About a month ago I was talking with a friend about something that had absolutely nothing to do with youth ministry. He had been in charge of taking an old room in our church and transforming it into our new coffee bar. Not an easy task to be sure, something I understood as I helped with some of the framing of walls, installing the new floor, etc. But, this conversation was taking place near the end of the project, and when I asked him how it was going his response was ‘the death is in the details’.
I instantly understood what he meant; when the project started there was demo, new walls framed, new flooring, just a lot of change really quickly. It was obvious to even the untrained eye, something was happening and it was exciting! But then comes the tedious details; paint touch ups, vending machines, furniture, espresso machines, flavoring choices, competing coffee suppliers, paper or plastic cups, gold or silver door handles, how to con people into working the machine, forcing the volunteers by gun point to get trained on the machine they were conned into running…; all of the details no one thinks about until they don’t happen and need someone to blame.
The more I thought about this conversation, the more I realized it had everything to do with youth ministry. That can be a very accurate description of many age old youth ministry dilemmas and questions. The tedious details are the difference between a successful event and a mistake you won’t do next year. The tedious details of preparation are the difference between a good message and one that makes students want to switch churches. The answer to the question of ‘what do you do all day?’ is ‘I take care of all the tedious details that make this ministry happen’.
Since taking care of the details is the primary job description of a youth worker, how do you make sure those details don’t become the death of you? Here are a few things I came up with.
- Being purpose driven ensures the time spent on details is worth while
I hope you have done it too – taken someone’s great idea, spend tons of time and resources on it, and then realize afterward there was no real purpose or benefit to the event. I know I have. But by evaluating ideas by the purposes and your vision it gives you the right reason to say no to a good idea and ensures your time and resources will mean something in the big picture.
- Prioritize and complete the major details first, then move to minor ones if time
For a retreat: menu and shopping list – major, games to play while ice skating – minor. For a worship service: Bible message – major, funny videos to play while people arrive – minor. At some time I know we have all spent too much time on minor things at the expense of a major aspect just sliding by. And the minor things are typically the more fun details to take care of. But, if a major thing is overlooked, the minor things don’t matter anymore.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate
This one is hard for me, am I alone in this? The old adage ‘if you want it done right then do it yourself’ will burn out a youth worker faster than you can say chubby bunny! It is hard to let go, but if I don’t watch it I find myself filling my entire day doing stuff a youth leader could do, or a parent, or a student, or even the senior pastor’s secretary! My real job is to manage these people and enable them to take care of the details, and spend my time doing what only I can do.
- Take advantage of available resources
People like Doug Fields (Simply Youth Ministry) and Mike Yaconelli (Youth Specialties) and many others have spent their lifetimes coming up with great stuff, and they even let you take advantage of their hard work (for a small fee right Doug!). So don’t feel like you have to re-invent the wheel every week. Your church expects you to rise up teenagers to be devoted Christ followers, not write original curriculum for every program you run. If you are at a church that expects that, start seeking God for a new church.
- Maintain balance in your life
If the details of your message come before your personal devotions or buying game supplies keeps you from attending your son’s baseball game then you are flirting with disaster. I am writing this from a hospital room as my one day old son and my wife are sleeping, but I would never miss this for any kind of youth event or forgotten detail. These are times you can never get back. No job or career opportunity is worth missing things like this. And since God is supposed to be the #1 relationship in your life, it goes without saying you should not be skipping that either for a job.
Those are just a few things I came up with. I am sure there are more; I encourage you to think of the ones that you struggle with the most. The whole point here is to be as healthy as we can be and do the best job we can do for the God we love and the students we like.