The One Sentence Mantra That Could Change Your Ministry

change your ministry

Who doesn’t want to change your ministry? I think we could all identify at least one thing to change.

I’ve taken everything I’ve learned about reaching super-busy students…

…and I think I’ve boiled it down into one sentence that, if applied, could radically change your ministry.

Now, I hate it when bloggers write headlines that make wild, exaggerated claims just to get clicks.

The headline to this article is NOT an exaggeration.

It’s one sentence, and it could fundamentally change your ministry forever.

Here it is:

Your ability to share God’s love with teenagers is not dependent on their attendance at your program.

It hit me when I drove home from a one-on-one with a student who almost never comes to youth group. He’s got pretty intense social anxiety and our large group can intimidate him.

Good thing my ability to share God’s love with him isn’t dependent on his attendance at my program.

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of church attendance, and I do think it’s important for teenagers to experience faith corporately with one another.

But I also know that too many of us have gotten caught in a trap where we start to believe that we can’t do ministry if they don’t show up.

It’s ridiculous when a student plays video games all weekend, then skips youth group on Sunday night because he’s swamped with homework.

It’s more ridiculous when we believe that we can’t be in ministry to students who are procrastinators, but sometimes that’s exactly what happens.

My ability to share God’s love with teenagers is not dependent on their attendance at my program.

If you can read that sentence out loud, I’ve found that it’s actually incredibly freeing.

It’s freeing because so many of us spend so much of our time racking our brains trying to figure out how to get teenagers to show up at youth group because we’ve been conditioned to believe that youth group is the place where ministry happens.

And while that may be true, it’s time to get reconditioned because youth group isn’t the only place where ministry happens.

He didn’t even know he was a youth pastor

I have a friend who’s a director at a camp that serves primarily low-income families. He plans and delivers nine weeks of summer camp, and that’s a lot of work.

But he spends the bulk of his off-season following up with the kids who attended his camps. In a typical week, he sees about 30 students either one-on-one or in very small groups of two or three.

He spends more time listening to and praying with students than any youth pastor I know. His ministry isn’t dependent on a student’s attendance at his program, and that’s a good thing, because for 10 months of the year, he doesn’t have one.

Now, I understand that it’s impossible for you—one person—to run a wide-ranging ministry and give dedicated one-on-one time to every student who never shows up. There simply aren’t enough hours in the week.

But this is absolutely a mindset that you can transfer to volunteers and other leaders too.

Just because they’re not here for youth group doesn’t mean we can’t somehow be in ministry with them.

Here’s your very basic action item…

There may be dozens of students who fall on your “doesn’t really show up” list. That’s pretty common actually.

What I’ve noticed in most youth workers is that there are usually three or four who really haunt us. They stick out. It seems that God’s placed those students directly on our hearts, and so we work especially hard to invite and entice them to our programs.

It’s in these cases that I think oftentimes we’ve clearly heard God’s calling, but we’ve misinterpreted our next step.

If God has especially placed a student on your heart, it’s not because he wants you to invite them to your program, it’s because he wants you to be in ministry with them…

…and that’s something that is not dependent on their attendance in your program.

So, your action item is this: Write down the names of three students who don’t show up and who God’s placed on your heart.

Then instead of trying to figure out how to get them to come to youth group…

…start trying to figure out how you can be in ministry with them even if they don’t.

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Aaron Helman
Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

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