5 Keys to Healthy Youth Ministry Networks
There is a phrase that gets a bad wrap and that is being a Lone Ranger. We equate being a Lone Ranger with going it alone. But we forget that the Lone Ranger had Tonto and wasn’t really all that alone. But it does bring up a valid argument. You cannot do youth ministry alone. You can try, but eventually you will most likely burn out.
Recently, I embarked on a very interesting new journey. You see when I started at my church I started meeting with the youth ministry network that was part of the larger city that I live near. These guys were great and had been meeting together for some time and really had it together, but something was missing. I just didn’t feel like I fit in. It dawned on me one day, the difference between us is our contexts for ministry. They dealt with students who were more urban and suburban by nature. My kids, even the ones that live geographically in the suburbs, act more rural.
This set about a new journey. I contacted National Network of Youth Ministries and started working with my friends Randy Davis and Brent Lacy to get the basics of how to start a network, in our more rural area which was a little closer to home. I contacted the other youth ministers in our area and we got the ball rolling. I cannot tell you how encouraged and blessed I feel to be meeting with this awesome group of youth ministry rockstar men and women.
Flash forward to Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers’ Conference (NYWC) in Louisville, KY. I am a member of the “In the Trenches Team” (IT3) for Group’s Simply Youth Ministry. We are a group of youth ministers who are the in-the-trenches voice for Group Magazine, Simply Youth Ministry Conference, and Simply Youth Ministry’s resources; but it is also so much more.
This group has formed a bond on social media that is unlike anything I have ever been a part of. We laugh. We cry. We pray. We share our deepest ministry hopes and hurts with each other. It just so happens at NYWC this year, there was a strong contingent of IT3ers there. As soon as I cleared the door to the convention center, I was met with a hug by two of my IT3 brothers. We had a blast hanging out and encouraging each other.
We are better together. We bear each other’s loads, care for each other, and pick each other up when the times get rough. So, what are some traits of a great healthy network, whether on social media or in your local context?
Ahh. The number one Sunday School answer. But it is the truth! If you are ever part of a network that doesn’t pray together, you are missing out. There is something about going to God in prayer for other soldiers who are in the trenches of youth ministry with you. You know you have their backs, and they have yours.
Your network should be encouraging you. It shouldn’t be a competition, and you should never discuss numbers. You should be talking up your fellow youth workers. Even if you don’t agree theologically or you don’t like the way they run a certain program, you should always be encouraging and talk them up.
You should all share a common vision. If you are doing events together, you want to make sure you are all on the same page. Our network shares a vision that our kids should never feel alone in their school system and they should all unite under the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. Your shared vision might be that together we can make more of an impact in our community by serving together. Or our kids will grow more spiritually mature by study together in like a DNow setting. Or our kids will get closer to God as we worship together. What ever your shared vision is, it will be the bond that unites your group.
Every church represented in your network should have a voice. Whether big or small. Whether the youth worker is volunteer, part-time, or full time. Whether the youth worker is a rookie or a veteran. Whether your church bank rolls the network or not. Every member should have a voice and that voice should be respected. The workload for events should be split evenly over the churches. No one church should ever host all the events. In our network we have a policy that if your church hosts the event you cannot speak at the event. That way it keeps it from feeling like we are just going to youth group at so and so’s church. I recently had the privilege of speaking at our first network worship night. It was hosted by another church, other youth workers read scripture and prayed, the host churches praise band played and I was the speaker. It was an awesome night of balanced fellowship.
This is a last, but certainly not least aspect of healthy youth ministry networks. I’ve really been getting into the Jesus-centered philosophy spearheaded by Rick Lawrence in his book, Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry. For your network to be a healthy representation of the students in your area and the local school system; you must have multiple denominations represented. Along with that, this means each church represented will be bringing in differing theologies and doctrines. THIS IS OK! Just keep the main thing, the main thing! One thing we agreed on in our network is you check your theological and doctrinal baggage at the door. It doesn’t matter in our network if you’re Methodist or Baptist, Calvinist or Non-Calvinist, or if you prefer Red’s Doughnuts (local brand) or Dunkin’ Donuts. We are a network who is Jesus-centered. We keep Christ who should be the focus and the centerpiece of our faith, the main focus of our meetings and events.
If you don’t have a youth ministry network in your area and are interested in finding one or starting one please contact National Network of Youth Ministries at youthworkers.net. They will be glad to assist you in getting connected. Until next time!