At youth group, we play a game about once a year called “Bigger or Better”
We send groups of 5 out into the community armed with one roll of toilet paper. (not to throw at houses and cars as some students have assumed over the years!) Each group’s goal is to obtain something from a neighbor that is either bigger or better. Sounds pretty simple, but you would be amazed at the stories over the years…and the crap we have received! (not to mention a few police run ins). One thing that this sort of game demonstrates is that the roll of toilet paper really is not very desirable. And, while it is fairly easy to observe and judge which new item is bigger…how does each group decide upon what is better? I would imagine their thought process and decision making would alter depending on whether or not someone really had to the use the bathroom!
A few months ago I was down south (in the heart of the Bible belt) and was talking with some fellow youth pastors. One of whom had a very large youth group. He was a great guy and never once actually threw out a number (like so many youth pastors do)
By the way…have you ever noticed when someone at a conference asks “How is your ministry doing?” generally they really mean to say “how big is yours?…..”
But this guy talked about their programs, the masses of “unreached” students who come into their warehouse each Friday to play video games, skateboard, make fried food, and hear a message about Jesus.
All of which sounded really cool (and since his youth group business card had a cool graphic design on it) I stood awed and amazed.
For some reason, I figured I could learn from this guy since his made mine look small (typical boy locker room stuff, right?)
I don’t mean to be crude, but this was actually how I felt that evening.
So when my turn came to speak about my ministry, I sheepishly told him what we did not have.
That list was pretty long and took some time to verbalize.
I shared with him the graduation parties I went to, the birthday parties, sporting events, and recitals I have been to. I shared with him the times I have had my students over for a meal, the intimate and honest conversations we have each night at youth group, and how I truly feel like part of their family over the years.
Tears started to form in his eyes.
And as he wiped away the misty glow he stated, “Man, that’s what youth ministry is supposed to be about. I envy what you guys have going up there in New York.”
Imagine that! A big time Bible belt mega church youth pastor envious of some no name, no logo, no website youth ministry tucked away in the liberal North East!
So what’s so amazing is that in the pursuit of the Big, we have lost a sense of the Best.
Students really don’t care about being entertained or being surround by thousands of teens. Sure, it may generated a sense of temporary excitement, but what they ultimately value and appreciate are youth leaders who enter into their lives and not stand apart from it.
You see, it is easier to hide behind productions and programs that we do for the teens, than to enter into the messiness of teenage life and be burdened by their individual struggles, fears, and doubts.
But the last time I check, most youth pastors went into the ministry to do just that. But somewhere along the way we got the Bigger is Better itch (maybe at a conference or by visiting another youth group.
We come back to our tiny youth room with old couches and think..I must be doing something wrong.
We think…”Maybe a new book with new ideas will spark my ministry. Maybe I need a bigger budget. Yeah, that’s the ticket. A bigger budget will somehow lead to more students, and then somehow having more students will lead to more spiritual growth.”
I contend that sometimes just the opposite is true in emerging youth ministry!