I don’t have cable.

It’s something my wife and I decided we’d do without over 5 years ago. Now, before you vote me into sainthood you should know that I do subscribe to Hulu. And recently I’ve binged on several episodes of “Kitchen Nightmares” with that British chef Gordon Ramsay. You know what I noticed after several episodes? This show makes me want to do everything in ministry with excellence. Weird, right?

But I’ve noticed some other stuff, too. In case you’ve never seen the show “Kitchen Nightmares”, let me give you the synopsis: there’s a restaurant somewhere that’s teetering on the verge of complete breakdown and shutdown because they can’t seem to get their act together. Chef Ramsay comes in, insults their food, tells them they’re horrible, tells them truth about their restaurant and how to change it, and helps them restart. Usually to amazing results.

I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my years of ministry and if this show is about nothing else, it’s about mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

And I’ve watched enough episodes of this delightfully tense show to have noticed 3 common problems present in every one of the restaurants without exception. And this is the part where I tell you how they relate to ministry and what you and I can learn from them.

#1: Denial
In nearly every show I’ve watched there is someone in charge (it’s usually the owner and/or head chef) who’s in complete denial about the quality of the food they’re turning out. Student ministry leaders are notorious for wearing blinders. When we see something that could potentially be a problem, we simply pretend it isn’t there or isn’t happening. And in doing so we remain in denial about something (or even someone) that is in some way holding the flow of ministry back. Especially when that someone is me. Denial is typified when we give shallow answers to important questions. Questions like: “How is the student ministry going really?” and “What are you doing to feed your own soul so you lead from passion?” and “Is the stated mission of your ministry being executed clearly?” When we brush off questions like these with unthoughtful responses, we’re in danger of denial.

#2: Blame
Another common thread throughout these restaurant catastrophes is the unwillingness on the part of anyone and everyone on the team to take their share of the blame for where they’re at. How often do you find yourself getting defensive when a criticism arises? How quickly do you go to a deflection in order to find a scapegoat? The secret sauce of taking your share of blame is honesty and humility. Those busy defending are usually defending little more than their own pride and insecurity. What is it that YOU are responsible for that isn’t being carried out with excellence? Not perfection–excellence. Meaning your heart is there and you’re relying on God’s power to see things through, from the menial to the monumental. Face those facts and know that honest humility breeds respect in others for your efforts, even when (and especially when) you make mistakes.

#3: Communication
Now, if you’ve seen “Kitchen Nightmares”, you know that Gordon Ramsay’s problem is certainly not communication. But time after time each restaurant he walks into is fraught with dysfunctional communication. From the wait staff to the kitchen, from the manager to the chef, from the chef to the wait staff, and round and round it goes. Communication is the gears AND the grease of any healthy organization, the body of Christ notwithstanding. First of all, we’ve got to be in constant contact with our Lord. We to Him and Him to us. Nothing else can substitute that. Then we’ve got to commit to hyper-communication with our fellow staff (if any), with our senior pastor, with the board (if any), with parents of our students and with our students. Be known by your helpful, consistent, clear communication. Don’t know how? Reach out to someone who does and say “teach me.” Communication is often the Achilles heel of many youth leaders, but what’s crazier than that is that it’s completely avoidable.

Give me a call sometime and I’ll tell you about my latest mistake. Until then, make the most of the bumps in your ministry road.

Jerry Varner is a husband, dad to 4 and student ministry veteran If you’re ever in the Richmond area, he’s buying lunch. Blogs regularly at jerrythinks.com