Tom Pounder blogs every day at Not a Mega Church – a blog that encourages and inspires youth leaders from small to medium-sized churches with practical tools and knowledge to build a ministry that will have a lasting impact on generations to come.
On Tuesday, June 8, Stephen Strasburg pitched his first major league game. Now, if you know nothing about baseball, then the name Stephen Strasburg means nothing to you. But, if you are a baseball or Washington Nationals fan (I am both), then this was a very important day. He has been called the savior of the Nationals, a Phenom, the real deal. If you want to read more about his first performance, you can read columns in the Washington Post by Thomas Boswell here and Mike Wise here.
Has anyone ever described you as a youth minister that way? That you were going to save the youth group? That you are a Phenom? That the students love you and will do anything for you? I bet people have described you that way at some time or another. The problem is that when people (especially people in Church Leadership) describe you this way, they are setting yourself and themselves up for failure. They are putting the weight of the program on just 1 person. They are relying on the Youth Minister to be a superstar and to perform at extraordinary levels constantly.
The reality is there are NO superstar youth ministers out there. As much as I bought into this lie when people kept on telling me how great I was, I realized that being a “superstar” lasts only so long. When your “superstar” aura begins to fade, everyone around you questions even the smallest of things and the Church lose faith in you. People begin to look for the next “superstar” to take your place.
In his book Sustainable Youth Ministry, Mark DeVries talks about the Superstar Youth Minister. He says,
“Too many churches are looking for a dynamic, top-notch, committed, magnetic, relational, creative, organized, theologically informed, twenty-two-year-old who can present powerful, life-changing messages and will gratefully work for $23,000 a year. The excruciatingly exaggerated requirements found in so many of these job descriptions gives evidence of little more than a history of chronic dissatisfacation with those who have gone before”. (Sustainable Youth Ministry, p. 44)
Mark goes on to say,
“Superstar-syndrome churches spend sacrifical amounts of energy on the roller-coaster rid of gambling on the next youth pastor. But ironically, superstar youth ministries come from churches that spend their energy creating a climate and building an infrastructure in which moderately gifted, garden-variety youth directors produce superstar results”. (Sustainable Youth Ministry, p. 50)
The reality is that Youth Ministers do not have to be superstars to produce superstar results. Even though youth ministers may get the credit, we ultimately have to give credit to where credit is due – Christ. When we begin to think we are the star and the reason for the success of a ministry, we take away from what God is clearly doing and blessing and we start to get into some shady waters. Remember, it is God who works in us and among us. We can’t change hearts – the Lord is the only one who can do that. Again, as I mentioned above, when youth ministers get put into the box of being a superstar, failure is bound to happen and often times the end result is not pretty.
Therefore, youth ministers need to protect themselves from the superstar syndrome. Because we should not, and our churches should not expect us to be “Superstar Youth Ministers”, we need to be mindful of a few key points as we take on a youth ministry job or are currently in one.
Use the honeymoon period to your advantage. When you first start off in a new youth ministry job, there is a period of time in which you can do no wrong. Even if you do wrong, there is a ton of grace given by others. Believe me, I know! I probably should have been fired numerous times from mistakes and errors in judgment I made within this “honeymoon” period. Unfortunately, the honeymoon eventually ends and different results are expected then – which is completely right. Therefore, be mindful of this period and use the grace that is extended to you. BUT make sure you have a strategic plan in place so that you are moving the program in the right direction. If you want help on developing a strategic plan, click here and here. By showing the Church leadership you have a plan in place and that you are moving in a certain direction, that will help their fears or concerns they have about a mistake or 10 you made during the honeymoon period.
Stay teachable. There is a difference between confidence and teachability. If you walk into a new job believing you have the right way and everyone else doesn’t, you may be setting yourself up for a major fallout or coup. OR, If you have a current job and you believe that you have the right way and that everyone else has no idea what they are talking, you are entering a dangerous world. I have seen too many youth ministers walk in and alienate all those who would love to help them. They set apart parents, leadership and students who have invested a lot of time and energy into the program by turning aside their opinions and thoughts all because they feel that they have the right way to do ministry. What ends up happening then is that the Church loses faith in the youth minister, attendance drops and before you know it the Church is looking for a new youth minister.
It is our job always to stay teachable! Of all the ministries out there, Youth Ministry probably changes the most rapidly because youth are changing on a daily basis. Therefore, we cannot expect old methods, ideas or programs to work just because they did in the past. We have to continue to learn! Each Church and ministry is different so every youth minister has to adapt and continue to learn the best way to minister in that particular context. Again, if he/she fails to do that, there will be serious fallout. It is just a matter of when. Stay teachable and learn from all people and circumstances. If we take this mentality, we will benefit, the students will benefit and the health of the program will benefit.
Trust and Rely on the Lord always. The reality is that people will always fail you. God never will. When we trust and rely on the words of our bosses, parents, students, spouses and others and rely less on the Truth of the Lord, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. God never promised us that we will ride off into the sunset and as along as we do His will we will live a great life. That is not how it plays out. But too often our trust and reliance on others supersedes Christ in our lives. We need to cling to Christ always. No matter what someone says about you (good or bad), we cannot allow that to replace our reliance and faith in Christ in our lives. We need to cling to Him and His direction always.
For what it’s worth, Stephen Strasburg went on to win his 1st game. He pitched 7 innings, struck out 14 (a team record), allowed just 2 runs and threw 94 pitches. After 1 start, he has lived up to the expectations. What I am curious about is how he handles his next start or even a rough start? Actually, I’m probably more curious as to how the Nationals handle a rough start. Obviously, Strasburg will have a honeymoon period as the people of Washington, DC are just excited to have him on their team. But what happens if he struggles 1 year? Will they want him out? Will they try to trade him? Probably not because in baseball people know it takes time and 1 bad year doesn’t constitute change.
In Youth Ministry, you may get pumped up to be the “superstar” and that you can or have saved the youth program. Do not buy into the lie. Remain grounded in Christ, trusting Him above all thing to guide and direct you. You may have a bad month, semester or even year. Regardless of that, trust in the Lord and allow Him to direct your path and be patient! God will work you through it. It may not be easy, but He will work you through it.