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.
is there any sense where you could honestly describe your ministry as “a place of rest”?
so often, our youth ministries are more accurately considered “places of expectations” or “places of busy-ness”. but what a great gift you give your students when you make your youth ministry (at least sometimes) a “place of rest”!
this isn’t about offering nap time! it’s about creating a safe place for teenagers to let down their guard and relax. it’s about fostering an environment that isn’t always about being busy. it’s about holding up slowness and rest and quiet as powerful spiritual values with huge results in our lives.
this is counter-cultural stuff in most of our churches, where we’ve bought into the cultural value (this isn’t from scripture!) of busy-ness being spiritual. how many times have you heard someone in the church talk about how busy they are, because of their ministry involvements, with the implication that this is a good thing? i don’t think jesus thinks over-commitment and busy-ness are good things. in fact, jesus seems to think just the opposite! slow down. teach your students how to slow down. learn to live in the (initially awkward) space of quiet, and make that a regular part of your youth ministry. sure, it’s great to play hard, have feisty discussions, and be involved in a passionate pursuit of serving others. but teaching about and providing a space for rest is equally important!