Beginning in Youth Ministry: Being a Team
This article is the 10th in a series of articles on Foundations of Youth Ministry, and was originally published in the May 2013 edition of The Advocate Newspaper of the United Methodist Church in South Carolina.
Not all groups are teams. And not all groups who minister to youth act as a team.
A team has a common set of goals, which can be seen and understood by all within. Groups eventually fall apart if teaming up is unsuccessful, and we all know or have heard of the atomic devastation of youth group disintegration. Young people feel abandoned, relationships become broken and many leave their interest in faith at the door of the church.
If followers of Christ don’t work together, what does that say about Christ? Let’s all agree that if you’re passionate about developing lifelong disciples of Christ, you’re eventually going to have to build a team of role models to live out the fullness of Christian community.
Unfortunately, being a team isn’t very glamorous. The origin of the word is linked to putting animals together, likely in a yoke, to accomplish a task – particularly harnessing oxen, donkeys or horses to pull a cart or chariots. There tends to be a master who puts together the group, and that person is supposed to know the strengths of each animal so that they pull equally and do not strain. In other words, all the animals bear an equal load. Also, they need to all head in the same direction.
Imagine a youth ministry advisory council with no common vision. They sit down for a meal to discuss a plan for the year. One member is all about missions. They have had an excellent experience with Salkehatchie youth mission in the past and this person feels that the group should spend the year preparing for a trip. A mother then speaks up about how important recreational activities have been and thinks there should be an immediate plan for a basketball league and a ski trip. An elderly member is reminded how much need there is for help with chores among their friends and hopes the young people can start doing community service as soon as possible. A grandfather is concerned about a troubled grandchild and hopes a mentoring/counseling program can be started. The part-time lay youth leader looks across the room and says, “I just want to get the youth group time well attended!”
Hypothetically, without a “yoking” of this group, the worst possible situation is each person leaving the room intent on making one’s own vision a reality. They all write up articles in the newsletter. They all speak to the pastor asking for pulpit time. Each person begins recruiting from the same pool of youth. In the end, the whole church is confused, the youth have no clue what adults expect of them and everyone gets burned as they compete for resources, church council time and volunteers. While they all agree that youth have a lot of potential and need something to activate living a life of faith, in the end no one accomplishes anything.
How do we make teams out of groups like these? Is the answer always to find a youth director? I don’t think so. And we can’t assume simply because we are all Christians, we will immediately all work together easily.
First, the group has to accept that even if there is a leader among them, they are all co-workers under the yoke of Christ. In Matthew 11, Jesus calls the laborers to himself saying, “Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” It may be good to rediscover Christ’s love in a reading of a gospel together.
Second, the group has to verbally agree that they are, in fact, a team. Make a covenant together for your common purpose of raising young people in the ways of the Lord. Pledge to live upright lives full of faith, hope and love and then do it. Hold each other accountable and push each other towards greater holiness. Talk about it often and regularly read Wesley’s Covenant Prayer together.
Lastly, the group has to pray and discern together on what is most important, what is secondary (or what comes later) and what is not necessary for the discipleship of your particular youth. There will be a natural path for your young people and each group is different. Some need Bible studies, some need a camp, some need to do service and some will desperately need wisdom and good preaching/teaching. Decide together what is actually necessary and protect them from interests that do not further their growth in Christ-likeness.
There are other people doing the same thing across the connection. Congregational Specialist Chris Lynch is a great guy to talk to, as well. Give a call to some churches and meet up with others and see what they are doing. Team up and share resources. You’ll find the connection is a wonderful thing.
Griswold is youth director at St. Andrew By-The-Sea UMC, Hilton Head Island. Follow him on Twitter @Dannonhill or check out his blog, DanielGriswold.Wordpress.com