I can imagine that there are mixed feelings walking into any Diocesan Youth Ministry Meeting. At times, I actually enjoy parts of these meetings, such as seeing other youth ministers from other parishes, sharing some stories, struggles, and dreams, and praying with other youth ministers as we center our ministry on Jesus. Inevitably, however, there is always one question that is always asked at these meetings that makes me cringe each time I hear it: “So, how many kids do you have registered in your program?” Underneath the basic small talk that this question hides behind, it is a loaded question. In ministry, there seems to be a common, misguided belief that the more teens you have in your program, the more successful you are as a youth minister. This question then begins to open the gateway to the comparison game.
Wherever you are on the spectrum of numbers, especially regarding the person who asks it, coming in at a higher or lower number than you can force you to begin comparing yourself and even questioning yourself regarding what you may be currently doing in ministry. With a lower number, you may have feelings of inadequacy, wondering what you are doing wrong. With a higher number, you may have feelings of pride (not the good kind), thinking yourself to be much better off than they are. In addition to the numbers game that is played out, it also opens the discussion to what you, or they, have that is going well for them…being an incredible youth room, an unlimited budget, a killer sound and light system, a committed Core Team, and a pastor that lets you do anything that you want.
The question becomes, do we share this information about our youth ministry programs in an effort to give ourselves a pat on the back, show how great we are, and bring to light how inadequate other youth ministers are, or do we share this information to understand our shared mission that we have as youth ministers to lead teens closer to Christ? What if, instead of comparing ourselves to other people with the intention to elevate ourselves, we humbly share and support other youth ministers with the intent to allow Christ to transform the hearts of young people?
It is not about us!
There is a story in the Gospel of Luke in which a couple of disciples, James and John, saw other people doing the ‘work’ that they were doing but were not necessarily part of their ‘group’ (Luke 9:49-50). They asked Jesus if He wanted them to stop them, but Jesus, as He quite often did, rebuked them, explaining that their work, too, was one and the same that they were doing. So often in ministry, we can fall into the trap of thinking that ‘our way’ to do ministry is the best way to do ministry. Sure, we may feel successful at times, being that we have a good number of teens registered, put on some life-changing retreats, and have every tech gadget in our arsenal of a/v equipment. And, going back to those diocesan meetings, it would be very easy to give ourselves the perennial pat on the back, highlighting ourselves in front of less ‘adequate’ youth ministers. This mentality feeds the ego, puts the focus on ourselves, and takes the credit for essentially what the Holy Spirit is doing in your ministry. As we know in ministry, when we focus on ego, we place the focus on ourselves and take the focus off Christ.
Jesus modeled ministry for us, and this model was rooted and guided in love, not ego. Jesus was not looking for fame, fortune, success, or control. Some days it seemed like Jesus was doing everything right and was performing miracles and feeding over 5000 people. But, other days, it seemed like it wasn’t working, and people left his side (John 6:66-67). As youth ministers, we can face the same feelings. We can implement an amazing retreat where everything goes right and hearts are transformed, or we could plan an event and have two teens show up. And by sharing these stories, sharing what worked and what didn’t work, sharing what efforts were made and new things that were done, we learn how to grow in ministry and support one another in ministry.
Beg, Borrow, Steal
I love attending conventions or some type of big events in ministry. They fuel my creativity and allow me to ask the question, what if we could do something similar at our parish. As a young youth minister, I used to have an issue with using anything that wasn’t ‘my own.’ I wanted to think of the ideas and use my designs, curriculum, and videos. Maybe I somehow desired the credit for the attention I thought I would receive.
Now, I have no problems using any type of media, curriculum, idea, process, group builder, song, experience, etc., from something that I saw or even experienced myself, if it means leading a teen closer to Christ. In addition, I used to be so protective over my materials that I wouldn’t want to share anything with any person in ministry. But, now I find myself being very open to sharing any materials, calendars, retreat centers, songs, etc., if it will help someone in their own ministry programs. So, honestly, shoot me an email, and I will give you anything that I can!
As youth ministers, why would we not want to help each other out in ministry? We sometimes forget that we are on the same team, fighting the same battle, in the same trenches each day. We have the choice to lift each other up, pray for one another, share anything and everything that we can with one another, or continue to compare, to focus on ourselves, working from the silo of self. Comparison doesn’t lead teens closer to Christ; supporting each other in ministry does. I hope and pray you choose wisely.