There are lessons to be learned here. This is not a time to simply shake our heads in disapproval. Disapproval is certainly warranted and necessary. But disapproval must be cloaked in a healthy and realistic understanding that, yes, there but for the grace of God go I.
Nobody, I believe, sets out to pursue the goal of becoming front page news regarding personal and ministry demise. But somehow they get there as a result of the sum total of foolish baby steps. . . and that’s what I want myself and all my ministry friends to avoid like the plague. Reality is, it’s because of the plague of sin that we must all be, as Peter says, sober-minded and on watch.
The great majority of my ministry friends are youth workers. . . many of them young. And so this morning as we think about what’s happened at Willow Creek (and we should), I’m thinking about what all of us in youth ministry, young and old alike, must do to exercise wisdom in ways that lead to life. Here are a few initial thoughts. . .
Fill your well with the Word. There’s way too much stuff out there vying for our time, attention, and allegiance. Whether it’s the information that fills our minds or activities that fill our time, I believe it keeps us from what should be our first priority. Early on I was told that the Scriptures are the corrective lens through which to view, interpret, and live all of life. We need our glasses on and we need them to be clean. Otherwise our vision gets cloudy, blurred, distorted. . . and that’s when you really start bumping into and tripping over things.
Remember how messed up you really are. You and I are horribly broken people who have a default setting towards doing the wrong thing. We live each day as if we are constantly asking, “Did God really say. . . ?” As John Calvin reminds us, we are wretched, poverty-stricken, and in need of a Rescuer. Remind yourself of that. If you think you are inherently good, you are setting yourself up to allow your inherent badness to ruin you. As I tell youthworkers all the time, you’re just one bad decision away from being a headline.
Remind yourself that bigger is not better. Why have we bought into a view of ministry success that looks more like a business spreadsheet than the life and ministry of the One we follow? Pursue depth, not width. Let God take care of the width. My great fear is that there’s a connection between pursuing bigger and better in youth ministry and coming to believe that you are bigger and better than you really are. When that happens, get ready for a great fall.
Pursue, embrace, and welcome accountability. I’m not talking here about a group of friends that speak into your life what it is that you want to hear. Neither am I talking about soft accountability or surrounding yourself with “yes men.” That kind of stuff only encourages and pushes you down the road to demise. No, you and I need people who aren’t afraid to kick us between the legs when a kick between the legs is warranted. When it comes to church polity, we need to be especially careful when we are independently rather than connectionally governed. To all you entrepreneurial independent church planter types out there. . . beware.
Don’t believe your own press. It really doesn’t matter what others say about you. The flattery of others gets you nowhere good. Listen to the One who knows, loves, leads, and redeems you.