Running the race...at the right pace
Based on much of what I've heard and read in the last year it seems that people in ministry, not just youth ministry either, want to see results yesterday; not today, not tomorrow, and certainly not in a few years. I can't help but see this as completely unhealthy. Whether your building a ministry from the ground up or coming into one that has been around for years, changing the culture takes time; not sprint time either, but marathon time. I've been blessed to be at a church that understands that ministry takes time to change, develop, and become sustainable and I have no pressure put upon me to save every student at the high school this week. Now this is not to say that there aren't expectations, of course there are, but the expectations are healthy ones. Both I and the elder board would love to see every student at the high school saved, but we understand that won't happen overnight, and may well never happen.
I've been here for just over a year now and we've seen our numbers stay consistent and maybe even grow a little bit, but nothing startling or exuberant. But we have begun to change the culture of the youth ministry little by little and we will continue to change it until it becomes a sustainable ministry, one that is built on a firm foundation and will continue on strong, long into the future after I am no longer the youth pastor.
So many youth pastors walk into situations where the church they work at wants them to re-invent the wheel every month and get 200 kids in the youth ministry consistently, all while working for minimum wage on a part time work schedule with no previous ministry experience. Churches across the country are setting up their youth ministries for failure and causing the youth pastors they hire to burn out and in many cases leave the church all together.
Unhealthy expectations lead to unhealthy results, and unfortunately young pastors and students get caught in the cross fire. Churches need to understand that real, sustainable, successful youth ministry takes years to create. Doug Fields is famous for saying during his interview process at Saddleback that it would take him at least 5 years before the youth ministry would begin to show fruit. He understood that the process of doing ministry takes consistency over a long period of time. I'm impressed with Doug for having that point of view and I'm even more impressed that the church said 'OK, you're our guy.' For those of you who don't know, Saddleback has become one of the largest churches in the country and the youth ministry there, HSM, has become a beacon of successful, sustainable, long term youth ministry.
My point in all of this is that in our culture of instant gratification and split second everything, churches need to slow down and realize that like faith, ministry is a long distance race. Sprinting towards an unattainable goal will do nothing but destroy a ministry and those involved with it. Successful ministry is sustainable over a long period of time with a strong vision for the long-term and healthy short term goals, all of course in light of God's word and will.