Years ago, I made amazing youth ministry calendars. Jealous?
Between finding the right fonts and Photoshopping students into clever clip-art, each calendar took about 10 hours to create. My hope was that if one of our students accidentally dropped the calendar at school (because what student wouldn’t carry around such an amazing calendar?), someone would pick it up and be so inspired that he or she would show up that very week to youth group and get saved. (I only wish I were making this up.)
One day I realized those 10 hours was time I could’ve spent more productively and relationally with students. Does that hit home with you? What “amazing” things in your ministry or life are really distractions?
Sometimes distractions come from people around you. Church leaders may insist that your primary role is to improve the ministry’s attendance numbers. Parents might tell you to invest in their kids instead of others. Students may feel let down when you don’t meet all their expectations. Your family might complain they’re getting scraps of your time.
These pressures to disconnect us with “lesser things” are like a professional basketball player being distracted at the free throw line for a game-winning shot. Like such athletes, we can mentally unplug to review who we are, why we’re in this field, and what the basic mechanics of “winning” actually look like. Such perspective reminds us of all the greater good Jesus says we’re capable of through him.
How can you unplug from what keeps you disconnected?
Here are some inventive ways to respond to the epidemic of distraction in our culture and minds:
Try a week of something radical.
The Today Show partnered with a teacher to dare some 10th graders to give up their phones for a week. As expected, this felt impossible for the first couple of days. But by the end of the challenge, students said they felt “more present” and “more engaged” in life.
Consider what a similar experiment might look like in your ministry. What would be helpful for you to give up for a week (or longer) in order to get back to what really matters? If you’re stumped, chances are that someone near you knows the answer. Invite Jesus to speak through their observations.
Invert your pet peeves.
Am I the only youth worker who gets frustrated when students grab a microphone before or after a program and start singing loudly into the sound system? I used to just mute the noise, but recently I heard the Holy Spirit tell me to wait. A few moments later, one of our extroverts rallied some of her normally less-than-enthusiastic friends to join her onstage. Now every week they sing together before the program, and it’s a win. Whether or not these kids become our next worship team, we have a weekly tradition to look forward to. How can you invert what’s driving you crazy?
Reclaim face-to-face community.
Once upon a time, people sought community across the table from each other or in a group setting. These days, churches and youth groups are taking a hit as social media lets people feel connected online. In our attempt to be good missionaries in this electronic culture, we’ve engaged students through those methods.
What if, for a season, we minimized our electronic replies and drifted back to phone calls and hanging out in person? Perhaps it’s simply a matter of not automatically hitting “reply.”
I’m inspired by a youth worker friend who set up a weekly open-invite at a local restaurant. She’s there at regular times so students, parents, and leaders can pop in to just hang out and talk. Ironically, students use a hashtag to post pictures on social media of these gatherings!
Elevate the Bible again.
Like you, I have favorite podcasts and websites I visit daily. Over time, they can begin to crowd out my time in the Bible. Everyone around you wants you to be a certain type of youth worker, but Jesus invites you to be only one person. Only he can tell you who that is, and only he can help you sort out your burdens. So circle back to letting the Bible be the core way you spend time with the Lord. Many great resources are available to help.
Like a distracted basketball player or those students on the Today Show, how open are we to the radical challenge of unplugging from distractions?
Where are you on this journey? In what areas is Jesus trying to get your attention? Do you have any tips to share?