Recipe for Distraction #1: I’ll Just Write It Myself

It was mid-summer and Jim, the church’s two year veteran youth pastor, still hadn’t finished recruiting his volunteers for the fall.  He hadn’t had time to make a personal connection with the new 7th graders and their families.  And he still had no clear youth ministry calendar for the coming year.

But one thing he wouldn’t give up: Writing all the curriculum to be used by his volunteers.  After all, he reasoned, all the curriculum resources out there are mediocre at best, and they all require leaders to spend far too much time making those resources useable.

Jim was right on at least one front: Youth ministry curriculum generally falls into one of two categories: Mediocre or Worse.

But on another front, Jim was forgetting a few foundational facts:

  • Even if the curriculum he writes is consistently better than what he would be able to purchase, Jim is living in fantasyland if he thinks his teachers will no longer need to spend the same amount of time making his curriculum their own.
  • Effective teaching is driven far more by well-equipped teachers than by an ideal curriculum.  Great teachers consistently do a great job with lousy curriculum.  Weak teachers won’t likely be helped by even the best curriculum.
  • Jim will have expended a great deal of sideways energy and make absolutely zero forward progress for the ministry.  And if we’re honest, it’s not just zero progress, it is actually more like “regress,” ministry in reverse, since the hours spent on the rabbit trail of curriculum creation take away from those that could be applied to managing first priorities (like those in the first paragraph above).

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not youth workers should never write their own curriculum.  But until the first foundational priorities are taken care of, spending time on sideways priorities (like writing curriculum) always hinder strategic progress.  C.S. Lewis was right (again):

[well]”You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. … What is the first thing? The only reply I can offer here is that if we do not know, then the first, and only practical thing, is to set about finding out.” — C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock[/well]

With this article, I’m beginning a new series called “Recipes for Distraction.”  In each article, I’ll try to keep youth ministers and youth ministry search teams away from the red herrings that can take their attention away from first-level priorities, in hopes of moving from erratic activity to deliberate progress.

First published in Group Magazine, Sept/Oct 2008

Don’t Mention It: 3 Things Not to Say in Your First Year

I wish someone had warned me just how damaging a few words could be, how a few innocent statements could sabotage my efforts at getting a new ministry off the ground.  I call them the Unmentionables, words that have a way of eroding our credibility and alienating the very people we most need as partners as we start in a new position:

Unmentionable #1: “Back in My Old Church”

Instead of saying,

“Back in Rosedale, we used to…”

Try this:

“What if we…?”

The second statement allows us to get our ideas on the table without rubbing our listeners’ noses the superiority of our previous church.  And if we repeat this phrase enough, the stakeholders in our new ministry naturally begin wondering why we didn’t just stay…“back in our old church.”

Unmentionable #2: “This Church Just Doesn’t Get Youth Ministry”

Instead of saying,

“This church has been trying to do youth ministry the way it was done in the seventies.  News flash!  This isn’t the seventies any more.  And all those things you used to do don’t work any more.”

Try this:

“There are folks in our church who have been praying about this youth ministry for years, people who are open to what God wants to do here.”

We will get what we focus on: Focus on the clueless morons who ran the youth ministry before you arrived, and watch them multiply before your eyes.  Focus on the willing hearts of those who long to see their kids grow in Christ, and they will start coming out of the woodwork.

Unmentionable #3: “I Don’t Have Time”

Instead of saying,

“I’m not trying to be rude, but frankly, I don’t have time to go every kid’s activity!

Try this:

“I sure want someone from our team to see your son’s play.  If you can get me the schedule, what I can do is…”

By focusing on what we can do instead of on what we won’t do, we honor the input of those asking something of us and strengthen our partnership with those doing ministry alongside us.  Of course, there will be plenty of times when we don’t have time, but using the “I don’t have time” excuse can come across as if we think that our busyness is somehow more important than the busyness of those requesting our time.

So the next time you’re tempted to speak one of the unmentionables, don’t mention it. 

First published in Group Magazine 2008