Every week this year we will be exploring our theme “The People.” Today we will hear about..
“The People who get it”
Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Youth and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary. He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.
Ministers encounter all sorts of people, I doubt it’s explicitly written anywhere but it’s part of our job description. Our congregations are populated by various individuals who are weird and gifted and goofy and amazing. Perhaps my favorite aspect of congregations is how different people can be and still function together as a family of faith.
Any youth department sees only a portion of the congregation, but the respective categories are usually well represented, save perhaps the eldest of the population (in most circumstances, there are exceptions). Not to alienate other ministries, but let’s be real, our people are the best. Mostly.
Even the best folks operate on different levels of “get it”, or as smart people would say: each individual has a unique degree of perception. Of course our people in student ministry are no exception. I love knowing this because it lends evidence that the church as a whole has begun to acknowledge youth as part of the whole rather than purgatory for pre-adults, but that’s neither here nor there. My point is that even in student ministry we work with all sorts of people, and every so often we have the opportunity to encounter an individual who just plain get’s it.
You know who I mean, you probably one or two folks in mind right now that fit into this category. You may even be thinking, “that’s most of my people”, but just keep that to yourself. Either way, you hold on to these people like Gollum holds on to the precious… or wishes he would have. Because these folks are the ones that keep the wheels greased and turning.
The “It” in question can be a variety of things, and it’s probable that different people have various “its” they get: ministry philosophy, the direction of your particular group, what it means to be a minister, the unique passion you have for your ministry, or even your own personal struggles or victories… so on and so forth. Notice each of these was about you, the minister, because while these folks are your support squad you’re still the quarterback. Usually these folks are a minority, but they will do more than enough.
They aren’t something to build a ministry on, but I love those “light bulb moments”, when something seems to click. You can see it on a student’s face. Everything begins to fall into place, and bam. There it is. Some previously unknown or abstract concept hits home. It could be an atonement theory or simply “Jesus really loves me”, but when I see it I can almost hear the crack of the bat. Home run.
Those adults, the ones who get it have already had their at bat, and now my illustration falls apart. The point is they can be life givers when you’re worn out, motivators when you’re run down, and cheerleaders when you’re on a roll. More importantly, they are your teammates regardless of the current situation, because they understand how it can be. Yes, youth ministry is about the kids, but without folks that get it the quarterback has no team.
Apparently I’m mixing sports metaphors all over the place, so I’m going to swing away.
Don’t stack your lineup – It’s tempting to surround myself with the few people I know really get it. They agree theologically, ideologically, or are just all around awesome people. But if I don’t mix and match, pair perceived strengths with not-so-strengths, how will the B-team (never call them that) be prepared for game day? I’m not saying newbies need babysitters, but incorporating and welcoming volunteers we don’t 100% agree with or folks uncomfortable “taking the reins” creates an atmosphere encouraging those who don’t get it to find it. This atmosphere can allow some pretty amazing gifts to be revealed.
Put your heavy hitters up front – As with any good team, the strongest players should be your lead off. Create a framework you feel comfortable with, and then include support people who will learn from your starters. I’m always impressed by how willingly my volunteers counsel and even mentor other adults. If people are passionate about your ministry, they won’t hesitate to pull others into the mix. One of the greatest ministry victories is a hesitant volunteer transitioning from a minor player into a rock star.
Let the team coach – You know who knows your youth? Your youth and their parents. One of the most effective coaching methods, and one of my more diabolical schemes is to put more experienced players in charge. Adults who get it, well they get it. Youth who are natural leaders, lead. Put them together and your team will grow in experience as folks learn from each other, you grow closer as everyone (including us) sees relationships develop, and you might even increase numbers because youth are drawn by youth leadership. When the team coaches, magical things happen. Inexperienced and timid adults become the ones that get it. Older youth realize they’ve become examples and their faith shines like nothing you’ve ever seen, and younger youth start to see what it means to lead and live their faith.
Don’t get me wrong, as the minister you will absolutely need to lead and steer the ship (illustration crossover!) at all times. I’m not constructing some sort of get out of work plan, in fact it creates a different kind of approach altogether. The team may coach itself, but we must know that team better than we ever have to guide it effectively. We’re called to indentify the people who “get it”, and equip them to minister to those who will.