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

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