Learning my lines . . .
. . . discovering what it means to follow Jesus, seeing my story swept up into his . . .

Youth Workers. . . Seeking Spotlight Fame or Shadowed Faithfulness? . . .

There’s a question I’m asked quite often that either makes me smile, or makes me cringe.

The asker is always a youth worker.

The ask typically takes place while I’m gathering my things after a seminar or other presentation.

Here’s the question: “How can I do what you do?”

I smile when the question is occasioned by a desire to become more effective in ministry by becoming a more effective observer of youth culture. The asker is wanting to improve on their skill of what John Stott called “dual listening”. . . that is, listening to both Word and world in order to become more effective at bringing the light of the Word to bear on the dark corners of the world. Good question! Let’s chat.

I cringe when the question is occasioned by a desire to be up front, to address the crowd, to develop a following, and to make a name for one’s self in the youth ministry world. When that happens, it’s abundantly clear that motives are skewed. Sure, that’s a judgement call. But after forty some years in youth ministry – including forty years of a front-row seat to view my own  broken heart – this isn’t rocket science. Often-times the asker is a young person who has little or no ministry experience from which to speak. They’ve had little time to recognize, evaluate, and affirm their gifts. Many have never even asked others if they even have those gifts. They just want an audience. Bad question! You’ve just made me feel very uncomfortable.

A few years ago, I had one of the most frightening of these conversations that I’ve ever had. A young friend – who I had known for quite some time – admitted to me that he was seeking to be up front. He was aggressively working to brand and market himself in our youth ministry world. He even went so far as to say, “When I’m up front, I get drunk on the attention.” Oh man. That’s a very scary combination of words he strung together there. Truth be told, being up front is the last place this person needs to be.

In today’s world, you don’t need the physical place with the podium up front, a pushy attitude, and some lucky breaks to make this happen. It’s not like in the old days. Today, all you need are a few social media accounts, some marketing savvy, and some aggressiveness. Start blogging, posting, curating, fabricating and promoting yourself. This is the same path our kids take when they want to become internet celebrities. Let’s be honest here. It’s shameless self-promotion. . . and that is shameful. It undermines virtue when we aren’t honest with who we are. And it does nothing to advance deeper ministry thinking and practice if we have little or no experience, wisdom, or knowledge from which to speak.

Why the brash post today?

We all need people to step into our lives to save us from ourselves. I know I do. And whatever our bent towards self-destruction might be, we need someone to intervene. Lately, I’ve been seeing so much obvious self-promotion. . . people who have become experts at convincing others that they’re experts. . . that it has become a burden and concern. I’d love to be able to steer you away from that very real and addicting temptation if that’s where you’re at right now. Combine a heart bent on sin with a culture that promotes this kind of thing. . . and it’s easy to get swept up in this frenzy.

A few thoughts. . .

First, last week I shared this thought. . . Youth workers. . . Jesus spent His life pursuing faithfulness rather than fame. How would things change if we did the same? I think our ministries would thrive. And wouldn’t it be freeing if we weren’t always worrying about and wasting time developing a following of peers in the youth ministry world? In addition, think of the benefits for our kids!

Second, I am reminded of wise words shared by my youth ministry friend Rich Van Pelt. . . “You take care of the depth of the your ministry. Then, let Jesus take care of the breadth.”

And third, when I push back on the askers and then am asked how I got to be doing what I’m doing. . . well, read the last two points. Like so many of my other more friends in the youth ministry world, none of us ever asked for this. We were all quietly going about our business doing what it was that God had called us to do, and then we were asked to talk to and teach others out of our years of experience. I can honestly say that all of us not only didn’t ask for it, but we all pushed back on it. I can also tell you that it’s nothing like people imagine. (Call me if you want to know more on that).

Youth workers. . . please be satisfied with where Jesus has you. Develop the who you are becoming.

Jesus was a particular man sent at a particular time to a particular place and a particular people with a particular mission. It’s no different for us. Go ahead and thrive in the midst of the particularity God has given you. . . right there where you are!

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for the post. I’m not a youth minister, but rather a Head of School in my 50’s and your thoughts of faithfulness to my ministry and the depth of my own Christlikeness speaks to me at this time of life as much as it did when I began ministry 30 plus years ago. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Hey Rob! So great to hear from you. I trust you are all doing well. And yes, it never ceases to be important, does it?

  2. Thank you, sir. Such a needed conversation in a time when every ministry leader is being urged to build a platform for themselves. The goal of sustainable ministry is being replaced by the pursuit of the quickest route to notoriety.

  3. Well said, Walt. I appreciate this post because, though I work in a different field now (nutrition/wellness), I am one of those bloggers/branders/speakers who is looking to expand her reach and impact. What you wrote reminds me that faithfulness is required first and foremost. I need to stick close to the Lord, surrendering to Him my motives and ambitions, and trusting Him to use me as He sees fit.

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