It’s one of my favorite lines from Disney’s underrated 2000 movie The Kid, starring a Bruce Willis so young he still has hair. In the film, Willis’ arrogant and successful Russ Duritz has a mystical encounter with his pudgy, awkward 8-year old self. He quickly remembers what he hates about his younger self, the nose-picking little “Rusty.” But the “me I hate” forces Russ to come to terms with his childhood wounds—the scars he’s tried to camouflage with arrogance and professional success. He pushes away everyone who matters to him. But in a stunning twist, “big Russ” raises his fist and trumpets to the sky: “I AM NOT A LOOOOSERRR!!”
Maybe we need a similar catharsis—especially if you, like me, sometimes feel like a youth ministry loser…
I choose to maximize the small role I play; I don’t confuse small responsibilities for small contributions. I bring my A-game to all things smallClick to tweet
Not long ago I helped with our annual youth ministry Fall Kickoff event as I do each year. When I say helped, I mean, I showed up—I made ice for snow cones, picked up trash, and helped clean up after the event. During the year I co-lead a middle school campus club and serve on our middle school ministry team. And I show up for our midweek youth service when I’m not leading another ministry on Wednesday evenings or knee-deep in a college class. That’s it… I’m no longer the volunteer leader in charge of our middle-school connect group; I’ve scaled back over the last two years to accommodate new challenges in my “day job” and a decision to pursue a Master’s degree.
I don’t sit in youth ministry staff meetings, help plan events, map out teaching series, or anything. And because of that, I sometimes feel like a loser—an uncommitted slouch. It’s a false and destructive narrative that hooks me because there’s an element of truth to it. After all, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt 9:37). I feel like I’ve left the company of the “few”… I need the Holy Spirit to beat back this destructive narrative (and, by the way, defeating destructive narratives in teenagers is a major focus in Group’s Youth Ministry Local Training this fall—please check out a location near you.)
During this scaled-back season of youth ministry, I’m fighting back by embracing Mother Teresa’s iconic motto: “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” And so I choose to maximize the small role I play; I don’t confuse small responsibilities for small contributions. I bring my A-game to all things small:
- Since I work at my church (in a non-youth ministry role), I print copies for team members who are taking their turn leading the teaching. That’s especially helpful to those who work nine-to-five in the marketplace and have the integrity to not use their company’s copier. In your environment, you could also offer to pick up needed supplies for this week’s lesson, or to run errands for the youth director to save him or her time. Sure, they may get “paid” to do that, but trust me, I see ALL the things they get paid to do. Running errands for them would be a huge blessing.
- I proofread, reformat, and edit printed materials for my fellow youth leaders. Our less-experienced leaders appreciate help when they write small-group discussions. And if you’re a crafty person, you can DIY a prop or a costume or a visual for the lesson.
- My youth pastor trusts my opinion and frugality, so when I find great youth ministry resources, I take the time to send the link his way or purchase them (and get reimbursed).
- I coach and encourage newer youth leaders. My role isn’t big, but to a younger leader, my voice of experience is a big deal. The other day I told one of our newbies that I saw her getting braver every week. I smiled as I watched her face change from scrunchy-raised eyebrows to the grateful acknowledgment of the truth. Shoot a text or note in the mail to another youth leader, describing what you notice about their growth as a leader.
- Now and then, I poke my head in my youth pastor’s office and we brainstorm. I also thank, encourage, and pray for my youth pastor. You can do any of that in some form.
Like me, you may not feel like you’re doing much to maximize your ministry’s fall momentum. But maybe you, like me, can use what little time and capacity you have to make a big difference. Do small things with great passion.