I’m a control freak, I admit it. I’m a very structured and organized person, I always plan (way) ahead and I’m big on analyzing processes using the theory of action and reaction and cause and consequences. The often-heard saying ‘stupidity is doing the same things but expecting different results’ is one I wholeheartedly agree with.
Yet I know there are limits to what I can control, especially in youth ministry. I know from experience that no matter how much I want it to be so, youth ministry isn’t makeable. It frustrates me at times, it makes me feel powerless and completely out of control, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The makeability of youth ministry is a lie.
Now, I’m not even sure if this is a correct English word. I’ve sort of translated this literally from the Dutch expression, but it expresses exactly what I want to say. Makeable, makeability, they refer to the thought that we have control over something, that we can shape it and make it exactly how we want it to be. But there’s no makeability in youth ministry, there are no guaranteed ‘results’. Youth ministry isn’t mass product, manufactured in large quantities. It’s a uniquely crafted work of art, individually shaped for each specific youth ministry.
It’s for this reason that I sometimes take issue with some posts, articles and books on youth ministry that follow the format of the ‘golden rule’. Their advice will be something like this:
The surefire way to draw more teens to your youth services
The 5 things you need to do to make your small group grow
3 guaranteed wins for your next youth retreat
The single best way to attract new volunteers
And I admit, I’ve been guilty of using headlines like this. They work well on social media to draw attention to your post, let’s be honest. But deep down, I’m uncomfortable with them.
They assume a makeability of youth ministry.
All this advice, these golden rules, they assume that you can actually make your youth ministry the way you want it to be. And that’s a lie.
Youth ministry isn’t makeable. It’s shapeable for sure, but there’s no way you’ll ever be able to guarantee a certain result. You can apply good advice to your youth ministry of course, you’d be stupid not to, but that doesn’t mean it will work. It can work in a 100 different churches, but that still doesn’t mean it will work in yours.
Your church may be different
Your pastor may be different
Your church culture may be different
Your city may be different
Your ethnic diversity may be different
Your income level may be different
Your history may be different
Your denomination may be different
Your problems may be different
Your social situation may be different
Your leaders may be different
Your schools may be different
Your vision and mission may be different
Your divine plan may be different
Your God is the same, but your youth ministry is absolutely unique. You can’t cut-and-paste techniques, programs, advice, etc from other youth ministries just like that and expect the same results they had.
There is no makeability in youth ministry.
We need to grow, to learn and we can surely borrow ideas and programs from others. But we can never assume they will work in our situation, in our circumstances, in our youth ministry. So take the ideas, but shape them and adapt them to fit your needs. Experiment, evaluate and then experiment some more. Stay critical and don’t believe into the lie that there’s one good way of doing small groups, or five techniques to organize a killer youth event.
If you start to adhere to the makeability of youth ministry, you’ll end up disappointed. It will result in you doubting yourself (‘Everyone has success with this, why doesn’t this work here? I must be doing something wrong.’). It will result in you doubting God (‘Everyone has success with this. Why is God with holding His blessing from us?’) It can even result in you doubting your calling (‘Everyone has success with this. Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m just not cut out for youth ministry.’)
Don’t believe into the lie of the makeability of youth ministry.
Believe in the power of God instead who wants to bless your youth ministry, but in His unique way. Believe in the power of your uniqueness as a youth ministry and the specific calling God has placed on your hearts. Believe in yourself, in your calling to youth ministry and trust that God will give you everything you need to do what He asks of you.