Toes that should be stepped on

Some of the first advice I was given on how to be a youth minister was "In your first two years, pick a big project that the church won't want to do and push it through. If you wait longer than that, you'll never get it done."

Later, taking a pastoral care class, a part of the Lutheran Lay School for Mission, the minister teaching the class told us that young pastors often make that mistake. They walk in to a new congregation, full of new ideas from seminary, and instantly start trying to make big changes. Worship style, office routines, church council meeting structure, youth program; suddenly nothing is off limits to this dynamo of new pastoral energy.

The congregation is startled and sometimes begins to resent the newcomer. What was so wrong about what they were doing before? Why were the traditions begun by the previous minister so un-Christian that they needed instant change?

I think it's vital, especially when youth ministers are outsiders in the congregation, to take some time to sit back and observe before beginning to make plans or changes. There are strengths in each congregation that are unique and powerful. There are currents of the Gospel already running that a new staffer will need to be aware of; these are strong enough that trying to change their direction suddenly will damage the congregation.

At the same time, there are toes that must be stepped on. There are some attitudes that must be challenged. There are areas in any ministry that must be exposed to light and healed.

1. A congregation or youth group needs a sense of connection to the work of the larger Church. Any faith group that believes it is an island will often fail to follow Christ.
2. A youth minister/parent/pastor needs to know and celebrate that he is not the only person who can help students grow in faith. These are not "my" students. They are God's children. And I may not even be in God's plan for some of them.
3. Culture does change. And when culture changes, the way ministry engages culture needs to evolve. Ministry has been done the same way since before Jesus' time, through caring personal relationships. But we've learned a lot about culture and technology and the way people learn, and we need to embrace these facts so we can connect in the way today's people work.
4. No one group in a congregation is the most important or deserving of the most time and resources.
5. To be a healthy Christian, worship with other believers and service in Christ's name is a priority. This is my top peeve. Christianity isn't passive. Ever.

Stepping on these five toes, and the others that go along with them, isn't safe and doesn't lead to long prosperous careers in the same place. But the body of Christ needs these bruises on its toes.

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