This spring, I ran my first marathon. Going in, the endeavor was about realizing a dream and proving to myself that I could do it. However, along the way, I experienced countless other benefits. I got into shape (just in time for summer), I made new friends, I enjoyed hours of quiet reflection on my life, and I learned some valuable lessons about life and ministry. In short, it became a truly life-changing experience.
Of all the life-changing lessons I learned, perhaps the most significant was the importance of competing less and encouraging more. Marathon runners are notorious for offering encouragement to one another. They understand an important race principle: there is room at the finish line for all of us. It isn’t all about winning or losing, it’s about the experience and being in it together. As a result, the entire 26.2 mile race was filled with encouragement from bystanders and competitors completely committed to helping the other racers finish strong.
Those of us in youth ministry can learn a lot from marathon runners. Admittedly, I have spent many of my years in ministry competing against fellow youth ministers rather than encouraging them in the journey. It was more important for me to have trendier worship, better events, cooler excursions, more strategic programs, and most importantly, bigger numbers. Looking back, I owe them all an apology. I wish I had competed less and encouraged more.
I have come to realize that the mindset of competition is based on a faulty premise. It assumes that there a finite size pie — that one more student in your youth ministry equals one less student in mine. But quite frankly, this thinking is incorrect. The size of the pie is not finite.
In reality, the pie keeps expanding and growing. In fact, more students in the youth ministry down the road can actually mean a better chance of more students in my ministry! Think of it this way: 100 sold-out Christ-followers on a high school campus are going to have a far greater impact than 20. They are going to reach a proportionally higher number of students. The pie will grow faster with more and more students involved in both ministries. A healthy, vibrant youth ministry down the road can actually mean more students in their ministry and more students in mine. This is a life-changing revelation! Simply put, there is room in the kingdom for all of us. Imagine how fast the kingdom would grow if we as youth leaders learned to encourage more and compete less.
To put this into practice in your area, try some of these practical, mind-set changing ideas to encourage other youth ministries:
- Pray for other ministries as a regular part of your youth ministry programs.
- Refuse to speak negatively of other youth ministries (publicly or privately).
- Send youth to other ministries if it’s a better fit due to size, philosophy, or theology.
- Offer encouragement and prayer to area youth leaders.
- Promote other youth ministry’s events to your students.
- Ask local youth parachurch organizations how you can come alongside them to help.
- Share your golden ideas with other leaders — especially if they can pull it off better.
- Attend your local youth ministerium and promote a “teammate mentality.”
The kingdom of God has always been big enough for all of us. I just wish it hadn’t taken a 4