Swinging for the Fences

With professional baseball player Vernon Wells.
With professional baseball player Vernon Wells.

Last week, I was blessed to spend a week in Fort Worth, Texas for the second consecutive year.  I served as a trainer for YouthLeader and had the opportunity to help high school youth (and their youth ministers) develop their leadership skills (in a Christian context) through a week of sessions, prayers, games, socials, and more.  I was inspired by the enthusiasm and desire of the young people I met.

When YouthLeader ended on Friday, I spent 24 hours with my good friends Marie and Mike and their 5 wonderful children.  On Friday night, we went to watch Andrew (the oldest child) play baseball.  It was a really fun night as we were treated to some decent hardball (especially for 9 and 10 year olds) and I got to meet and take a picture with ex-Toronto Blue Jay – and 3 time MLB All-Star – Vernon Wells.  He’s one of the coaches of Andrew’s team.

The game came down to the last inning and Andrew’s team was up to bat down 6-4 with 2 out and the bases loaded.  One of Andrew’s teammates walked up to the plate, and I just so happened to be standing next to the batter’s dad.

Pitch 1 was a ball.

Pitch 2 was a strike (the boy didn’t swing).

Pitch 3 was a ball.

Pitch 4 was a strike (once again, the boy watched the ball cross the plate).

Pitch 5 was a ball.

Now we had a full count of 3 balls and 2 strikes.  With 2 out.  And the bases loaded.  This had all the makings for a hero moment.

“Come on…you need to swing the bat!” the father implored his son.

Pitch 6 was a strike right down the middle. The bat never left the boy’s shoulder.  Game over.

“If you want to hit, you need to swing the bat,” the father mumbled to himself as we applauded the efforts of both teams.

Was the young boy intimidated by the pitcher?  Maybe.  Not prepared enough?  Perhaps.  Feeling the pressure?  Likely.

Often in youth ministry, we may feel intimidated, unprepared, or pressured.  We may withhold or withdraw because we don’t want to make a mistake. Or we’re afraid or failing.

But fear is not of the Lord!  In 2 Timothy 1:7 we hear “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

We must SWING FOR THE FENCES!

Here are 4 ways we can swing for the fences in youth ministry:

1.  Make the extra effort.  Youth ministry can be draining.  It can be disheartening when you put so much work into a night and only a handful of teens show up.  Teens can be high-maintenance, and they don’t always say thank you and they may not pray for the leaders.  But despite all of this, they will notice when you put in the extra effort.  It might be spending a bit more time making decorations for the next event, seeking out a costume for an upcoming skit, or devoting a few extra minutes to respond to emails, Facebook messages, and tweets.  The answer to the question of “Is this worth it?” is almost always an unequivocal yes.  Doing that little bit extra might make the difference between a young person coming back to your youth ministry gatherings or staying home.

2.  Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.  Now I’m not talking about careless and care-free mistakes here.  But I am talking about practical risk-taking.  Sometimes, we need to just let our imaginations fly!   Our volunteers should not feel bogged down by bureaucracy.  Without some freedom, volunteers will lose their enthusiasm quickly.  So if you’re used to delivering a talk or teaching from a script, next time use cue cards or memorize the whole thing.  Or maybe you could try some new and crazy icebreakers for the very first time.  Trust that the other volunteers and leadership will have your back and bail you out if necessary.  We all need to take risks, even at the expense of failing.  After all, the only person who never makes a mistake is the one who never tries anything.

3.  Aim high.  There’s is nothing inspiring or satisfying about reaching a goal that you set too low.  Thus, I’d encourage you to ask yourself questions like “What will success look like?” or “What’s something we haven’t tried before?” as opposed to “How can we get by?” or “What’s the safest route?”  When we aim high, we stretch out of our comfort zones and we often surprise ourselves with what we can accomplish.  When young people see us aiming high and not being complacent, they will want to do the same.  Our goals should be challenging, yet realistic and practical.  But as long as we aim high, we won’t get stagnant, and we – and our ministry – will continue to grow.

4.  Be confident.  If we are genuine in our intent, then we can be confident that God will work in us and through us.  After all, we are ordinary people in the hands of an extraordinary God.  If we are called to serve in youth ministry, then we must have confidence that we are making an impact in the lives of the young people we are ministering to and with.  It’s through our witness, our conversations, and our relationships.  We are their affirmers, their cheerleaders, and their advocates.  We must believe that if God leads us to it, then He’ll lead us through it.  Sometimes we may feel tired, lazy, and unworthy to serve.  But God asks us to look beyond our so-called “inadequacies” or “deficiencies” and trust in Him; that His grace will be sufficient for us.

 

When we make the extra effort, when we’re not afraid to make a mistake, when we aim high, and when we’re confident, then we will inspire and motivate others – young and old alike.  And in turn, they will inspire us right back.  Such was the case with the amazing young people of Texas last week. Their desire to strengthen their relationships with God rubbed off on me and made me want to do the same.

So the next time you’re up to bat in your youth ministry, make sure you swing away!

It’s the only way you’re going to hit a home run.