Improvisational Youth Ministry

I played a part in a dinner theater where I played a lawyer. I had a script to follow. A script lets the actors know when they are to speak their lines. I say a line, you say a line. But, I am terrible at memorizing scripts. Case in point, for this dinner theater, I hid little notes of script all over the set unbeknownst to the audience. Even this could not save me from forgetting my lines.

I came to a part in the script I could not remember. We had a reader behind the scenes who could give us a line if we forgot. For some reason I could not hear the person back stage so it looked like I was having a conversation with the wall. The audience laughed even harder. So much for scripts.

When my son was little, I remember him trying to tell me knock knock jokes. He’d say “Knock Knock” and I’d say, “Who’s there?” and he would cut right to the punchline It still made me laugh. Maybe he gets it from me, I can’t tell a joke. Jokes feel canned. Improv on the other hand, that’s where I shine.

I love the back and forth of making a joke on the fly. I love shows like Who’s Line Is It Anyway. Improv is like playing with play dough until something is created. Youth ministry, these days, feels more like improv rather than a script.

I am reading Impov Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. It’s a fantastic book about ditching the script and rolling with what’s around you. In her 10th Maxim: Make Mistakes, Please she offers this wonderful quote

The more precise my vision of an outcome, the more likely I am to be disappointed. Things don’t turned out as planned. You don’t need to abandon your dreams; just don’t let them get in the way of noticing what IS taking place

I work with a youth ministry filled with wonderful students, but the more precise my vision the more disappointed I come. That’s the problem. This youth ministry will never become what I want it to become and it’s time to let that go. In letting go of my ideas and dreams I become aware of what God IS doing in and around my students, parents, leaders and church.

This is not to say I do not have goals or plans. Heck, I wrote a whole book about the planning process, but I’ve become willing to ditch the script to notice what the Sprit is doing versus what I want Him to do.

In her book, Madson introduces me to a new and fantastic word bricolage. According to Mirriam-Webster

According to French social anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the artist “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life.” Lévi-Strauss compared this artistic process to the work of a handyman who solves technical or mechanical problems with whatever materials are available. He referred to that process of making do as bricolage, a term derived from the French verb bricoler (meaning “to putter about”)

I love this so much. As youth workers, we often rely on a script of how a youth meeting, event, or program should go yet, all our best memories are from events that did not go as planned.

God like an artist, “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life”. Isn’t this what we are trying to do? Take a youth group of diverse kids, some bright, some not so much, and make something out of it that will bless God, our church, and our communities?

I’m gong to try to do. a little less planning (in detail) and make a lot more room for puttering and see what God will make with this play dough called youth ministry.

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