Writing A Better Story: A Chance To Win A Free Trip To A Conference In Portland!
I’m in very real danger of becoming the cliché I used to mock: A dinosaur of a youth minister who is coasting by running the same year of youth ministry 25 more times before he dies.
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s been a pretty good two-decade run, IMHO. If it weren’t, I’m sure the higher-ups would’ve said so. Indications to date lead me to believe that they still want me around and, well, I still like—no…love—working with teenagers in the slow-growth business of spiritual formation.
These days I look in the mirror and my face reminds me that I need to hit the treadmill to lose 25 pounds. Neurons fire that cause visions of shaving my head to beat the punch of my hairline’s recession. The Eddie Vedder inspired wardrobe that didn’t work in my 30’s may look even sillier in my mid-40’s (nor did it come back in vogue, dangit). Throw in a dash of suburban empty-nester comfortable homogeneity and the cliché rounds out quite nicely.
The personal side of my life’s ledger is weighted further by the ballast on the professional side. See, there are all sorts of people who study and measure suburban American teenagers who were active in youth groups. The bottom line is that churches are pretty good with cultural conformity to behavioral mores but not so effective at fostering an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. The reality is that I do think I’ve had more than my share during my pretty good run (IMHO), but I’m confident I’ve contributed to the statistical findings of the people who study and measure suburban American teenagers who were active in youth groups.
I could be a doughy, balding, flannel-wearer with a (Talking Heads reference upcoming!) beautiful house, with a beautiful wife and asking myself how I got here.
I could run the same year of youth ministry 25 more times and…
…be successfully mediocre.
It’s high time to start writing a better story.
The cosmetic changes seem obvious enough: Fire up the magnetic strip on the gym-membership card again. Shop the edges of the grocery store instead of the middle. Get to bed at a decent hour. Hope dearly that some TLC-driven makeover show comes calling with haircuts and clothes and such. Rejoice in the wife of my youth. Remain gratefully skeptical about suburbia and the role I’ve been asked to serve His Kingdom within it.
Obvious enough. Easier said than done, mind you, but obvious, nonetheless. And safe, in large part because the resistance is internal..
But the professional side of the equation is silently volatile. See, it’s kind of like (Terminator: Salvation reference upcoming!) when John Connor got on the radio to encourage mankind to rise up against the machines and said, “If you can hear this, you ARE the resistance.”
Well, if you’re reading this, it’s highly likely you ARE the resistance.
The solutions to conventional & safe suburban American Christian student ministry require changes in the way all of us associated with student ministry currently do business.
We’ll get flak from student ministers because we’ll have to shift the paradigm from a charismatic leader with an endearing case of Peter-Pan Syndrome who becomes the focal point of the ministry to spreading the work among entire congregations for maximum effectiveness (more on that in a second). The strokes we get from being the leader of the band will get lost in the muck.
Parents will resist because the bulk of the discipleship of their teens will fall on them. Let’s be honest: No youth minister can be as effective in the 3 hours a week they get with a teen as a parent who gets the other 165. Granted, no youth minister can love a teen or have as much emotional investment as someone who shares their DNA, but most parents don’t know what they don’t know. And, well, it’s a lot easier to manage a schedule than to “raise a child in the way they should go.”
Church staffers will resist because it will detract from classes and programs (many of them successful) and main worship services to focus on everybody using their gifts and talents rather than learning in a classroom or simply being a part of congregational worship.
The average Joe or Josephine in the pew will now have to roll their sleeves up and get to work. The day of the churchgoer as an observer-participant will be over. So is the idea of retirement from volunteering your time for church service, BTW.
Teens will find themselves uncomfortable because there will be more accountability and expectation. We’ve failed to give them the tools they need to make their faith their own by dressing up Pablum by putting the word “X-treme” on it and passing it off as meat. Moving from well-intentioned conservative behavioral modification to a truly transformed life can’t be easy.
Again, it’s high time I started writing a better story…
…Like author Douglas Coupland once wrote, “A collapsed view of heaven is the price you pay for your comfort.”…
…because I’ve been comfortable for far too long.
…and it’s possible I have a collapsed view of heaven.
…and this conference could help out by reminding me that my cause is worth fighting the resistance. By rubbing shoulders with others who can inspire me. By talking with others who are working through making their story better. By hearing from people who have written better stories and can stoke the good stuff in my story and throw an editorial wet blanket on the stuff that isn’t worth it. By giving clarity to the areas that are opaque. By reminding me that it isn’t at all about me, anyway.
But, conference attendance or not…
…it is high time I started writing a better story.
Don’t you think?
For more information about the conference, you can check it out at www.donmilleris.com/conference.
You can also check out this video from author Donald Miller: