A tale of 2 ministry calendars (part 2)


Just got back from the National Youth Worker's Convention in Nashville. I love the city of Nashville and I love a weekend away to catch up with youth ministry friends, both new and old. The first time since October a toddler hasn't climbed in my bed to wake me up freakishly early in the morning. The first time since my move to Grand Rapids I have the opportunity to laugh and hang out with friends. I am embarking on my third month of doing this whole full time youth pastor thing on my own with three kids. Proof you CAN be a single mom and do youth ministry. But it's NOT for wimps! Tim, my husband is selling our house and getting things wrapped up in San Diego.  You can imagine it's been tough without him. I REALLY enjoyed the weekend at the NYWC in Nashville.  Youth worker conferences are always a time of renewal (and much needed fun) for me.

Many of us youth workers attend LOTS of these conventions. I always look forward to the annual opportunity to engage together in meaningful conversations about all God is doing in youth ministry, in His Church, and in our own lives. SOOOO fun meeting many of you #ymwomen! I did teach a workshop about being a woman in youth ministry this year at YS.  I love chatting, meeting you and hearing your struggles and questions.

After  my workshop and dinner, our team went to the late night theology cafe on Saturday evening.  A group of us walked over to the beautiful new Omni hotel after the theology cafe to enjoy drinks and continue the conversation.  Andrew Root showed up to hang with our student ministry team for a little while and that was pretty cool. I love his "Of Course but Maybe" analogy he uses from Louis CK when he talks about busy families and church.  So funny.  Spark House picked up the tab for 52 of us to get a beverage of choice. Thank you Spark House! A night of relaxing, laughs and good conversation. We did not sleep much on Saturday night.

The topic of the Theology CafĂ© was "What Does It Mean for a Young Person to Live Fully in Their Busy Culture and Still be Faithful in Church?"  I think about busy families a lot. I think about how we over program. Do we really support faith development with an overloaded student ministry calendar? What if we instead create space "to be" ?  I worry about the "guilt trips." The well meaning youth pastors who are tempted to pressure or manipulate students and families into attending student ministry programs. Especially when there are often an insurmountable amount of numerical 'benchmarks' youth pastors are faced with.  Pressured to be doing more when wanting to be purposeful about doing less. A difficult and challenging place to be in. Oh I hate attendance as a benchmark. What does attendance really measure when it comes to spiritual growth and faith formation?

I once worked at a church where youth staff, volunteers and students can potentially be at some kind of youth program 7 times in any given week. Yup 7.  Student leader meetings, worship band practice, several Sunday services, Awana, a Saturday night service, a reoccurring Saturday service project. A once a month Saturday evening 'fun' event. Not to forget a monthly Tuesday night mandatory leader meeting and weekly after school campus clubs.  It is kinda nuts.  If attendance begins to drop on any given Sunday, take a guess at what we do?  Do we drop the event? Nope hardly ever. Do we cancel what is not working? Not usually. If attendance numbers drop below the benchmark, the response in many youth ministries is to give away more free donuts or do a drawing for some kind of Apple product. Maybe even add MORE to the youth ministry event calendar. Because more is better, right? Umm no.

Handing a menu of events to our students to pick and choose from may seem like a great idea to try and hit numerical targets, but too much is too much. Too much can be damaging.  There is no wiggle room for students and staff to spend time together organically outside of church. No time to see a student in a play they are performing in,  attend their band concert, or time to invite students into life with us outside of the youth room walls. In over programmed youth ministry world,  there is little room for faith practice outside of church.  No time to engage in community or life alongside of adults outside of programs. No time to have unforced conversations about faith and spirituality.  Too busy to serve together beyond what is already on the youth ministry calendar. Do we want our students to be really comfortable and well practiced in programs or in spiritual practices? Busy youth calendars come at the expense of what?

What if we instead create room for students to take hold of their faith and practice it in real and tangible ways. In their every day life. With their families. Alongside of adults who are not "programmed" to do so or guilt tripping them into participation. I love when youth workers are doing less on purpose. A lot less. As a mom I finally see what I did not understand in my younger youth worker days. My youth program is so not the most important thing in a students life and shouldn't be. Sadly, I can remember times I've guilted students into attending events or inadvertently made students feel bad when they chose to stay home and watch a movie with their family over youth group.  When my own youth calendar became toxic to my own family schedule, a change had to happen.  It was apparent I was doing no one any favors by having so much going on.  As Adam McClane wrote somewhere [in a comment on a blog I was reading] which powerfully echo's my thoughts exactly:  

"Good Lord, getting invited to another thing is as far from Good News in my family as I can imagine!" -Adam McLane 

How can we alleviate the crazy busy demands on families while still being very present in their lives? Wanting to partner with parents and cheer on families is admirable, but when we think our youth programs are the most important part of their family life, we are stupid. Youth ministry programs in most churches are simply one teeny tiny chunk of a family's life (if any at all!) as mentioned in the panel I was listening to at the NYWC.  So here is how it is now...

A purposefully under programmed student ministry model. Yes we still have winter camp, summer camp, have fun events and do leader training. But we work hard to not ask our volunteers to be out more than one night a week. We respect their time. We love their families. We require a lot without cluttering their schedule with 'busy.'  When we have an event or a training, it replaces Sunday night programming. If it doesn't replace Sunday programming we are strategic to schedule it before or after programming while they are still here on campus.   Wondering how Sundays look here in a less is more model of youth ministry?

We STRATEGICALLY have NOTHING on Sunday mornings for middle school + high school students. Why? So they can be INTEGRATED into the church family as opposed to being segregated into their little silos during worship. You can read more about that kinda thing HERE in April's book"Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker." If the student ministry here were to write down a lot of what we do (or don't do!) and publish it into a book it would be very similar to April's. So if you are curious about  moving from a program centered ministry model to one of integration read April's book!!!  It's so refreshing to see LESS programs and more room and space for leaders, families, and students to engage TOGETHER in faith practice vs being over programmed and too stinkin busy.


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