I’ve been thinking through what being a “Mobile” Youth Minister means. Primarily because I’ve found that so much of my time ministering to youth has been spent on the road in my little tan Chevy Cavalier on the various winding roads and highways around Boston. My students lived in Concord, a rolling hills kind of farm country; they live in Cambridge, a sprawling expansion of Boston full of hip shops and in diversity there is also poverty. I drove to Woburn, where the bowling alley is; I hung at the Starbucks in Burlington, and I found myself on hayrides in the apple orchards of Andover. You’re getting the idea. That’s just the tip of the iceburg. Natick, Bedford, Lexington, Stoneham, Wakefield, Marlboro, Westford, Westborough, and all the East’s and Left’s and Right’s. I’ve been there and have met parents and kids and had great and sometimes challenging times. So this is why being “Mobile” has come to the forfront of my mind. At the beginning of my ministry I spent hours at the desk doing administrative work and getting little things done here and there, but the more I built relationships with the various communities our church served, I cut down desktime to one day a week and learned how to do everything else on the road, in a coffeeshop and my desk was replaced by rented tables paid for by the coffee I bought. Wherever my laptop sat, I became a hub of relationships, communications, and learning. My hope here is to lay down a picture of why ministers become Mobile, but also to start a dialogue about “Pros” and “Cons” of such a ministry. The lessons learned will probably apply to others beyond youth ministry to other ministry contexts, so feel free to join the conversation whoever you are.
A google search for “Mobile Ministry” brings up ranging articles about ministers preaching on circuits, trucker ministries, and various other long distance traveling ministries. The kind of ministry I’m talking about is not long distance as these people are doing and are focused on. The context I am talking about is the kind that develops around a “regional” church. When people find a church that they are willing to drive 35 minutes or so to reach, you have a “regional” church. These churches have families from wide and varying communities from urban to countryside, and so the ministers quickly learn to live beyond their own hamlet, and see the varying contexts interacting all over. The congregants have wide and varying ways and views on living life, so the minister needs to be creative to connect and serve, unify and challenge wisely. It would be easy to use the church as a hub and never leave it, because so many people come to this beacon set in the proverbial waters of the communities. But this is an unhealthy mentality, because then the minister, like an academic who never leaves the seminary and finds themself trapped in an ivory tower, the minister may find that he or she is trapped in a cave with only enough room for congregants to come and go. The light on the outside is just a fable to that minister, and eventually the sermons and the advice of the minister makes little sense to those who live on the outside of the cave. No, the minister must go out and be in the community.
Look at Jesus: He did not spend much time in one place, and it seems to have been a reality of the Jewish culture, that his family traveled for various reasons. When Jesus was born, a census had people traveling and forced him to be born in a stable (Luke 2:7). After his birth, his family went to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous attempt to stop the future claim to Kingship (Matthew 2:13). As a youth he ended up at the temple asking questions of the teachers (Luke 2:46). After his ministry began, he then set out on a traveling ministry, that spanned the heights of Samaria to the depths of the Dead Sea towards the Mountains about Jerusalem. Jesus and his disicples were on the move, an urgency of mission moved them, and Paul and successive generations have moved from context to context with little time to remain static, and if so, only to teach for a time. So the question is, if Jesus was on the move, we, as his followers must consider and act on the power and energy of movement. But what is so good about movement? And in modern terms, is being mobile worthwhile?
Reasons for Mobility:
(1) American culture is nomadic/moving. American government has spent trillions of dollars building a massive road system that enables people to go anywhere they wish to go if they have a car and money for gas. The car symbolizes freedom, and it is a status symbol of being able to “get there.” Even the impoverished of our country own cars, and it is the first thing on the minds of teens when they reach the age of 15. “When can I get a car, and not be dependant on my parents for rides?” In essence, they are thinking about the freedom. Freedom of movement, freedom from constraint, and choice of where they wish to be and who they want to be with. Because of this, they are everywhere. How do you minister to people on the move if you are not moving with them, or at least towards them?
