Sustainable Youth Ministry

Sustainable living is all the rage these days.  I am building a chicken coop in our back yard for my wife.  This means I have made a lot of trips to Home Depot and they lways ask, “What are you building?”  When I tell them they are surprised and say something like, “Everyone’s building chicken coops.  What’s the deal?”  Sustainability, that’s the deal.

People want stability and security and they are realizing that it doesn’t come from burning out or exhausting every resource.  Rather, it comes from sustainability.  One could easily take out the word “Youth” in the title of this book and, with very little imagination, apply the contents to ministry in general – Sustainable Ministry.

The book is a mix of stories and practical instruction.  Rather than outline the entire book I will highlight the lessons I am walking away with to make my life and my ministry more sustainable.

Lesson 1 – There are no “Easy” buttons.  Eugene Peterson got it right when stole the words from Nietzsche for his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  Sustainable living and ministry are about the long haul, not the runway.  Whatever we do we must keep this long view of things in mind.  The long view always means investment – of time, energy, finances, and even ourselves (see 2 Corinthians 12:15).  If we underinvest in any area of ministry it will not thrive.  The danger, though, is investing in property rather than people.  Investing in property is easy; investing in people is difficult. (ch. 2)

Lesson 2 – The dance floor needs to be sound before you can dance.  Dallas Willard wrote, “Your system is designed to give you the exact results you are getting.”  As we look toward sustainable ministry we need to make sure that our structures, systems, and priorities are aligned and in the right place.  If they aren’t designed for sustainability then we will never reach it. (ch. 4)

Lesson 3 – Having the right documents in place can help. (ch. 5)  Devries suggests that every youth ministry leader (any leader for that matter) have the following documents in place:

  • Control Documents – student directory, visitor directory, staff/volunteer directory
  • Annual Events Calendar (pass it out to everyone in September)
  • Job Descriptions for all staff and volunteers – clear roles, goals and expectations (go Covey!)
  • Master Recruiting List – a list of all potential volunteers you can call when you need them
  • Curriculum Template – a map that marks out the journey from point A to point Z (template first, curriculum second)
  • Vision Documents – mission statement, measurable 3 year goals, values, structures

Lesson 4 – Changing the culture must be intentional.  To change the culture you must communicate the small victories, all the time.  Changing the culture takes time so don’t give in to the temptation to short-cut the process.  Changing the culture is difficult, so import joy into the chaos in every way possible.  Tell stories and use metaphors to describe a preferred and hope-filled future.  Embrace ritual, traditions, signs and symbols as places for people to hang their hats. (ch. 6)

Lesson 5 – Manage your monkeys well. (ch. 9)  Monkeys are the crises, undone tasks, problems, and obstacles.  We must learn to manage them well.  Devries offers the following advice:

  • manage your monkeys or they will climb to your boss
  • manage your monkeys or they will multiply
  • manage your monkeys or they can easily be forgotten (and then come back later to haunt you)
  • never accept a monkey on the run
  • hidden monkeys stagnate ministry
  • you can’t manage a hugged monkey (sometimes we just have to call a monkey a monkey and deal with it)
  • a monkey given to a group is given to no one
  • monkeys are managed best near the ground (at the level they belong)
  • monkeys weren’t made for badminton (solve problems, don’t avoid them)
  • beware of sticky monkeys (i.e. why don’t you start this new ministry?)

There’s more in the book to reflect on and implement, but these lessons just might have the potential to transform the way we do ministry.

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