Yesterday I felt “the turn“. You might call it something else and there might be a better term for it, but it’s that moment in the summer when things turn from the endless days of Summer towards Fall.
For many in youth ministry that turn is felt in the 48 hours when all the Summer programming officially (mercifully) ends and you start getting serious about preparing for Fall Kickoff, curriculum, and programming.
In my house this turn involves our kids starting to think about school, back to school shopping, seeing their friends, and an endless stream of announcements from their schools and programs.
It’s in my garden where I most notice this turn. After a weeks-long heat wave in San Diego yesterday was the first evening where it felt cool enough to enjoy being outside. (As opposed to just going out there and doing what I needed to do and retreating back indoors to the A/C before I melt.) In my vegetable garden the shortening days after Summer solstice started to trigger my early summer veggies to start winding things down, meaning I’m getting less tomatoes and cucumbers, but also late summer plants like watermelon, eggplant, and grape vines are just now starting to take off. In the garden we see a never-ending cycle of new growth, pollination, harvesting, decline, disease, pest management, death, and decomposition resulting in rebirth of the cycle once again.
So it’s from this “turn” in the garden that I wanted to pass along some encouragement to you as you face your own “turn” in the youth ministry calendar.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at a friends church who is right in the middle of a harvest season. They are seeing lots of lives changed, new people coming to church, people getting baptized… everything that gets you excited about being in ministry, right?
The same thing happens in the garden. When you plant a tomato seed, you watch it grow, you care for it as a seedling, you water daily, you prune so it grows up straight, and wait for fruit. It feels like you wait forever sometimes. And finally you get the first tomato of the season. Then you go out there the next day and there are two. Then 7. Then by early July you’re getting 10-12 tomatoes a day.
It’s great. But it’s way too much for you to eat before they go rotten. At one point this summer my wife and I were committed to eating 10 tomatoes a day!
There comes a point in the middle of a season of harvest where you realize that your job as the gardener isn’t just to tend to the garden, it’s also to preserve the harvest. So we make tomato sauce and salsa to enjoy later, like in the winter when tomatoes won’t grow.
The same is true in your youth ministry. Summer is often a season full of fruit. Camps, mission trips, outreach activities, and just plain having fun with students often results in fruit in their lives.
Your task as you make this turn towards Fall is to preserve the Summer harvest. (Our lawyer wants me to clarify: Please do not can, pickle, or freeze teenagers.)
Several of the plants in my garden are currently multiplying. Strawberries are sending out runners to become new strawberry plants. My artichoke is sending out babies everywhere it can reach. We like artichoke but things are getting ridiculous! And the dragonfruit is creating so many branches that I had to cut some off before the whole thing collapsed.
For the gardener this is a signal to multiply. By placing a strawberry runner in a small pot it’ll grow it’s own roots and become a new plant apart from it’s parent. If I clip off a new stem from the artichoke or dragonfruit and plant it, I can actually clone the original plant.
Multiplying actually helps the host plant, too. By clipping off the rooted strawberry runner or cloning an artichoke you’re actually helping both the host plant and propagating new life somewhere else.
The same is true in youth ministry. The goal of your youth ministry can’t simply be a healthy youth ministry, but also to multiply that health throughout your church! Are you clipping off rooter runners? Are you cloning the success in your youth ministry and handing that off to other areas of the church? Success in your ministry can’t just be about your own youth ministry program because that’s ultimately unhealthy for both your students and your ministry, things will get too crowded, instead you should send out the fruit of your ministry to bless other areas of your church, too.
If you have a gardener in your life you know that sometimes they reach a point where they simply have to share their harvest with you. Sometimes we just get more tomatoes than we know what to do with. You can only can so much!
I don’t want you to think that I share stuff because I’ve got a massive garden. I live in San Diego with a standard city lot. My garden is barely 1,000 square feet and yet it produces so much stuff that I’m left with no choice but to share the harvest of fruits, vegetables, and new growth because otherwise I’ll have to put a garden on our roof! (Hmmm, good idea.)
The last task I want to encourage you to do as we make this turn towards Fall programming is to share your summer harvest. Maybe that’s asking for 5 minutes in your worship service to share some stories? Maybe that’s challenging a student who has recently found faith in Jesus to get baptized? Or maybe that’s hosting a gathering specifically designed to celebrate all that God has done in your ministry this summer? The point is to share.
Don’t forget: Preserve. Multiply. Share. Those are good tasks for you as you make the turn from Summer to Fall.