(2) People only get together once or twice a week. The main church service happens for a few hours on Sunday, and these days, there are multiple services. There may be midweek ministries, but these often are divided throughout the week rather than just having a traditional Wednesday night family ministry night. So you have 4-5 hours a week divided by hundreds of meetins with different families while people are coming together. How much time we ministers spend with someone gives us equity in their lives to speak truth and have influence. 4-5 hrs is nothing, and in the 15 minutes we can speak to someone one on one just isn’t enough time for a good investment in that person (though this may be some for some). Sometimes we need to target people who need some more time with a caring counselor, a shepherd, a mentor, or a listener. These are the people we need to jot down on a list and make time to visit every so often for a cup of coffee or for a quick lunch. These are the families that want us to come for dinner, or to visit and have some time to talk. Some of your leadership on the ym staff may feel this way too, considering how little time they get with the one leading up the Youth Ministry during staff meetings. Look out and read the faces in the crowd – How many of them need more than 15 minutes? Some of them might need an hour a week, or five. In order to do it, you’re going to have to become mobile.
(3) The internet and mobile devices have scattered users. You’d think that more communication would have brought people together, and in many ways it has. But something new is beginning to happen because of all the connectivity: People can be together while they are far away, thus, people can get away with being farther away for longer periods of time without feeling disconnected. This allows groups to scatter and still be together. In the past, a youth group clique would have to get together at the same McDonald’s to have shakes together (I don’t know if this ever happened other than in my imagination, but just work with me). Now, the six kids can be at six different McDonald’s and all be telling stories on Twitter or Facebook, or most likely Texting each other about how horrible the service was in different ways. Whether they get together or not, they are together. Business people now do it rather than teleconferencing and only use the phone or meetings for more serious matters. Basic Questions and instructions can be given to anyone at anytime on a Blackberry or Iphone. Why wait for a meeting when everyone is together. So as a minister, you can’t just walk into McDonald’s and find all your youth. Technically in this situation, you would have to do two things. (A) Know how to text, and be in on the digital conversation, and (B) choose one kid and meet em there, then choose another, and meet em elsewhere. Imagine in this kind of world how important Youth Ministry Events and Weekly’s will become in this great “Scattering”. Face to Face conversations and basic social norms are now something that you have to ensure that your students are getting alongside the message of Faith in the Gospel.
Possible Pitfalls of Mobility:
Many things can go wrong when it comes to being mobile. If you are a creative spirit like me, organization can go out the window of the car while driving to the next destination. Schedules are harder to maintain, and being connected to your church’s ministry team can be tricky if you are not intentional. I’ve found that a few things help me keep myself on track.
(1) Develop a good memory and keep a backup. My mind is a strong tool that I can easily leave fallow. But if I intentionally try to memorize my responsibilities for each day, and go through them with others vocally, I find that my memory gets stronger. When I have to be in four different places in one day, it helps when I have thought everything through the day before or days before so I have the directions printed out from google maps, my cell phone is charged for communication on the go, my laptop bag is packed with any documents I need to give out, and I have a checklist on Ipod Touch and Laptop in case my memory fails me. Multiple backups ensure that I will have one of my many devices with me for quick check in to keep myself on the right track at the right times, and relationships don’t get messed up because I’m late or just don’t show up. Thankfully, I’ve never not shown up.
(2) Keep your routine office hours and plan some time to connect with the rest of the church. This is important, because being on the road can disconnect you for long periods of time. You have resources at the church, you have relationships that give you life and energy, you have an admin assistant, you have a hub where meetings are held, and these things are a big part of being a minister. Sometimes, you won’t have to be out on the road as much, if people know you’ll be around the church at a certain time consistently. People you know, or a mother might need to drop by and hand in the latest Missions Trip forms and have no other way to get it to you. You might have a question for the Tech Director and this is the time to do it. You’ll also need time to do reimbursements and place receipts to the budget so you’re not paying for everytime you grab a hot chocolate for your students. Balance yourself out by being “grounded” for a time, so your time on the road is more valuable.
Benefits and Conclusion:
The nice thing about being mobile, is that you become a central command for the community. After four or so years, you’ll find that people trust you to relay information, and your events become unifying events for the diverse communities surrounding you. Like a plant reaching out and connecting to new plots of soil and spreading life, you become the shoot that seeds love and hope in many different pots full of fertile soil. After many years of being a “runner”, or a “Mobile” Youth Minister, you begin to see the harvest come to bloom. God begins to bless the work, and you may see others becoming runners themselves. Often Seniors in the High School ministry that stick with you to graduation will see what you have modeled and become hubs in their own communities. It truly is a blessing to see this begin to bloom, and if it is done well, it will nourish the many. Here’s to the hubs and nodes – keep connecting, keep moving, and bring the truth to your many communitied region.