Remember when you knew how to do youth ministry?
Like, you really could “blow it up,” so to speak.
Before “coronavirus,” youth ministry was this amazing balloon that we’d inflated, decorated, wrote on and bounced around. We went to conventions to discover materials we could use so our balloons last longer. Experts showed us how to take boring, skinny sacs and twist them into memorable shapes our kids would want to keep. We’d laugh in professional circles when someone let a little air out of our balloons and they made that crazy fart noise.
Man, that fart noise… classic youth ministry.
Then it all popped.
We pivoted, brainstorming ways to bounce air around in a new way. We scrambled to reconstruct our balloons digitally, but not as many students were interested in virtual mylar and rubber. And soon we realized the goal was never to bounce around air and hold a student’s attention with color and fart noises, but to offer oxygen for their soul, showing them how to inhale and help everyone in their lives do the same thing.
Still with me on the metaphor? I’d like to offer what might happen next.
- Option 1: We’ll go back to balloon making. You hear this when students, parents and leaders (maybe even yourself) ask, “When can we go back to how things were before?” Some of this may be healthy, like the unique community we experience being around other believers in person versus a Zoom chat. But my sense is the greater pull is toward what we’re used to versus what’s most beneficial. In my experience, teenagers are bigger traditionalists than even senior citizens.
- Option 2: We’ll do something new, but keep a whole lot of balloons in the background. We love the word “both,” don’t we? For example, should ministry be fun or meaningful? “Um… both.” I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but let’s not assume it’s the right answer. Sometimes we overwhelm with fun because we don’t want our content to dryly choke students when they consume it. But again, sometimes the balloons in the background can overtake the foreground. What if our first move back to youth ministry in person will get this wrong? What if we don’t have to assume the Bible has to be relatable, but will own that it already is, and find a way to communicate that, front and center?
- Option 3: We’re going to launch something in community. Those opinionated students, volunteers and parents in our ministries? I’m bringing mine together for a one-time brainstorming time, making sure to call it that and avoid words like “committee” or “steering team.” I simply want to hear what they’re thinking, like how some students don’t want to maintain physical distancing because they think it communicates a lack of warmth. But I’m also loading into those meetings some of our medical professionals who serve in our church so they can do the safety talk for me. Having these behind-the-scenes conversations first can haggle out the weird stuff.Because I believe in this next season a large portion of our student and adult leaders will struggle with leading. Fatigue is everywhere, and so we need to strengthen our inner core with values and steps that we’ll agree on. Maybe in doing so the next balloon won’t just a bouncy party kind, but a hot air balloon that can elevate us beyond anything we’ve ever done before.
How are you navigating these tensions?
I’d love to hear not just what you’re conclusion, but what you’re asking.
Tony Myles is a real guy on a real journey following a very real God. A national speaker and author of more than a dozen books, his latest release “If… What If?” was co-written with his son to help students and parents journey through the Bible and life together.
Tony’s served as a senior pastor, staff pastor, ministry mentor and church consultant. He oversees and leads the multi-site student ministry of Riverside Church in Big Lake, Minnesota where he regularly invests into leaders, families, and teenagers.
Tony and his bride Katie have been honeymooning for more than 25 years and have three kids from elementary age to college. If it’s a really good day, you’ll find him sipping on a fruit smoothie while playing video games with his family.