In honor of everyone else’s brilliance, we thought it might be fun to share the most un-brilliant things we’ve done in youth ministry . We’re limiting the list to 10, but we could easily turn this into a multi-part series. Heck, we might even be able to categorize by the liturgical calendar if we could get organized enough to find a pen.
- Left a student behind. His name was Michael. We really liked him; there have been a few students we wouldn’t have cried over if we left them behind. This event led us to establish the “make sure you have everyone on your list before you drive away” protocol. Best of all, Michael never noticed we were gone, and his dad never found out.
- Left a chaperone behind. His name is David. We really liked him too. We were in Alaska, and he switched vehicles. I thought David was with Steve; Steve thought David was with me. We were both wrong, and it only took us 27 miles to realize it – the distance from Seward, Alaska to the Exit Glacier Nature Center.
- Water ballooned the police car of the town patrolman who was also a deacon. The most beautiful part of this experience is the astounding difference in volume between a water balloon hitting the asphalt and a water balloon hitting the metal roof of a police cruiser. The most ugly part of this experience was the deacon’s meeting the following week. But we’re still not sorry.
- Packed 13 students in a minivan. In our defense, the parents of the students watched us load up the seats, floor, and trunk, and never said anything. We find it particularly ironic that we were heading to a live performance of “Heaven’s Gates – Hell’s Flames.”
- Took students to a live performance of “Heaven’s Gates – Hell’s Flames.” Need we say more?
- Organized a mashed potato wrestling night. This idea seemed great in the planning stages. The “Aha … uh oh” moment happened when two girls volunteered to wrestle, and the looks on the guys’ faces told us we just made every adolescent boy’s dream come true. The silver lining: we originally planned to use Jell-O, but we didn’t have enough refrigerator space to hold enough Jell-O to fill that kiddie pool.
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- Jump off a 30-foot cliff in Puerto Rico with our students. The missionary made it sound so romantic, and the students were super excited. We almost pulled the plug when Nate slipped as he was walking out on the limb of the Ceiba tree and almost fell 12 feet to the “low cliff” shelf below. We did call it quits when Andrew didn’t jump out far enough and ended up with a back full of scratches from the thorn bushes growing into the side of the cliff. (In case I’m not describing this well, Andrew was so close to crashing into the cliff – literally inches – that he felt the flora and fauna growing from the cliff wall.)
- Let the negativity of one parent take away our passion for students. It’s inevitable that as soon as you get back from the most recent life-changing student ministry trip, an angry parent shares their opinion about something that you should have done differently. Fight the urge to focus on the critic’s voice, and instead hear the voice of Jesus telling you, “Great job!” and, “I think fart contests are funny too!”
- Allow our ministry calendar to take priority over our family calendar. We still haven’t figured out the delicate balance of saying no to good things so we can say yes to the best things. We still struggle during busy seasons. And we still pray that we love our kids well so they’ll love Jesus well. You can do it.
- Allow the grind of ministry to create distance between us and God. If we’re teaching in the weekend and midweek gatherings and maybe leading another lesson for children’s ministry, we could be prepping for three messages in one week. Surely that’s enough Bible study, even for a pastor! Don’t make our mistake and substitute lesson preparation for the nurturing of our own souls. That’s the definition of un-brilliant.
What are your most un-brilliant moments? Are you brave enough to share them in the comments below?
What do you think?
– Tim and Tasha
P.S. – Check out Tim’s brand new book for students, 24/7, on living for God in real life!
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32 thoughts on “The 10 Most Un-Brilliant Things We’ve Done in Youth Ministry”
Thanks for the great share. We actually live in the same place. Would love to meet for coffee one day. One of our great miscues was having a fellow YP friend miscommunicate a event date and driving 60 kids, 3 hours (one way) for an event a week too soon. At least they got BK out of it.
Hey Nate. Thanks for replying. I’d love to connect! How can I reach out?
Bummer about the miscommunication … been there myself 🙂 … but BK is not a bad trade-off!
No, I am not brave enough. But let’s say that it is always wiser to stop on the side of the road to exchange items between two vans than to do it while traveling 65 mph side by side on an interstate (even if you DID come up with a clever and successful way to do it).
Judi … wow!!! You’re my new hero! Now I’ve got to know what the item was!?!!
Hopefully it was a student.
Rookie Mistake…. I announced, on a local radio show, our upcoming missions trip. No big deal right? It is when your Sr. Pastor finds out about the trip while listening to the radio in his car.
Scott, my brother … oh my. How did that follow-up conversation with your pastor go?
How about having an all-nighter from a Saturday to Sunday and then having the kids attend church? Not my best moment.
Larry, I literally LOL’d! I have a hard enough time staying awake during “big church” anyway! 🙂
Well I’m not a youth pastor, (in fact I’m your child) but I once decided it would be a great idea to welcome our pastor into a youth group gathering by smearing chocolate pudding on the back of his head… Right before he went on stage to preach, too. That was a classic “oops-sorry-I-almost-got-you-fired-dad” kind of moments.
