I’ve treated every youth ministry I’ve led with the mentality of, “What we do every week is equally as important, or more, as what you do in band, football practice or key club” If I did not put the value on what we did every week, no one else would.
Many youth ministries operate sloppy because the youth pastor either has no, or low, expectations of themselves or of the students they lead. This leads me to the second quality my students said they appreciated about my leadership, I always had expectations of myself and them.
As I said in my last post, consistency is important in youth ministry and, if I may add to that list, I consistently created expectations for our adult leaders and our students.
You may think by these posts I’m nominating myself for sainthood, far from it. In fact, I could write a 1,000 part series on all the dumb things I’ve said and done. Let me offer some autobiography to show you how out of whack my expectations were.
My expectations were high, sometimes too high. I held others to a standard I probably shouldn’t have even held myself too, but I loved The Church so much and was tired of people treating our gatherings like they were nothing.
In his book Eleven Rings, Phil Jackson quotes former Chicago Bull Bill Paxson about Michel Jordan’s expectations of his teammates,
“Michael was a demanding teammate. If you were on the floor, you had to do your job and do it the right way. He couldn’t accept anyone not caring as much as he did.”
That was me for a long time. I wanted students, leaders, parents and even my pastors to care as much as I did. I’m not saying this was right, it was just the way I looked at my job and my calling. The Church should have the highest of expectations but it should also have he greatest amount of grace towards those who struggle to meet those expectations.
“You can’t expect everyone to have the same dedication as you.” Jeff Kinney
Every week I expected to see God move, in worship and the message. I think even God thought my expectations were too high. I wanted explosions and laser beams. I wanted to see change and growth in myself and if I was growing, everyone else should be too. This kind of thinking was misguided. This wasn’t basketball. This wasn’t a team of professionals. Most of my teams, like yours, are made up of good people who just want to do good and love kids.
As I grew in grace and knowledge of Jesus, I started to temper my expectations, but it was hard. I started seeing everyone for who they were not who they should be, including myself. I started to create reasonable expectations and look at people for where they were in their journey with Christ and work with them from there. My last youth group saw the slightly more mature version of me and what I expected from myself and others.
What I expected from myself
I worked in a smallish church of about 200 and youth group of anywhere between 20 and 45 over eight years. Even in the first couple of years I had to adjust my thinking about what to expect in this kind of church compared to others and it started with deconstructing my expectations.
The number one thing I expected of myself, every week, every meeting, was to, as the Boy Scouts put it, be prepared. I made sure my message was where it needed it to be and that I would communicate in a way that was relevant and clear so kids could respond, not out of pure emotion but because Gods Word and Spirit and illuminated their hearts to respond.
What I expected from leaders
These are the people who caught most of the brunt of some of my more unreasonable expectations, and if any happen to read this, I apologize. Like I said, the people who volunteered in our youth ministries weren’t professionals, they just want to love kids and use their gifts to bring other’s to Christ. This didn’t mean I lowered my expectations for behavior or responsibility, but I learned to take people where they were at and worked with them to get better if the they wanted to be.
Grown ups are just teenagers with wrinkles. They come equipped with all the same fears and insecurities as teenagers. This is why many adults want to work with teens because they still feel like outsiders and want to convey their stories of what it was like for them growing up and how they made it through. I wanted them to read books, understand youth ministry philosophy and attend seminars with me. Summed up, I wanted them to love learning as much as I did, and that was an unreasonable expectation.
What I finally resolved as fair expectations,
- Show up
- Be prepared to do your part
- Keep your spiritual life in order to benefit yourself and to be an example to your peers.
- Come to the once a month meeting to plan and pray.
I had to keep in mind that these folks needed me to minister them as well as ministering to the students. These adults had lives, families, work, struggles and what they didn’t need is one more place where they couldn’t meet the grade. Grace and more grace.
What I expected from students
Those of us who use the Bible as our blue print for building not just our youth ministry but our lives, can get caught up in extremes. We want our students to be Peter, John The Revelator, and Isaiah the prophet all rolled into one straight out of the gate. It’s easy to look at where we were at their age and try to impose our spiritual maturity at our age, on them.
I made an office in my house when I was 16. I modeled it after one of my youth pastor’s offices, and filled with books and calendars. I was all in on being a youth pastor at a young age. I was reading books well above my learning level and strict on my own Bible reading time, evangelism, etc.
I was 80% teenager, 15% Pharisee and 5% on track. I had no internet, smart phone, etc. so I dove into studying, leading and learning. I want this for my students as well.
I took pride in my discipline and believed if I could do it, they could do it. Some of my expectations were too much so I pitched them; which left me with
- Every student can follow Jesus
- Every student can lead.
- Every student has gifts and talents that can bless the Body and build the Kingdom.
I still believe this and do my best to encourage students to believe this too. It’s not just about having right beliefs, it’s about what we practice and that is where the real discipleship takes place.
I created opportunities for kids to lead more as I did less in our weekly programs. In addition, I set these principles to the test when we would have our Disciple Project Weekends or during our three month Shift from meeting to doing. Hence the title Disciple Project Ministries and the book I wrote of the same title.
I’m not nearly as stringent as I once was, but I still refuse to lower the bar when I know students can do what is being asked of them just as those Jesus asked to follow Him could have. It’s about choices. I want to make disciples not Pharisees.
I think there should always be a balance of expectation and grace. I agree with Stephen Covey when he says,
“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”
Jesus saw his followers as they could be. He prophesied over them, encouraged them, he expected more from them, but never drove them.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” John 1:47
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. Matthew 26:40
This should also be true with your students. You should compel them to BE more and then program so they can grow into that. If your students claim to be followers of Christ, then it is your role to shepherd them. You should see them as Jesus sees them and should see them for who they could be and put forth fair expectations, and opportunities, to become who Christ made them to be.
Next, Part Three: Challenge Them
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