Last week I was sitting waiting for a student to arrive, so we could go and grab a soda together and catch up on life. I turned on the calculator on my phone and started crunching some numbers. I added up all the hours that I have spent as a volunteer and as a paid Youth Pastor.
To my surprise, that number was over 10,000 hours which if someone was to be in full time youth ministry for 5 years, you too would find yourself with 10,000 hours under your belt. I now recognize that most people reading this spend some of their time at work doing things other than ministering to students, so it might actually require 6-8 years to attain those hours, but still it begs the question:
What do all those hours add up to?
If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” you will discover his theory that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of doing something to be considered a master at it. He looks at those that are highly successful in their field, skill, sport, talent etc and found that those that were at the highest level most shared the commonality of dedicating a minimum of 10,000 hours to their craft.
Many, including myself, would argue that there is no way to master anything related to ministry. We are serving the One who is ultimately in control but I think that after this much time it’s fair to say when I meet others who are the same, are much further in their tenure. We can agree, however, there are some things we are pretty confident about:
1 – Mistakes Happen – I have made tons of mistakes, too many to count and some of them horribly foolish. However, if there is one thing I have learned, it is, to not make the same mistake twice. We owe it to our team, to our students that we never waste the opportunity to learn from something that went totally sideways and also to never willingly do it again. There is forgiveness from parents, Grace from God and understanding that dealing with high schoolers is not predictable in any way shape or form. You will look back and wonder sometimes, “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”
2 – You’ve Seen A Lot – I talked to my leadership team this past weekend about being 10,000 hours in and I said that while I hadn’t seen it ALL there were few scenarios that we hadn’t faced at some point. While each instance in itself has its own unique challenges, I am thankful for all that I have seen because now when a leader comes to me with something that they feel is way over their head, I can reassure them that this is a situation we have dealt with before. That being said, if you are new to ministry, please take the time to find men and women in your area that can help you walk through these challenges, share their mistakes and encourage you when you don’t know what to do. There is so much wisdom out there, you would be crazy to not tap into it and by crazy I mean foolish. (Prov 12:15)
3 – It Just Gets Better – In 10,000 hours you definitely learn to fine tune certain elements and over that time you start to find your strengths, your sweet spots and those areas of ministry that bring you life and others that drain you. When I meet people that have been serving in student ministry long term, they often seem to have a tremendous understanding of themselves in the context of ministry. What I mean by that is that they know where they are uniquely gifted and have built teams around them both paid and unpaid that can support them staying in the strengths and vice versa. While the slug of the early days and finding out all things I was lacking at were difficult, they have made the season I am in now so much better. I know what brings me life in ministry, I see where God has uniquely gifted me and where He hasn’t and I work hard to spend more time in my gifting, finding those that love doing the things I am not strong at.
Am I a master? Far from it. But that can be said for anyone in this field, even those that have been at it for 30,000 hours! With time does come experience and an informed perspective from which to work and that ultimately shapes a leaders reactions to situations and challenges. While I am confident in certain areas, there is one thing I am certain of and that is, that I love serving and leading High School students to Jesus more now than I did on day one.
Here’s to another 10,000 hours.
Geoff Stewart Twitter @geoffcstewart