the two things that trump best practices every time

i was on the phone the other day with a youth worker asking for input on “where should 6th grade go” question, and a bunch of ancillary questions flowing out of that first one.

after asking a handful of contextual questions, and listening for a while, i responded something like this:

i have two responses for you. one is the BIG DEAL answer. the other is the less of a big deal answer.

anytime someone asks me a question like this — whether it’s this exact question or one like it — my first response, and the very best response, is: the correct direction for your youth ministry, the best strategy, the best mission and values, the best program is always the one that you collaboratively discern from god.

in other words: who cares what smart answer i could give you about best practices, if the best practices i suggest to you — even if they really are best practices, tried and true, tested and proven by dozens or hundreds of churches — are not what god has planned for your youth ministry?

god is actively working in the world, and not sitting around waiting for you to figure out how to most effectively copy what that other church is doing so you can “bring god” to your community. so even when it comes to a seemingly mundane question like “what should we do with 6th grade?” the best answer is always “whatever god wants us to do with 6th grade.”

that’s the BIG DEAL answer.

after that — and still well before an “answer” rooted in best practices — is the less of a big deal answer:

what is called for in your community? what’s contextually appropriate?

for example: with the “what to do with 6th grade” question, if the BIG DEAL question doesn’t give you enough guidance, then ask yourself what the local schools do with 6th grade? it’s likely that the best contextual answer is there, in that.

seriously: once you’ve looked for the BIG DEAL answer and the less of a big deal answer, there’s not as much left for your brilliant brainstorming and planning and best practicing.

6 thoughts on “the two things that trump best practices every time”

  1. It is interesting that you post this because we are looking into moving the 6th graders up into youth group in June. Our schools do not have 6th grade included in our junior schools, which are 7th & 8th. Our elementary schools are divided into K-2nd and then 3rd-6th. So we have stuck with how the schools have it laid out.

    However, what is leading us to doing this is because our youth group divides 7th-8th and 9th-12th, so our junior high department only gets two years to impact their lives and then they are gone. In our kid’s ministry they divide them 1st-4th and 5th-6th. We are noticing that there seems to be a huge gap between those 5th and 6th graders, which seems odd since they are only a year apart. We really feel that the 6th graders would be better served by moving up into our youth program and then the kid’s ministry program could switch to 1st-3rd and 4th-5th.

    Both myself and our church’s kids ministry director think this is a good idea for our programs and more importantly the people in our programs. I will have to say that this is something that I have personally been praying about for almost a year before I said anything to our kids ministry director or lead pastor, and once I said something they both have resonated with the idea and feel that it would be a good move.

    It is good to have that reminder that the most important thing is the prayer going into it and seeking what God wants. Because we can have all the logical reasons in the world, but if God is not behind it then it is not a good move.

  2. Nailed it. :) But…
    We should be careful how we interpret the statement “if the big deal answer doesn’t give you enough guidance”. IF God doesn’t give us ENOUGH guidance? God always gives us enough guidance. It’s just that sometimes he speaks THROUGH the context. …Or we’re not listening, but that’s another post, huh? :)
    (Sorry for the caps. I swear I’m not yelling! Lol!)

  3. yeah, that’s a good and fair clarification, bethany. yes, sometimes we’re not listening well. and sometimes god is silent. i also made this sound more linear than it usually is, as if we try the discernment route until we’ve exhausted it, then move on to context. they are much more of a beautiful mix. it’s just that the first is a higher priority than the 2nd, so if the discernment and the context don’t seem congruent, discernment wins.

  4. Marko….
    Sshhhh…..(in my whispering voice) If everybody starts listening to God, folks like us won’t need to write any more books.

    That was partly a joke and partly totally serious. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we really began to operate under the assumption that what is best in our context, for our group, is whatever works for us as God directs.

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