You NEED Friends
Church leaders need to realize that friends are necessary for a long-term impact in serving.
"Nobody cares about your stinking lock-in!" shot through my head. I knew that everyone at the meeting was thinking the same thing. Kyle had come to his first meeting in months and pitched his event. He had it all: a great band, an amazing speaker, and it seemed to be an awesome event, but there was a serious problem. No one trusted Kyle.
Kyle never had the time to make it to the youth leaders' lunch. He had more important things to do. Honestly, the only time he ever made the lunch a priority was right before his events. After Kyle pitched his event, he politely picked up the remaining fliers and excused himself…off to another important meeting. He didn't need us. He didn't need our silly gathering.
The salesman had gone, and the rest of the group had time to reconnect. One person expressed feelings of burnout; another's spouse had lost a job; and one member of the team was wrestling with the decision of opening her home to foster care. Those who remained around the table prayed and encouraged each other to keep doing good works. Trust was re-established, and our team began to share what was going on in our lives.
Here's a truth that often goes unspoken in youth ministry: Youth workers need friends. We need people we can pray with, who will commit to pray for us. We need friends who will laugh with us, go to the movies with us, eat lunch with us and with whom we can share life. Though this is a common need among youth workers, it's a need that often goes unfulfilled.
We Need Ministry Friends
I get together with ministry friends because I need community. I admit that's a selfish motivation, but it remains my most compelling reason. Loneliness is a super unhealthy (but very common) characteristic, though I'm pouring my life's energy into telling unchurched kids about Jesus. I look at my peers within my church who are earning three times my salary, and I wonder if I'm doing the right thing with my life. To top it all off, I have stories that only another youth worker would believe. My stress is unique; my frustrations are specialized; my purpose makes me feel as if I'm going the opposite direction of the rest of society. I just need to connect with someone whom I can trust, someone who doesn't think I'm crazy.
The other reason I pursue healthy community is because it's biblical. The words "one another" appear in the New Testament more than 100 times, yet the majority of ministry leaders are not connected. We want the people we serve to experience a small group, while we ourselves are not in this kind of community. We tell people they cannot mature if they are not connected, but the youth worker's family is struggling in silent agony because they have no place to turn when trouble hits.
We Need Local Friends
Getting together with other youth workers is important because they can pave the way to the trust and mutual respect that are essential in pastoring a community together. It's awesome if your denomination or region has a gathering, but do they know about what's going on in your community? Do they have connections to help with a crisis pregnancy, drug overdose or suicide at the local school? Do they provide counseling options that are accessible to your community?
I initiated a gathering of youth workers in a nearby small, rural community. I called all of them together in the county and…there were three of them. I arrived at the restaurant early to get a good table and waited for everyone else to arrive. I knew they probably would recognize each other; but because I had called the meeting, I needed to be the first one there. To my surprise, these fellow comrades never had met before. Three youth pastors had been shopping at the same supermarket for years, and they never had been introduced. As the conversation took off, they discovered how many people they collectively knew (and pastored), ministries they supported, and events that they attended. Until that meeting, they never had made the effort to say hello. They had a potential support system that hadn't yet been established.
We Need Friends We Can Trust
Good meetings do more than plan and share the next big youth event. When Kyle left our meeting, I was struck by the underlying message revealed through his narrow approach to our group. His annual trip suggested that the gathering of youth leaders was only interested in entertaining students. He did not understand that trusted ministry friendships could add depth to our community. Trust is the foundation for that depth. An awkward pastors meeting lets you know there is an absence of trust. Training and sharing resources are awesome, but they will not happen if you cannot develop a sense of confidence to begin working together. When we meet, we need to work on building a sense of camaraderie with one another. We need deeper relationships with each other as coworkers for the kingdom but also as co-journeyers toward Christlikeness.
We Need Friends Who Share a Common Vision
As with all friendships, we need to share life with those who share our passions. Jesus didn't commission the church to be a great entertainer but to be a great ambassador. The world of teenagers is a world of great need: depression and suicide are huge issues; sexuality is virtual; and many adults are clueless about emerging trends. One voice crying in the wilderness isn't enough, but a chorus of leaders may begin to garner some attention. A team of youth workers can play a crucial role in tackling the issues within a community, but this starts with joining forces and staying on mission. Our mission must go deeper and further than just being a collection of productions. The mission is to pastor a community together.
Trust combined with sharing a common vision creates a bond between youth workers. As leaders develop trust, each other's turf-wars turn into friendships; solo events turn into coordinated efforts; competition turns into collaboration. Trust allows us to see the different gifts each leader brings to the community. They no longer pose a threat because of their strengths; now they are assets in working together for common purposes.
The apostle Paul didn't see inside a particular congregation as he wrote his letters, but he wrote letters to the churches within a city. The leaders distributed those letters throughout their cities. Paul's heart was to help guide the churches together toward Christ. American culture pushes us toward independence. Typically this philosophy of solo-pastoring comes with the assumption that collaborating with other organizations is not necessary, but let's be honest: One person never has all the answers. Established, trusting relationships can turn into productive relationships when a united purpose is cultivated.
We Need Friends We Can Share Gifts With
Carrie was new to our youth worker gatherings. She didn't come to the meetings with an event; she came with a problem. Carrie discovered a high number of students who actively were participating in self-injury. When she brought up the need, we moved to collect resources and put together an informational meeting for parents and other youth workers. The event was a huge success, and it started a wave of addressing deeper issues within our churches.
At our meetings, it's never a question of if these issues will arise. The only question is: Will we have a team to help us through the issues, or will we battle it out alone? Healthy teams of youth workers become catalysts for dialogue and platforms for strategic community plans that include denominational and parachurch partners. When we come together as youth workers, we often ask: What are the needs within our community? Can we collectively develop a strategy to address the problems our teens are facing? Working on our own, we can only do so much; together, we can do amazing things.
Kyle did not understand the value of camaraderie. He never saw the long-term impact that trusted ministry relationships could have on our community. He only wanted to sell his event. However, 11 years in one community has allowed me to see the power of relationships, and I know how influence multiplies within a team of Christian leaders. We don't need more competition; we need more friends—good, close friends—with whom we can laugh, celebrate and link arms.
Wayne Morgan is the Northeast regional coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries. He has served in rural and parachurch ministry, as well as a multi-site church and loves to help people discover the power of teamwork. Blog originally posted at youthworker.com