Elle, that’s hysterical!
Yes, Elle is my daughter. And no, I didn’t get fired. But only because I serve with a pastor that genuinely loves teenagers. Even when they smear chocolate pudding in his hair.
And Elle, you’re still grounded 🙂
Didn’t leave someone behind, however, when we visited an amusement park, after our final check-in time for the day, i reminded students that if they were not on the bus at a particular time they would be left. One student took it a little too literally – walked out of the park not quite remembering where the bus was, saw no bus and started walking. Since this was before every student carried a cell phone, it made for an interest next hour or so, hanging out with park security, checking the inner hiding places of the park, alerting parents, and police. He was eventually found on foot a few miles from the park.
Scott, that’s crazy! I can’t imagine making that call to mom and dad …
By the way, thanks for reminding us how much fun youth ministry is!
Right on Scott. It’s easy to forget sometimes isn’t it … but we have the best job in the world!
Is it bad that I was there for number 4? Good thing I was the coordinator and not the pastor 🙂
Dustin, if I remember correctly, I was adamantly against this egregious act of recklessness, but YOU said it would be OK.
At least that’s what I told the parents 😉
Man I sure hope the second part of #3 is true. Every trip we have has a moment (correction….extended time lapse) of breaking wind and comparisons.
Chris, I hear you. It doesn’t matter who’s there or where we’re going … flatulence is a constant in student ministry!
We took our youth to Nashville (husband is their youth pastor) to see Winter Jam. When heading to the arena a lot of the roads were closed or had signs that read “objects falling” or “enter at risk, major construction ahead.” After about 8 roads of not being able to turn but being able to see the arena, I pulled into a parking lot to get regrouped and figure how to get over there. We were in two separate vehicles. High schoolers in mine and middle schoolers (conveniently all boys) in his. As he pulled up to the side of my van and I rolled down the window to tell him how to get there, he stops me and yells “CAN WE PLEASE NOT HAVE THIS CONVERSATION HERE?” And points to the building that the parking lot is used for. I had pulled into a Gentlemans Strip club! I wanted to die then and there! I have never been one to get embarrassed but I certainly was that day!!! Explaining to the parents why their kids went to the strip club was the topic of conversation at church the next morning! Pretty sure that’s the biggest fail ever!
Jackie, that’s hilarious! Your students will forever credit you for introducing them to burlesque! 🙂
Um? Yeah? Fire drill at a traffic light gone wrong (I was the drive and the youth pastor). I thought the last kid stayed on the bus. Let’s just say he was a little “bigger” and a tad slower than the rest of the group. The rest of the group had darted out the side door, sprinted around the van at the red light and hopped back in the van before the green light. The light turned green and I began to drive. Un fortunately that was the same moment the bigger kid rounded the corner at the front of the van, which resulted in an awkward 5 mph human meets the front bumper experience. Let’s just say that was the LAST stop light fire drill EVER allowed by me in 15 more years of student ministry.
Oh my. That must have been a tough one to recover from. Lesson learned: if you’re going to do a red light fire drill, put the slower kids up front!
While giving a thanksgiving message on a Wednesday night, with elders, deacons, preschool kids, 80 year old women. I was talking about being thankful for what we have. What I meant to say was “I like Playstations and Gameboys.” What came out of my mouth was “I like Gamestations and Playboys.” That is a hard one to recover from.
Paul, Paul, Paul … dude. I don’t know how you finished teaching that one! If you haven’t seen it, do a web search for “blake’s big mistake” – it might make you feel better 🙂
We accidentally took our entire Youth group to a clothing optional beach. It was not pretty.
2nd worst. We were not informed of a venue change for an event. We drove 1.5 hours to the wrong city the wrong direction. When we learned we were in the wrong place we drove back at a rather consistent 120+ miles an hour to make the event. Shhh. Don’t tell.
Al, the 2nd worst pales in comparison to the first. I bet your kids were wondering, “why is our dress code so strict?!??”
Returning home from a concert with a few students. It was after 1:00am by the time I only had one student left. I remember getting on the highway (read over 35mph road), and I remember getting to the teen’s driveway. In between, I don’t know how I got there. I just know I had trouble keeping my eyes open. Thankfully there weren’t a whole lot of vehicles on the road that night. I never have been much for late night events.
Hey Paul. Thanks for the comment. I hate to say it bro, but you – like me – are getting old 🙂 I used to LOVE lock-ins. Now I want to do a 30 hour fast from anything that goes past 11PM!?!! That’s why we have to train and empower our HS graduates … so they’ll come back and do all the late-night stuff so us old codgers can go to bed!
I did that “balloon stomp” game in a public school. After 4-5 balloons popped and administration people came running out of the office giving me the stink eye…I realized gun shots and balloons popping in a school hallway might sound a LOT alike…game magically ended soon there afterwards…haven’t done it since
Ha! Kyle, you know how make an impression! Thanks for sharing your story!