Most youth directors I have met are frustrated…
…frustrated that their churches seem stuck in “the way it’s always been done,”
…frustrated that the wheels of the church grind so slowly forward,
…frustrated about feeling stuck, powerless to bring about any real change.
But the few youth leaders I’ve met who know how to catalyze and navigate strategic change tend to have one odd quality in common: They are readers.
I know what you’re thinking: “Readers? I was hoping for something practical.”
The truth is that, in the long run, if not the short, there are few things more “practical” for youth workers than developing the habit of reading. I love the way Socrates put it:
Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.
I learned a long time ago that I simply don’t have enough years to make all the mistakes myself. If I want to accelerate my effectiveness, there is really only one way of doing it: finding mentors. And though I am a great proponent of finding face-to-face mentors, I am convinced that our most accessible mentors are often the writers whose works are easily at our fingertips.
Imagine how our ministries (and our souls) could be enhanced by having regular one-on-one conversations with the likes of C.S. Lewis, Mike Yaconelli, or Henri Nouwen. We don’t have to imagine. Their books make it possible.
So how do overwhelmed, overworked youth workers find time to read the kind of books that can equip us as agents of transformation?
1. They Create Reading Zones—For some readers, the reading zone is just before bed; for others, it’s the bathtub; and still others find that some resources (like Group Magazine, for example) are perfectly formatted for periodic potty reading. Readers read in the long lines at the airport and the grocery store, on the airplane or in the waiting room.
2. They Read Old Before New—If we want to be thoughtful, creative problem-solvers in ministry, we will need more than the latest collection of youth ministry books and articles. C.S. Lewis said,
The only safety is to have a standard of plain…Christianity…which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read and old one in between (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, p. 201-202).
3. They Are Relentless About Learning—I learned recently that the average person listed in Who’s Who reads 20 books a year. These are change agents in all kinds of work, people who simply refuse to stop learning. They use their cars as mobile universities, finding time to listen to books they might never have time to read.
Effective, sustainable youth ministry requires leaders with a surprisingly complex and demanding set of skills. Apart from the people we meet and the books we read, we will be no more equipped ten years from now to do this ministry than we are today.
Mark DeVries is a youth pastor and founder of Youth Ministry Architects, a youth ministry coaching service that works with individual churches to establish sustainable, deep-impact youth ministries (www.ymarchitects.com).