A funeral, a U2 concert, and a new way of thinking about effective youth ministry teams

You may be wondering what this title means.   You just have to read to find out!

In the span of one week, my view of volunteers changed completely.

I have always appreciated my volunteers for their time committment and dedication. After all, I get paid to do what I do.  These volunteers do not.  They work long hours each day and then at the end of hard day or work they come to our church to hang out with students, play games, teach lessons, and lead small groups.  Even more amazing is that they willingly give up their free weekends at home to be with overly hyper and often annoying students, get little sleep and poor food options, only to get back late Sunday night and wake up at 5am the next day to go to work (while their youth pastor sleeps in).  They sacrifice a week of vacation time to go on missions trips and conferences, etc… You get the picture.

I also appreciate my volunteers for what they bring to our team. Each one is uniquely talented, gifted, and passionate about something that helps shape and form our team and youth group.  Some are great at administration, some love doing crazy games and skits, others can work magic with computers, and yet others love working behind the scenes to make sure our spaces are cleaned up when we leave.  Each person has a role and I realize that without their presence, we could get by each week, but the youth ministry would be a shadow of what it is and is becoming.  David Chow in his book, No More Lone Rangers, defines team centered youth ministry as “ministry with a diverse team of healthy, spiritually mature adults who share leadership and decision-making responsibilities, united by a vision to minister to young people and their families.”

Although I believed this in principle, the reality and beauty became evident recently.

We had a very big weekend fall retreat planned. I basically served as the program director and was doing one of the 3 lessons.  If you ever lead your own retreat, you probably know the amount of time, energy, and details that go into running one of these things.   The Thursday before we were supposed to leave, I received a phone call that my grandfather had passed away.  I was extremely close to him and lived in his house for the first twelve years of my life.  Shortly before his death, he asked me to do his funeral.   But there I was with this situation on my hands.  A choice between family and ministry.

I was torn.  I felt obligated and required to go on the retreat, but I knew I wanted to be with my family.  I also thought that i needed to be running the retreat as much as I was needed back home.

My leaders changed my thinking.

My former view of my leaders; their roles, potential, and importance…was radically challenged and changed at the same time

I was overwhelmed and humbled when my leaders all said, “Go home. Don’t worry about a thing.  We have it covered.”

I couldn’t believe them…well truth be told, I choose not to believe them because I still felt that I needed to be there. What about all those last minute details? Who will teach “my” lesson”.  What about going over the rules? What if this happens?  And perhaps the biggest questions, “What will the parents and church think if I am not there?”

What I had not been realizing was that over the years, the leaders had watched and learned from my leadership and example (and probably learned more from seeing my mistakes!) Not only were they willing and capable of leading the weekend, but the collection of them making group decisions and truly working as a team would be more effective than me!

Sometimes we just need to let go and trust our leaders.  Trust that God has been preparing them all along the way to step it when necessary and even take the youth ministries to new heights.  I need constant reminders that it’s not “my” program or ministry, and they are not “my” students.  Everything is God’s and he has and will always have the best interests of the students and group at heart.

You may be wondering what happened.  My grandfather’s wake and funeral were pushed back 2 days for various reasons, so I was able to attend. I left early on Sunday and my leaders took care of the rest of the weekend and return trip home.  But the entire weekend I knew that I didn’t have to be there, and since my leaders were prepared to lead, they ran most of it.

Three days later, U2 came to NY. My wife and I are huge U2 fans and when I had a chance to get some tickets over the summer, I grabbed 2 as soon as possible. The concert was scheduled for Friday night. For some reason that I am still unsure about, Friday’s show was moved to Wednesday (youth group night).

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You would think I learned my lesson.

I panicked.

I had a great lesson planned, complete with videos, interactive group discussion, experiential response, and small group questions.  I really wanted to be there and….to lead again!  But I also really wanted to go to U2.

I called one of my trusted leaders and was completely honest (even though at first I dabbled with the idea of a sudden illness coming over me!)

He said, “You and your wife need to go to the show.  Don’t worry about a thing.  We have it covered and youth group will be great!”     I also had a student mission committee meeting planned. One of my seniors said that she will step in and lead the meeting and the entire night went real smooth…in fact better than if I were there.

My students and leaders didn’t complain or question me not being there. They were happy for my wife and I (a little envious that they weren’t at Giants Stadium naturally), but they were happy for the chance to lead.  In the past, I would often include students and adults in leadership, but never really gave them ownership.

In the span of just one week, my views have changed and I have seen the light!

I am learning to trust my team, not just to fill in when necessary, but to be able to lead well.

One of my favorite U2 songs is  “Sometimes you can’t make it on your own”.  A powerful line in the song is this   “Listen to me now. I need to let you know. You don’t have to go it alone.”

When we do ministry alone, we communicate to others that their role is to watch ministry, not do ministry.  Instead of preparing God’s people for ministry, we are preparing them to be consumers and spectators.

They actually played that song live and I was struck by the profound truth whether in a relationship with God, spouse, friends, or our leaders.  We need each other and are connected in the beautiful web of humanity and relationships.

David Chow offers some wonderful insights that I will conclude with. Again, it is one thing to believe this in theory, but quite another to live it in our ministries.  I encourage you to make strong attempts to do so in the months to come.

“Behind every great ministry is a great group of co-ministers.”

Effective teams extend the ministry well beyond a single person

Effective teams raise the quality of ministry programs and events to a higher level

Effective teams expand the number and types of students being ministered to

Team-centered ministry produces new leaders

A team approach benefits the ministry long term.

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2 thoughts on “A funeral, a U2 concert, and a new way of thinking about effective youth ministry teams

  1. I’m in the process of learning this lesson. I’ve been running a one-man show and I trying to figure out how to give ownership to my leaders, adults and students. Maybe I should pretend to be sick and see how it goes, haha. 🙂
    Nick. let me know how the “sick” day goes. Might be worth a try to see what happens!!! Blessings in your pursuit of team building. well worth the efforts

  2. awesome blog post… this is something I am learning in student ministry and this post really encouraged to me.

    The taking ownership piece is something that is seriously missing from youth/student ministries of today’s churches. I think as leaders, no matter at what stage (senior pastors, youth pastors, worship leader, etc.) we have to trust and rely on the people we serve with.

    Also, its a good gauge to see how well leaders handles under pressure or if they really following your “leadership skills”

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