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The lie about the makeability of youth ministry

I’m a control freak, I admit it. I’m a structured and organized person who tends to plan (way) ahead and I’m big on analyzing processes using the theory of action and reaction and cause and consequences. The often-heard saying ‘stupidity is doing the same things but expecting different results’ is one I wholeheartedly agree with.

Yet I know there are limits to what I can control, especially in youth ministry. I know from experience that no matter how much I want it to be so, youth ministry isn’t makeable. It frustrates me at times, it makes me feel powerless and completely out of control, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The makeability of youth ministry is a lie.

Now, I’m not even sure if this is a correct English word. I’ve sort of translated this literally from the Dutch expression, but it conveys exactly what I want to say. Makeable, makeability, they refer to the thought that we have control over something, that we can shape it and make it exactly how we want it to be. But there’s no makeability in youth ministry, there are no guaranteed ‘results’. Youth ministry isn’t mass product, manufactured in large quantities. It’s a uniquely crafted work of art, individually shaped for each specific youth ministry.

It’s for this reason that I sometimes take issue with some posts, articles and books on youth ministry that follow the format of the ‘golden rule’. Their advice will be something like this:

The surefire way to draw more teens to your youth services

The 5 things you need to do to make your small group grow

3 guaranteed wins for your next youth retreat

The single best way to attract new volunteers

And I admit, I’ve been guilty of using headlines like this. They work well on social media to draw attention to your post, let’s be honest. But deep down, I’m uncomfortable with them.

They assume a makeability of youth ministry.

All this advice, these golden rules, they assume that you can actually make your youth ministry the way you want it to be. And that’s a lie.

Youth ministry isn’t makeable. It’s shapeable for sure, but there’s no way you’ll ever be able to guarantee a certain result. You can apply good advice to your youth ministry of course, you’d be stupid not to, but that doesn’t mean it will work. It can work in a 100 different churches, but that still doesn’t mean it will work in yours.

Your church may be different

Your pastor may be different

Your church culture may be different

Your city may be different

Your ethnic diversity may be different

Your income level may be different

Your history may be different

Your denomination may be different

Your problems may be different

Your social situation may be different

Your leaders may be different

Your schools may be different

Your vision and mission may be different

Your divine plan may be different

Your God is the same, but your youth ministry is absolutely unique. You can’t cut-and-paste techniques, programs, advice, etc from other youth ministries just like that and expect the same results they had.

There is no makeability in youth ministry.

carpenter

We need to grow, to learn and we can surely borrow ideas and programs from others. But we can never assume they will work in our situation, in our circumstances, in our youth ministry. So take the ideas, but shape them and adapt them to fit your needs. Experiment, evaluate and then experiment some more. Stay critical and don’t believe into the lie that there’s one good way of doing small groups, or five techniques to organize a killer youth event.

If you start to adhere to the makeability of youth ministry, you’ll end up disappointed. It will result in you doubting yourself (‘Everyone has success with this, why doesn’t this work here? I must be doing something wrong.’). It will result in you doubting God (‘Everyone has success with this. Why is God with holding His blessing from us?’) It can even result in you doubting your calling (‘Everyone has success with this. Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m just not cut out for youth ministry.’)

Don’t believe into the lie of the makeability of youth ministry.

Believe in the power of God instead who wants to bless your youth ministry, but in His unique way. Believe in the power of your uniqueness as a youth ministry and the specific calling God has placed on your hearts. Believe in yourself, in your calling to youth ministry and trust that God will give you everything you need to do what He asks of you.

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0 thoughts on “The lie about the makeability of youth ministry

  1. Great post. I’ve felt the same exact thing. I’m not naturally a planner like you. I’m more of a cloud thinker, and that has helped me get beyond my frustrations with YM, especially in the sense that the molds must always break when you do the ministry in specific contexts.

    There are some principles (that have nothing to do with programming or events) that are specific needs of all communities.

    (1) Relationships (2) Prayer (3) Grounded in and living out the footpaths of Jesus (4) Opportunities for Discipleship and Mission (5) Care and Counseling (6) Connects/Bridges the Youth Culture to Church Culture and vice versa (7) Incarnational Contact Work (being in the communities you serve)

    You can tailor most things, but some of these core principles done authentically will make a meaningful ministry, and in good connection with allies in the church, and a good communication path to the head pastor – after two to three years of pioneering, the ym tends to begin blooming.

    Just my thoughts.

    1. Wow, that’s a lot in a few words…how did you come up with these 7 principles, I’m guessing you didn’t make these up just for this comment right? 🙂 I do agree with them, though even with these you something run into the issue of makeability. Take relationships for instance, there’s a tension there between relationships as a goal or as a means (and the latter does assume some form of makeability)…

      1. These were off the top of my head thinking over the course of how I’ve worked with youth and seen them grow over the course of the last 12 or so years. I’d be careful about being too cautious about “Makeability” because anything can slide that way. Its like not talking about Metrics and having a strong theology of trusting the Holy Spirit to work, but if you have a sharp decrease in attendance year over year, it might be good to evaluate the reasons and adjust. Or an explosion in attendance in one particular Sunday School class – what’s going on? I could also think of instances where I’ve made trust in the Holy Spirit into a good work and a plan rather than an ethos, and then another time when I accidentally so trusted the Holy Spirit that I did not appropriately plan. There’s a good medium in this whole thing between God’s work and what we’re responsible for ourselves – that’s just good stewardship of what we’re being given.
        But back to the original post – giving guaranteed lists of how to bring about success are a great way to look really inauthentic, and to disappoint people who have totally different contexts as you.

        That being said, there are sure ways to grow a garden and get beautifully grown carrots, potatoes, corn, broccoli, rhubarb or whatever. Different plants can grow in different conditions and an element of success does depend on how wise and responsible the Gardener is. If God is the creator and sustainer of the Garden, and we are the stewards of that Garden – what are some sure principles for growing in the ways of God?

        1. You make some interesting points and to paraphrase you: it’s all about balance. Of course there are tried ‘recipes’ for growth and we shouldn’t ignore these, as long as we keep the balance in mind in which God still gives the growth. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. […] the youth pastors really want the best way to reach their students. But it’s this lie about the makeability of youth ministry that too often keeps us from doing the things that actually do make a […]

  3. I totally agree, and also with Daniel’s list of timeless principles.

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