This year we are welcoming Timothy Eldred to the mainstage at NYWC Nashville. Timothy is the head honcho at Endeavor. Last week, I was able to catch up with Timothy to ask a few questions. He's got a very interesting take on youth ministry– and I know you like interesting people with interesting takes on youth ministry!
YS: In reading some of your stuff, you seem to be saying that youth workers have a tendency to bring too many agendas into our relationships with teenagers and not enough grace. Where do you think that short-circuit comes from?
TE: We limit or even eliminate youth ministry even before it starts by saddling it with unnecessary programs and expectations that turn it into a spectator sport. Youth workers short-circuit in three different ways.
- They assume the responsibility rests on their shoulders alone for the success of youth ministry.
- They place little trust in young people seeing them as a “mission field” to be won or an “audience” to be entertained.
- When they run out of ideas they default to a program that worked for someone else but cannot be done by the young people.
Any program may attract a lot of young people at any time, but the results that last 10, 20, and 30 years after youth group only happen when young people are equipped to run their own ministry.
YS: What do you think the agenda should be for youth workers relationships with students?
TE: The agenda for youth workers today is simple: recruit young people to lead their own ministry, give them the tools to do it, and coach them through the ups and downs. At Endeavor, there are spectators – they’re the adult sponsors. They often sit in the back to watch and make themselves available as the youth do everything. Occasionally, there is a need to intervene – but rarely. Mostly trained students do every job of the ministry.
Not surprisingly, when it’s your peers talking, you pay more attention. When you have a stake in the ministry, you behave differently. When I look around now at youth ministry materials, I can’t imagine how youth workers begin to get all these programs done. And if they do manage it, do they have young people stepping forward and launching their own ministries in the community? That’s the real test of your ministry, “Is it reproducing other ministries or youth in ministry?”
YS: Endeavor has come a long way since Francis Edward Clark kicked it off in 1881. What's new at Endeavor these days?
TE: Endeavor is the same 129 years later. We hold to the original founding principles, “Never do anything for a young person they can learn to do for themselves, and young people can make the same commitment to follow Jesus Christ as an adult.” What has changed recently is that we have focused on youth leadership in ministry. In the past, Endeavor primarily served the youth group, but we have expanded our mission to move beyond the walls of the church. “Everyone by 21™” is our rally cry. We are working to give every young person a chance to serve Jesus Christ in a significant way and find their place in his cause by the age of 21. That’s a mission with some teeth and one that any local church can measure to see if they’re being effective. They’ll find it is entirely possible if they follow the foundational principles and use the tools provided with membership to the movement.
YS: You do a fair bit of traveling and consulting with ministries. What is a healthy trend you see emerging that you are encouraged by?
TE: I see more and more youth workers coming to the point of healthy desperation, as they realize that God works best through our half-scared and half-prepared moments. Ironically, our expertise and experience has become our biggest stumbling block to equipping youth to lead. Of course, we are better at running youth group. We are beginning to see more youth workers take their hands off the controls and give ownership to youth, so in reality, what I am seeing is a greater element of trust growing. We are learning that God actually does more when we do less and let youth experience him working through their trial and error.
We are really seeing this trend pay dividends locally. Last year, our youth asked to move their ministry outside the local church walls. Scary? You bet. But we knew they were seeking God’s leading, so once again, we supported their idea. In the end, the community got excited, too. $24,000 worth of contributions later, the young people opened their own youth center that is reaching kids who would never darken the door of even the “coolest” youth ministry. Most importantly, they run the whole thing!
YS: I saw from a few posts on Twitter that your kids play golf. Now that it is finally warming up in Michigan, are your kids taking dad to school or are you still able to beat them?
TE: Dad got his butt kicked this week! My 15-year-old pounded the ball 30-40 yards past me and beat me by “a lot” of strokes. My youngest is 12, so he doesn’t have the same power, but he teaches me how to have fun no matter what. And I love it!
I coached high school boy’s golf for years, and my goal was always to see young men get to the point where that could school me. Now that Parker, my oldest, is to that point, I’m just glad we don’t play for money; golf camp is already expensive enough. I fully expect Kelton, my youngest, to give me a lesson of his own within a year or two.
What I love about this question is that is goes to my very heart of youth ministry. I think it is what Jesus taught that we fail to emulate – we are coaches – not players. If I were still golfing for my boys, they wouldn’t play like they do now. If I was worried about getting beat by them eventually and held back, they wouldn’t play. Unless we take the time to teach by example and let youth learn by doing, they will end up leaving the church not leading it.