This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
The Story of letting go
Chris Cherry is the Youth Minister at Middletown Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his Master of Divinity in Christian Education from McAfee School of Theology in 2013. Chris loves the St. Louis Cardinals, theology and philosophy, traveling, and drawing. His wife’s name is Tory and they have an awesome doggie roommate named Yadi.
One of the things that’s hard about being the leader of something is it’s often hard to participate fully in the things you work so hard to create. For ministers, this means it can be very difficult to worship when you’re a participant in worship. It can be very hard to see the big picture of an event when you have to constantly be thinking 3 steps ahead. It can be very hard to enjoy game night when you have to be the one to explain and enforce the rules. Now, obviously, our jobs as youth ministers are not at all about us—in fact, quite the opposite is the case. Our jobs are about God and other people. But, sometimes what that means is you also miss out on the chance to build legitimate relationships and have great conversations with youth because you have to be the one standing up front directing traffic.
Last year, I decided to change my approach. I am still the point person for a lot of what we do, especially things like retreats and mission trips and things like that, but I also worked hard to give away events and portions of the program ministry to key leaders who would do an exceptional job with them. I also realize, of course, this requires a solid leadership base of volunteers—something that was established at this church long before I arrived.
So, for example, we do a messy games night each year called Muck Night. We also do a water games night called Water Mayhem. They’re both a ton of fun, but they’re also a lot of work. In the past, I would have taken these events on, brainstormed game ideas, bought all the supplies, set everything up with the help of a couple others, and then been the one to run and explain the games… Not only is that not the best use of the youth minister’s time, it’s also not the best use of our adult volunteers’ time (and that’s not even mentioning mental health!). So, last year, I started delegating. And it is awesome.
The events are amazing. The youth have tons of fun. Adults have key jobs and roles and were heavily involved—and they get to have fun, too. My job at these events now is to show up and have a great time with the youth. I could play the games if I wanted to. I could throw water balloons at people if I wanted to. I could dump ranch dressing on people if I wanted to. But more than all of that, I could talk to the youth, I could look around and see who’s having fun, and I could get a big picture view of what’s working and what’s not.
By giving myself permission to not feel like I have to be so intimately involved in every detail, I got out of the way and let our leaders lead, let our youth have a great time, and let myself be a better youth minister. I’ll never go back to the old way. In fact, the plan is to find more events and activities and programs to delegate to skilled, passionate, and dedicated leaders.
Youth Ministry can often feel like folks expect you to be a program director for a cruise line. Youth can get that anywhere—that’s not ministry. My job is to help youth discover who and where God is for themselves. My job is to remind youth of their God-given potential. My job is to connect the passions of youth with God’s passions already at work in the world.
Letting go allows that to happen. Our youth are benefitting. Our leaders are empowered. And I have renewed energy, fresh spirit, and a continued love for my job.