My much-anticipated catch-up session with a youth minister got off to an auspicious start this evening. Upon entering my favourite Japanese restaurant, I told the owner that I would need a table for two. As one of the waiters led me to a table, a woman who I didn’t know entered the restaurant immediately after me. Somehow, the waiter thought that the woman was with me (my wife wouldn’t have been too happy) and somehow the woman remarkably didn’t see me sit in the booth first. Once she sat down she finally looked at me across the table. Slightly embarrassed, she gasped “Oh sorry…I thought that he was seating ME.” She quickly made her way to another table as I tried to stifle my laughter.
An honest mistake to be sure. And in retrospect I don’t blame her for wanting to sit with me. Kidding. Sort of.
But her innocent presumption got me thinking of the many times we make presumptions in youth ministry. And as in this case, they often turn out wrong.
1. Presuming what youth will like. How often do we think that we know what the youth need? I’ve been part of teams and planning processes where we jumped right into scheduling topics, nights and themes without even doing a proper needs assessment (formal or informal). It’s important to balance what you might think the teens need with what they tell you they’d like to see. Usually, the final result will fall somewhere in between the two.
2. Presuming what youth will be like. We’ve all learned to not to judge a book by its cover. But it’s amazing how often we still do that in youth ministry. In our fast-paced world, a first impression may become the only impression. Thus, it takes discipline not to form a bias or opinion of a young person solely on how he looks, how he talks, or how he shakes your hand. It’s simply unfair if we do. We need to take the proper time to forge a healthy relationship with teens. Which leads me to my next point.
3. Presuming you’ve earned the right to be heard. I’ve written before about the importance of earning the right to be heard. When possible, we need to build genuine relationships with young people before we attempt to evangelize or catechize them. Because they won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.
4. Presuming that if it worked before it will work again. When we repeat and recycle processes we can get complacent. Thus, an “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” mentality can become very dangerous in ministry. While it might mean that things are comfortable for you, in reality it can lead you to grow complacent. Eventually, this attitude will stifle creativity, discourage risk-taking, and prohibit growth.
5. Presuming that your pastor knows what you are doing. This is not at all a comment on your pastor’s intelligence; rather a comment on your communication with him. Do you give him and parish leadership regular updates? Does he know the wonderful things you are doing? Does he know where you need support? And do you know his expectations of you and the youth ministry? If you can’t answer “Yes” to all of these questions, then you need to rethink your communication strategy with him.
6. Presuming that the parents know what you are doing. Ensure that your youth ministry is more than a glorified babysitting service. For the most part, parents are grateful for what we are doing as youth ministers and therefore don’t necessarily need to know every detail of every gathering. However, regular correspondence with the parents will go a long way towards earning their trust. It could be in the form of face-to-face meetings, emails, phone calls, newsletters, or a regular place in the church bulletin. The parents will be more apt to support us and our ministry if they are kept in the loop.
So what presumptions do you make in your youth ministry?
Asking yourself this tough question will give you a decent indication of how well you are doing. We certainly don’t want to get caught making too many presumptions. Or for that matter…any assumptions either.
Because we all know what happens when you assume.