Not Getting Your Way in Ministry

August 21st, 2017

Maybe you are unlike me.  Maybe you are never out of your comfort zone in ministry.  Maybe your own personal preferences never get in the way of your decision-making.  Maybe you never (internally) lose your cool with a student’s attitude or antics.  Maybe you are closer to Jesus than Peter.

Or maybe you are just like me.  I am a “functional” introvert, I like my quiet, safety and predictable situations.  You might laugh and think, “Then why are you in ministry dude?”  You know that all of these things push against the grain of typical student ministry and will cause the aforementioned issues to arise.  For instance, I recently had the chance to take my senior high students on our annual canoe trip.  While I love being on the river, I am not a fan of falling in and losing the things in my boat.  Towards the end of the trip, I was at the back of the pack helping a pair of struggling students stay upright when I heard that there were a few others racing to the pullout in order to tip everyone else as they finished.  I now had a conundrum: stay behind with the last canoe to ensure their safety and encourage them or take my kayak and reach the front to avoid getting everything with me soaked.

Two days later I took my junior high group to an amusement park for a day of recreational terror and vocal cord calisthenics and faced the task of creating groups for the park.  Out of all the students we brought, there were two in particular who were going to be difficult to handle.  None of the other leaders really wanted the arduous task of containing them all day and, for the sake of the other students, I did not want to force them into other groups.  They were also spouting their desire to ride roller coasters “All day long!”  Not being a fan of coasters, I had a choice to make yet again: take the boys myself and bite the bullet, or shuttle them off to another leader and enjoy my day.

Two experiences; one week.  I did stay back with the last canoe, all the way to the end.  I even allowed myself to be capsized by two anxious teens.  And I did take the two boys by myself, riding roller coasters to their hearts’ content.  And here is why: because my ministry is NOT about me, it is about others seeing Jesus.  There was a lot of self-talk that went into these decisions, and here are four questions that brought me to my answer.

Does this help them or me?

Staying dry and not dealing with wet clothes on the ride home was definitely a selfish thing, as was the desire to not take the burden of the two “highly energized” youngsters.  But when I asked this question, saw that it was purely self-centered decision-making, I had to take a step back and rethink my choice.  If I am called to show Jesus to them, can I really function from a non-servant attitude?

How will it serve a purpose?

Does the event/occurrence fit in with the mission of the ministry or trip?  In a few cases, my comfort zone is exactly where it needs to be to protect property, lives, feelings or propriety.  But sometimes, a random food fight or late night slushy run can serve a purpose.  The purpose could be building relationships, helping a student see their worth, creating an environment where others have a good experience or bringing a teen in need to the waiting arms of Jesus.  In these two scenarios, I was functioning to help students create memories and be themselves.  I did not hold them back from their desires, but rather put away mine in order to engage with them on their level.

Will it feed good fun?

While it is sometimes important to allow students to determine the process of an event, there will be times where you will have a negative response to this question.  That is where leadership takes over and sees the potential harm to others or to the mission that a student cannot see.  In my case, I saw that allowing my dunking would be enjoyable and memorable for the students, and remaining behind with the last canoe would give them the encouragement they needed to finish and feel the joy of their success.  In the case of the park pair, I could allow them to goof off, ride their rides and protect other’s desire to do the same by leading them myself.

What am I really losing?

In the end, this question sealed the deal: nothing.  Aside from wet gear and a few moments of firm conversation with the boys, a little more energy expended and not being able to “get my way,” I was not losing anything of importance.  It was all my preference, but not a need that was being lost.  Ultimately, that is a worthwhile sacrifice to make.

Again, you might not be like me and all of this makes you shake your head and question my adequacy or you might resonate with it.  Ministry for me is a battle against myself.  I am just being transparent.  But when the servanthood of Christ wins out, big things happen.  So here are the results.  The students loved dunking me and talked about the dunk-fest for the rest of the day.  The two who struggled celebrated their success on the last leg of the river and their accomplishment of reaching the pull out alive.  The two boys ended up settling down and had a great time together, as did the other groups, and I even got to have some amazing one-on-two relational conversations with them as a result of our six hours together at the park.  Did I get what I wanted?  No.  But the result is better than I could have desired.

scott osborne

SCOTT OSBORNE is the Student Ministries Pastor at Portage Free Methodist Church in Portage, MI.  He lives with his wonderful wife and three sons and enjoys anything that gets him in the woods.  He has been serving in ministry since college and is passionate about relationally engaging teens with the story of Jesus and walking with them in their journeys.  You can follow him at his blog: THOUGHTSFROMAROLLYCHAIR.WORDPRESS.COM.  


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