Patrick Mahomes is 23 years old, fresh off his first full year as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and is already considered the most feared player in the game. He’s just won the NFL’s 2018/19 Most Valuable Player Award, the youngest to do so since Dan Marino in 1984. His production as a quarterback is record-setting, but it’s his ability to play “off-schedule” that sets him apart. When a play breaks down, Mahomes is at his best.
Here’s an example of what I mean (the victim, in this case, is my favorite team):
Players who can improvise their way out of broken plays, under great pressure, will need more space in their trophy case. And youth ministry leaders who learn to improvise well when things go wrong will bring game-changing impact in their teenagers’ lives. When “the play” breaks down in your ministry…
1. Don’t fight the “broken” moment—find a way to flow with it.
There are no perfect plans in football, or in youth ministry. When the “play” (or the tech, or the Bible study question, or the service experience) breaks down, that’s the moment when the Spirit of Jesus is at his best. The Spirit is the great improviser—with an unmatched ability to take the raw material of “ugly” and make something beautiful out of it. Our challenge is to lean into and trust the Spirit’s guidance, rather then attempting to “muscle through” an unexpected twist. We pause, declare our trust, pounce on the Spirit’s nudge, and take a risk…
2. Coach your players to expect off-schedule plays, and respond quickly.
Patrick Mahomes, as impressive as he is, can’t function “off-schedule” without other players responding to the broken play by supporting his improvisation. When they’re paying attention, they respond with a key block or an altered pass route.
Watch the video linked above again—instead of watching Mahomes, keep your eyes on #10 Tyreek Hill. See how he recognizes a broken play and responds giving his quarterback a chance to complete the pass.
Unplanned and unexpected youth ministry moments transition from disaster to a “win” when your team (student and adult leaders) is trained to recognize what’s happening and adjust what they’re doing to maximize the moment.
Pray for wisdom, prepare a plan, and get ready to execute. That’s a sign of good leader.Click to tweet
A few weeks ago I was helping lead our church’s annual high school winter retreat. We spent hours planning and prepping the weekend, including a detailed and integrated strategy for our “key” growth opportunity—Saturday night. Our planned ministry progression looked like this:
worship ⇨ large group lesson ⇨ small group discussion ⇨ game ⇨ begging kids to go to sleep
During the worship time, several leaders felt the Spirit nudging us to change the plan mid-stream, so we did. Our typical Saturday night retreat agenda was upended by two hours of prayer, confession, and healing. This was not in our game plan, but it’s what everyone needed. That off-schedule night will go down as one of the most memorable ministry moments I’ve ever experienced.
3. Plan your plan, even though you know it could change.
If your favorite football team showed up on game day planning to wing it, they’d be obliterated, no matter how talented they are. Every team must have a well-thought-out game plan, but only the elite teams recognize when it’s time to change the plan, and act quickly and decisively.
Pray for wisdom, prepare a plan, and get ready to execute. That’s a sign of good leader. But a great leader learns to hold that plan loosely, expecting the Spirit to move the group in a different direction whenever that’s best. Off-schedule plays make the highlight reel, because something special happens during them.