestion -- not the road map for the way forward? Rather than seeing our journey with the youth this school year as a turn-by-turn set of Google map directions, what if it was more like a wandering in the desert, in which we were open to being led by the spirit, by the ever-changing needs of our teens, and by strange, perhaps dangerous, or exciting opportunities that may spring up in our path along the way? What if we let go of control over the calendar and allowed the needs of the day to drive what we do in youth ministry? What if we let current events in the world provide the focus for our Bible study? What if we let the immediate needs of our community drive our mission? What if instead of seeing possible detours to our programming as a distraction, we saw them as opportunities?