It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Santa’s birthday – FOOTBALL SEASON! As I bask in the glow of being a Super Bowl champion for the first time in my life (GO BIRDS!), I think back to another champion from yesteryear, Kurt Warner.
Compromise and dismissal were the trademarks of Warner’s early pursuits. His hopes were dashed when the 1994 NFL draft left him unselected, causing him to take a job stocking shelves in a grocery store. The next year he took a humbling position in the Arena Football League. After turning some heads, he got a chance to be the third string quarterback for the Rams. Then the second string. Then, as fate would have it, Year 4 rendered his chance to seize the starting role.
He didn’t forfeit the opportunity. Kurt Warner would then don the title regular season MVP, Super Bowl MVP, and Super Bowl Champion.
All of this came together in Year 4 of his pursuits.
Every youth pastor wants to win the Super Bowl in Year 1. And hey, you should! Zeal and drive are necessary traits in youth ministry. If you were to just coast, you wouldn’t be affective. That’s not you. But it is going to take years of stocking shelves and kicking it as a third string QB for some of your dreams to be realized.
As you continue to push forward with your vision, you must realize that the most important ingredient to establishing a culture is consistency. And, assuredly, the most important ingredient to consistency is time.
Here are four things that only time can bring.
Knowing Your Culture
Your Cowpie Dodgeball Kickoff was a huge hit in Illinois, but at your new church in Massachusetts – not so much. You move your youth group meeting to Sunday nights, except you didn’t know that 92% of your students have a soccer game every week then.
There are things about your people that you couldn’t possibly know except for time. You will discover interests, aversions, calendar flows, and deficiencies, but much of it will be through trial and error. Evaluation and adjustments are the difference of a casual youth group and a great youth group.
Your job is to be the Chief Analyst of your area’s context. As you continue to immerse yourself among your people, you will learn how to best shepherd them according to their distinct culture.
Remember this: you are entrusted with people’s babies. In Year 1, parents have their clipboards out. Ok, let’s be real – they will ALWAYS have their clipboards out. They want to know this most important question: will my child be safe with this group? And the second question is like it: will this be a worthwhile investment in my child’s development?
You can answer both of these questions; however, you can only do so over time by repeatedly proving yourself. But once you have the trust of a parent, you have an ally that can influence your student in ways you can’t. You will know who you can lean on to lend a hand. Parents who are bought in are more valuable to your ministry than an endless supply of Cheetos and stage smoke.
Leaders Absorbing the Vision
“Intentional-Discipler-of-the-Next-Generation Expert” is only one of the titles your youth leaders have. All of those tasty ministry nuggets that you infuse into their life is put into a large caldron with other ingredients of life.
It takes longer for volunteers to latch onto next-level youth leading than you initially think it will. Repetition is key to knowing the team values, mission statement, and best practices. Observation and celebration of wins create a clearer picture.
Our team’s mission is this: faith beyond high school. My first few years, few on my team could repeat that back to me. Now? We’ve got it. This year I have the most well-oiled machine of a team that I’ve ever had. It just took time.
When your students know what to expect of your ministry, they will get invested. During Year 1, students will often feel three-parts uncertainty with only a dash of excitement. Every year that goes by switches that ratio in your favor. The more they are able to grow up with a cohesive leadership unit, the quicker their disciple maturation will be.
It takes time to see results when ministering to students. But I guarantee that Year 4-6 will more fruitful than Year 1-3. Remain faithful.
If you are in the first three years at a ministry, take heart! It gets better as you go. Stay put. Don’t have ministry envy. Don’t scour the YS Job Bank. Dig in. Go deep.
You may be stocking shelves in a grocery store now. Give it time. You’ll be winning the Super Bowl soon enough.
Used With Permission From Jonny Radcliff
Jonny Radcliff is the Student Ministry Director at Storehouse Church and the Delaware Valley Area Coordinator at National Network of Youth Ministries. He lives near Philly with his wife and the three little monsters that they rear together. His ten years of youth ministry have been spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Grace Theological Seminary.