a former coaching program participant called the other day with frustration about how his regular youth ministry retreats have become program-focused, ends unto themselves (“just offer a programmed retreat and that’s a win”). he was wondering about scrapping them.
but good change rarely involves throwing the baby out with the bathwater. sometimes programs need to be shut down; but often they simply need to be retooled and revisioned.
this youth worker had done major work with a team to discern their ministry values. so my input was: strip away all assumptions about what a retreat is (not easy when you’ve done it the same way for many years). then, with your ministry values in front of you, build a retreat that optimizes the rocket fuel of time away together as a means of fully embodying your ministry values.
programs are just programs, not evil but not the goal. the question is: how can we more fully lean into our values?
Here’s a little test I’ve developed for determining real ministry values: resource allocation reveals values. So, your church might say, “we have a high value on our youth worker building meaningful relationships with teenagers.” But if your resources of time, money, energy, focus, creativity, people and space are dominantly used for prop up a Christian-y social club for teenagers with the measuring stick of how many are coming, or how many don’t leave and not return, then that value is suspicious. If you say, “I value fostering a community of safety and trust, where teenagers and express and process doubts,” but you spend the bulk of your time and energy planning programs…well…you get the point.
shawn kiger is one of my heros. he’s been the youth pastor at the same small church (in a small town) for something like 14 years. and he has zero “aspiration” to move on to something “bigger or better.” shawn’s humble tenacity has resulted in all sorts of beautiful strength, both in his own life, and in the congregation where he serves (a congregation which, since he’s been there so long, is very much his church, not just the place he’s employed). there’s a certain grounded influence one can only have when one knew almost all the teenagers in the youth group from the day they were born.
but shawn is not coasting. he’s a learner, and seeks growth in his life and church and ministry. he proved that by jumping into the year-long process of the youth ministry coaching program. and, recently, he posted on his church’s blog about one aspect of his year in YMCP — the development of vocational values. i loved his post, and thought i would share it as a great case study (btw: shawn’s the bald guy off my right shoulder in this pic of his YMCP cohort – click the photo for a larger view):
From September 2011 through August of this year I was involved in a Youth Ministry Coaching Program. This cohort was made up of 10 youth pastors from all over the country and our leader Mark Oestreicher. We met every other month for two days in Nashville. In the off months there was homework to do, books to read, and a coaching call from our leader. This program is what they call whole-life coaching which means that we not only worked on our youth ministry knowledge, but also on ourselves. This program was hands down the best training I have ever attended and well worth the time and effort that I had to put into the last year.
One of the main things we talked about over the past year was values. What are the values that we live by in our own lives and what values are leading our ministry. This is something we don’t think about very much. We usually lead our lives and our ministries by what we think is right. Most of the time we never take the time to actually sit down and think about why we do the things we do. That was one of the great things about this coaching program. We were given time to think about what is most important to us and how we live that out both in our personal lives and in our ministries. The rationale behind taking this time to do this is so that we have a clear picture of where we want to go and how we are going to get there. The following are my personal vocational goals I came up with for myself.
- Family time is essential to my well-being. Meaningful time with my family gives me life to accomplish everything else.
- The church is essential to our faith. I believe God created the church to help us grow and live out our faith. I want to help the church live up to that.
- God has called us to love others and to serve with the poor. I believe Jesus showed us how to love others. We need to stop talking about it and start doing it.
- Personal growth and change is required to be who God called me to be. Learning new things and trying new things is the best way for me to reach teenagers for Christ.
- Becoming a disciple of Jesus takes a discipline life. Daily God calls me to learn more about Him and to come closer to following Jesus’ example.
These 5 values are what make me tick. If I live these out, I believe I will be living what God has called me to be. Now I don’t always do all of these very well and never do all 5 of these perfect at the same time. But by having these written out, I can see where I am giving too much attention to one and leaving out another and then make changes to correct that.
shawn used this post to announce that he’s launching the process of collaboratively discerning the values of their youth ministry, and to enlist the church in praying for that process. really good stuff. shawn’s values — and eventually, the ministry’s values — act as rudders. for all of us, spiritually discerned values function as rudders that steer our little dinghys through the choppy waters of change.