Disclaimer: I have never written a blog post where I was preaching to myself more than this one.
Here is a news flash: your ministry is not your own, and it is temporary. I just experienced this when I transitioned from a youth ministry I had led for 16 years and moved 6 hours away to begin a new youth ministry endeavor in a new context. The truth is, even if you completely break the mold and stick with your youth ministry at one local church for 30+ years, you will eventually die and someone else will lead that ministry. For this reason, building a culture of collaboration, teamwork, and student leadership is highly important. I think most Youth Ministers would agree with that truth; yet many of us, including myself, struggle to hand off ministry and delegate tasks that will ultimately create ownership and build a base of student leaders ready and eager to serve. This needs to change, and we need to help students and our adult leaders own their ministry and, more importantly, their faith. Here are a few ideas that God has been bringing to my mind over the last couple months that might help your leaders and students own their ministry more completely.
1. It’s NOT about me
I think most church leaders could attest to the fact that the quickest way to cause division and strife in the church is to be selfish. Selfishness is the root of all sin, and sin is the biggest barrier to church unity known to mankind. For this reason, we should make a concerted effort to not only teach that the Kingdom of God is not about the individual or the individual’s wants, but we should also model it powerfully. Remembering this truth is a crucial first step in student ownership.
2. Build a selfless team
The truth that the kingdom of God is solely about Jesus needs to permeate from the top down in your ministry. This means being selective and dogmatic about the people who serve alongside you in student ministry. You need people who are committed to your ministry long-term. Only through consistency can they help create a culture of ownership. You need people who love Jesus intensely. People cannot pour into others that which they do not have. And you need people who are selfless..people who don’t care who gets the credit and aren’t going to die on every hill where they might see things differently. In short, you need team players who will help students see what it means to be a team player, one who is invested and engaged, but not divisive or overly controlling,
3. Create a culture
Once you’ve built a team of selfless and engaged leaders, it’s time to create a culture of ownership from the top down. Give your adults REAL and MEANINGFUL tasks that aren’t simply about the nuts and bolts of running a program. Challenge them spiritually and encourage them to do the same with your students. Remind them often that they are spiritual mentors and not babysitters. When they miss youth group, they aren’t just missing a chance to sit and watch a program, but instead missing opportunities to pour into others. Once students see this culture on a consistent basis, they will “catch” the vision and want to take ownership themselves.
4. Share the load
Practically, the fact that it is not about you means building a ministry that does not center around solely your gifts, passions, and and personality. Creating a culture where adults and students are taking ownership means releasing pieces and parts of the ministry into the hands of passionate people who are drastically different from you. This is SCARY. Releasing parts of your ministry means that those things will almost definitely not be done the way you would do them. But sharing the load allows others to put their stamp on the ministry. It stretches them and challenges them to think about the ministry more comprehensively. It allows you to be freed up to build relationships and have deeper conversations. And most importantly, it enables your volunteers and students to take ownership.
5. Recognize that the journey IS the destination
When students and volunteers serve, they learn and grow and they feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. But you have to remember that they are learning and growing as they serve. They probably won’t be teaching at a college professor level in small groups on day one. When the students lead worship, it may be off-key or it may include some measures with 5 beats. Recognize that the “win” isn’t perfection in your program, but instead discipleship and growth happening throughout your ministry. The student who can’t preach his way out of a paper bag today may be the future pastor of a healthy and thriving congregation. The kid who can’t seem to nail that guitar lick today may be a future worship leader. In the same way others invested in you, take this journey with your students and volunteers. The journey IS the destination, and it’s AWESOME!
These are just a few ideas that have been working through my head and heart these last couple months. What are some creative ways you’ve handed ministry off to your leaders and students? We’d love to hear from you!