Getting involved with youth ministry (again): The need to be involved at the “frontlines”

A few months ago I served as the director for a video shoot at a large printing company. We were shooting a promotional and the video company was short-handed, so I filled in for the day.  Working with a great videographer (he drove a BMW) and the company owner, I (who drove a rusted-out conversion van) interviewed various people and set up a range of video “B-roll” shots. I was very impressed with the company, but was  most impressed by how competent the owner was at every front-line job at the plant. He knew the in’s and out’s of how each worked, while still recognizing that those who ran the machines knew them even better. They were the ones who dealt with the breakdowns and the particularities of each machine.

That moment challenged me in my own life. How do I stay fresh in my teaching?  How do we who lead have “working knowledge” of what’s happening on our frontlines? In fact, that day reminded me that I just miss being involved in youth work.

There is a subtle snare to leadership and expertise.  If we don’t take corrective steps, it can promote growing entitlement in our lives.  We can easily think the goal of leadership is fame, a TED talk, or a published book when it’s actually leading and working with others. Our stage-driven culture has often confused leadership with celebrity. A visit to a well-run printing company reminded me of that.

Just as an aside:  In church ministry, one troubling trend has been pastors choosing to give up doing hospital visits.  If you’ve ever been in for a hospital stay, you know it’s perhaps the most “perfect” moment for pastors to extend pastoral care to others, to those in their “flock.”  And I think it’s an example of where a different paradigm that has crept into leadership discussions, rather than rich biblical theology, has informed how we lead in the church. But, that’s for later discussions…….

Well, not to say I’m doing things right, but I’m pretty excited today. After a three year hiatus from being involved in a local youth ministry, I’m heading back. I’ve missed it. Can’t stay away.  Tonight I join the high school ministry at my local church. We’re blessed to have a tremendous youth ministry with a great pastoral staff and superb set of veteran volunteers, most of who have been volunteering for 10+ years (this standard makes training go quickly  each year).

You Gotta’ Serve Somewhere

I have an adage that I share with leaders:  You need to serve on the front lines of what you lead.  When I go to a youth ministry seminar or listen to a podcast, I prefer to listen and learn from those who have been there before.  They just teach differently, out of their own passion and experience. The examples are many, rich, and recent. Yet, the rush is on among youth workers to reach the experts’ platform and in that process move away from being involved in day-to-day involvement with teens.

That can be problematic for Christians.  The disciples got caught in that trap and Jesus had to remind them of the childlike faith they needed, that the youngest in a culture can sit on his lap.  Even in the last days of Jesus’ life, He had to teach about and model service while the Twelve spent time arguing who would be greatest.

Bob Goff recently wrote about this on Twitter:

The leadership paradigm today promotes the desire to climb a ladder that pulls us away from service, to stand on a platform and the hope to not have to serve on the “front lines” for the rest of our lives.  That’s the target it seems.  THEN you’ve arrived.

The problem for those of us on platforms is that, over time, to stay current we often have to A) borrow material from others, B) develop practices that may not work in the real world, C) do fresh research, or D) recycle the stuff that work in the 1990s or 1980s. This is the challenge for college professors each year who are tempted to just tweak a syllabus that was in use two decades ago. I could feel it in my own teaching of youth work.

May this year be your freshest yet!  And, may the image of the printing company owner stick with you as you learn from others, seeing the world and their work through their eyes.


  • Aaron Helman

    Thank you for this post, youth pastor Terry!