Churchill’s Bunker: Why Strategy Matters in Youth Ministry
1940 London. The Third Reich is at the height of its power and on the offensive. On what feels like an almost constant onslaught, the city is pounded with bombings from the Blitzkrieg. Near Whitehall and the houses of parliament, the beating heart of the British counter-attack lies below ground. The Cabinet War Rooms often called the Churchill War Rooms are where Sir Winston Churchill oversaw and commanded the British forces for most of World War II.
Besides Churchill, the rooms contained the map room which ran 24 hours from the start of the war until the lights were finally turned off on 28 March 1945. The Cabinet Office where Churchill would lead his Prime Minister meetings and numerous other brave men and women who served around the clock defending London and the world.
The Need for Strategy in Youth Ministry
There is more than a history lesson buried under London’s streets. There is an important lesson about the need for strategy in youth ministry. I remember being 18 and touring several universities to look at their youth ministry programs. I remember being shown around by a well-meaning student guide who remarked when we came by one of the university’s game rooms stacked full of table tennis and PlayStation 2’s that was where the youth ministry majors “studied” implying that all youth ministry was really about was coasting through university then setting out on a lifelong career of ping pong.
The truth is I know a lot of people within youth ministry who seem to still hold this mentality. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard the terms “wing it” or the slightly more spiritual sounding “Let the Spirit lead” being thrown around as completely reasonable alternatives to the hard work and planning that goes into running a youth ministry.
Hard Work + Faith
Don’t get me wrong table tennis skills are a major plus in our line of work, and I completely believe God can work through any situations. However, I see no evidence anywhere in scripture where God calls his leaders to be unprepared, uninformed or uncaring about the work he has given us. Instead, he often challenges us to work harder, do more and trust him in the things that seem impossible.
I think about the story of Joshua and Jericho. God issued a command “march around the wall” and Joshua obeyed. I also assume the logistics of marching an entire army around an enemy city without getting anyone killed in the process took a great amount of strategy. Joshua did it seven times with the final march going around multiple times and finishing with an orchestral attack. All the while giving his enemies the opportunity to strategize and attack. Joshua trusted God but he also had a plan. We need to do the same.
When you do youth ministry how far ahead are you operating? Very early on in my career, I made the decision that every summer I was going to write the entire year’s lessons ahead of time. It meant that every summer in between the mission trips and summer camps when I would have preferred to get some rest and relaxation I filled my coffee mug and sat in front of my computer and worked my tail off to get all the lessons ready for the year so that I was not scrambling to do them week to week. When I finished the curriculum, I pressed on to cover the year’s calendar, when I finished that I started planning the Autumn retreats, the leader meetings and the parent conferences.
It was hard work and it was made harder by the sunshine constantly creeping in through my office window. I did this because I wanted to be ahead of the curve. I wanted to be able to meet with my students throughout the year and be present with them rather than half listening while writing my talk for the next youth night. I wanted to have time to make my retreats and camps the best they could be. I wanted to be able to meet a parent or leader during the day for coffee and a chat to see how their life was going not just a report on what they needed to do next. I wanted to have time in my day to pray for my youth and read for my own wellbeing. The truth is that I knew all the demands the year would bring and I had a strategy in place that would allow me to excel and grow through them rather than be thrown by them.
Like Churchill, a lot of what we do in youth ministry strategy might be below the surface. When I started out in youth ministry I used to resent the question “What do you do the rest of the week?” now I smile at it. All the prep, all the writing, all the planning and all the purchasing ahead of time is what allows me to be doing all the visible things to the best of my ability. I don’t begrudge the hard work or the strategy. I see them as the sowing so that later my youth can reap the benefits.
I hope you feel led to do the same. Don’t let the table tennis, video games, pizza for most meals, wardrobe made of camp t-shirts, façade fool you. This is a battle, we are at war and we need a strategy to achieve victory.
Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.