I discovered CrossFit in May 2015. I was an avid runner, pounding out mile after mile every week, which led to an ankle tendon injury. My doctor told me that I could still be active, but he did not want me running the heavy miles I had become accustomed to. My wife invited me to try CrossFit, which she had been doing for almost a year. I wasn’t going to stop eating ice cream, so I needed to burn calories somehow. It was worth a shot.
I walked into the CrossFit box (only a loser would call it a gym) for the first time, completely terrified and unsure what the experience would be like. I was worried that I might not be welcomed by the group, and that everyone would be much further along in their journey than I was. It’s funny as I look back on that first experience to know how similar my fears were to those who walk into our ministries for the first time every week. Sure, the activity was different, but the fears were the same.
As I recognized this parallel, it got me thinking about the similarities between physical training and spiritual training. I am still very new on my CrossFit journey, but here are a few things that CrossFit has helped me see clearly in my own ministry.
1. COMMUNITY is huge!
Ask any CrossFit junkie and they will tell you that the community is the best part of the CrossFit experience. Yes, the workouts are challenging, and the results are tangible. But what makes CrossFit awesome is the community of people around you. During a tough workout, shouts of “You got this” and “Come on, only a few more to go” are commonplace. We root one another on, push one another, and celebrate our victories together. These are not just people I work out with. They are my friends. Almost every new PR I have hit has come while my friends were encouraging me and cheering me on. The workouts are brutal, but it is the community that keeps me coming back.
The parallel here is obvious. We may have an amazing ministry with a great strategy, deliberate planning, life-changing trips and events, and even a jaw dropping stage design. All of those things are awesome, but they really don’t mean a thing without authentic community. A student may be wowed by our ministry for a few weeks, but without building authentic relationships with adult leaders and peers, they probably will not stick with it for the long haul.
How are you deliberately building community into your ministry? How are you instilling that focus in your students and leaders? How do you encourage one another, challenge one another, and bring new students along? How do you celebrate your victories?
2. Everyone is in a DIFFERENT place
I remember a workout early on where we were doing back squats as part of the strength element. I happened to look around and observe something interesting that has helped me in youth ministry. As we were doing back squats, I was lifting 155 pounds (I’m a weenie, I know). The stud next to me was back squatting 365 pounds (yes, I was jealous). The woman across from me was lifting PVC pipe. In other words, everyone was at a different level, but everyone could still work towards taking the next step.
Our ministries need to be more like CrossFit in this regard. The students in our ministry are all at different levels spiritually. Honestly, I sometimes feel like youth ministry is a one room spiritual schoolhouse, trying to meet the needs of students at every different level on the spiritual spectrum. CrossFit has found a way to engage people of every fitness level and help them take the next step in their fitness journey. Our churches and ministries need to find a way to do the same.
3. Set REALISTIC goals
In CrossFit, there may be no better feeling than hitting a new PR (personal record). When we get a new PR, we write it on the board and circle it, and it is usually met with high-fives and “way to gos.” Jim, the owner and coach at my box, always encourages us to set realistic goals and then make a plan to achieve them. The key is to set realistic goals, and then celebrate like crazy when you get there. Setting a goal that is too far away can be discouraging and upsetting. For example, I would love to be able to power clean 300 pounds. However, considering my current PR for that movement is 185 pounds, that may not be a realistic goal, and it is certainly not a goal I’m going to hit anytime soon. A realistic goal would be to power clean 210 pounds. When I get there, we will celebrate, and I will set a new realistic goal.
What are your goals for your ministry? Are they tangible and measurable? Are they realistic? Do you have a plan and a strategy in place to achieve them? How do you plan to celebrate them when you reach them? Who do you go to for advice when you fall short of your goals? And how are you helping your students and leaders set and reach their own goals?
4. EMBRACE the struggle
One of the main rules at our CrossFit box is that we should “embrace the struggle.” My coach always points out that growth doesn’t really happen when you are comfortable. In other words, for me to become a better athlete, I have to consistently push myself beyond my normal limits. Only by stretching myself can I find out what I am truly made of.
The same is true in youth ministry. If I want to become a better leader, grow as a communicator, and build our student ministry, I need to stretch myself beyond what is comfortable. Perhaps that means taking a new approach with my adult leaders. Maybe it is trying a new event or activity that I have never done before. Or maybe it means tackling some difficult topics in my teaching time that I would normally shy away from. The only way to grow is to be uncomfortable.
I am curious – what have your hobbies or interests taught you about youth ministry over the years?