Building a healthy youth ministry doesn’t happen in isolation. It requires teamwork! Over the years I’ve learned that within every team there needs to be at least one “Go To” person to help you go further and deeper than you could go on your own. I like to say, “Every leader needs an Abishai.” It’s not a very catchy leadership phrase but it’s crucial to keep moving ahead. Because I’ve been in ministry for many years and in the same church for the last 12, I feel privileged to have more than one Abishai.
Abishai is a biblical character during David’s reign as King. I first became aware of him while reading 2 Samuel (vs. 15ff). In the NLT it says, “David and his men were in the thick of battle, David became weak and exhausted…He [Ishbi-benob] had cornered David and was about to kill him. But Abishai come to his rescue and killed the Philistine.”
Abishai was willing to do some of the dirty work, he was defensive for David, and his actions communicated teamwork and loyalty. He was even loyal to the point of being willing to kill the sleeping Saul (1 Sam. 26:6-9). I love the phrase; “in the thick of battle Abishai came to the rescue.”
I believe every leader needs people around him/her who will play that key role. Leaders need others who can jump in, take the heat, lighten the load and go to battle when it gets tough and when the leader is weak and exhausted (like David was). I have several people in my life who play roles like that—Andy and Linda are two who have been that to me through my ministry efforts at Simply Youth Ministry. Without them I couldn’t lead and create the way I do. If you’ve been helped in anyway through Simply Youth Ministry it’s because I’ve been freed up by “Abishai’s” like Andy and Linda.
As I write this, it’s late at night on the eve before we’re taking a mission trip of high school students to Mexico. It’s the largest mission trip in the history of Saddleback Church (and it’s kids—how great is that?). But, the person who is making this all happen is my friend and colleague Matt McGill. He’s my “Abishai” in youth ministry. When I think of the phrase “I’ve got your back”, I think of Matt. He’s an unbelievable ally. I’ve gone public with the leaders at Saddleback Church and said, “When Matt leaves I have to leave” because I can’t imagine doing ministry without him. I wonder if that’s how David felt about Abishai.
If you’re reading this and are thinking, “Gosh, I don’t have an Abishai in my life” let me encourage you by saying you’re not alone. If you want to last in youth ministry you need to be begging God for people to come alongside you to play that role in your life. Let me give you a couple ideas of how that might happen.
1. Stick around for a while in your ministry.
2. Invest in people’s lives.
When I look at the people who are in “my corner” and those who “go to battle” with me in youth ministry…the thing they have in common is that they’re not strangers. Linda has been working with me for 15 years. Both Andy and Matt grew up in my youth ministry (Matt was a 9th grader in my youth group in 1988). The others that I would term Abishai’s are people who have served in the ministry for a long time with me. As this past Easter marked my 12th year at Saddleback Church I can say with confidence that I’m definitely a more effective leader and minister because of my longevity.
While you’re serving with people, believe in their gifts, value their contribution, do life with them and give them access to your life. During this time there will be occasions when you’ll get to “test” their loyalty. You’ll see how they respond when your back is against the wall and when you’re exhausted (both bi-products of youth ministry). If they come through for you, thank them, point out specifics of how you felt honored that they would “stand with you” and thank God that you may have an Abishai on your team. You’ll be a better leader and your ministry will go to the next level when you go to “battle” with an Abishai.