I’ll never forget my first Boy Scout campout. With every patrol responsible for building its own fire, our beloved Rat Patrol was short one key member: Our patrol leader, 13-year old David Henry.
Now absentee Dave was a scout’s scout, the first scout to have ever earned his Eagle before his 13th birthday. But the rest of us? We were scrubs, mostly Tenderfoots, with one or two who had eeked out the rank of 2nd class. We were a bunch of 11 and 12 year old neophytes in the wilds of a frigid, wet, mid-February campout.
Within the first hour, the other two patrols had fires blazing, with the boys enjoying the comfort and confidence that comes when guys stand around a fire of their own making. We, on the other hand, had plowed through three books of matches and had begun plotting how to steal some of the scoutmaster’s kerosene. By the time we had returned home from those two sub-freezing nights, I had learned a few things that every youth worker should know about fire craft in ministry:
Dave Ain’t Comin’—Though we may have never signed up for the role, every youth worker is expected to be a fire starter. It might be more comfortable to assume that Eagle “Dave” will show up and take care of the fire for us. But Dave’s not coming. When our churches hired us, it was with the expectation that we would build the warm place where kids would gather and begin to know themselves and each other in the light of that fire.
Start a Small Fire First—The Rat Patrol was using the exact same kind of wood that the other guys were using. The big difference was the way we started. We burned up several Sunday papers beneath huge damp logs. And we soon learned that big stuff doesn’t catch fire real quickly. Many youth ministries start out attempting to copy big-log programming from places where fires have been burning for years. They return from inspiring seminars and begin piling huge programmatic logs on their sputtering youth ministry fires, only leaving them shaking their heads and muttering, “Nothing seems to work for us.”
There Is an Answer in the Big Tent—While we stood flatfooted around the icy monument to our own collective failure, none of us, not one of us, brought up the possibility of walking 10 feet to the scoutmaster’s tent to ask for a little fire coaching. We were too busy making commentary about the weather. Too many youth workers assume that their only option is licking their wounds with others floundering firestarters.
We don’t need a Dave to do it for us. We need to take a trip to the big tent every now and then, admit that we’ve got something to learn. The world of youth ministry is filled with veterans who have ignited youth ministries, regardless of the weather. Fire craft is a skill that can be learned, and there’s a good chance that there’s a Dave nearby who would love to teach it.
Mark DeVries is the Director of Fire Craft for Youth Ministry Architects, a consulting team that helps churches build sustainable, deep-impact youth ministries (www.YMArchitects.com).