Sometimes things don’t go as planned. In fact, usually they don’t. Are you the kind of person that gets uptight if your ducks don’t walk in row? Because it seems like, in youth ministry (at least in my youth ministry) the ducks never walk in the row to which they have been assigned.
One thing I have learned as a tried and true principle in my ministry –write it all in pencil…and make sure you have a good eraser.
This year, we decided to do something we’ve never done before. We actually took our students tent camping for one night of our summer camp experience. I hear your incredulity – ‘you’ve never been camping?!’ – ‘is there any other kind of camping besides tent camping?!’ – ‘why only one night of camping – are you a pansy?!’
Yes – yes to all!! I’ve never taken teenagers camping. There are LOTS of other types of camping that do not include sleeping on rocks and pooping in holes. And, yes, thanks for noticing – I am definitely a pansy. My idea of roughing it is running out of towels at the Holiday Inn! But, alas, because I love my students and they begged me – we decided to give them ONE night of tent camping to start off our summer camp experience.
At about 2 AM, Mountain Time, I realized I would have to adapt to survive the evening.
I don’t know if you know this about me – but I am what most grandmothers call ‘husky.’ Most teenagers call it fat. I call it preparation for being lost in the wilderness after tent camping.
I don’t know if you know this, either. Most sleeping bags are not made for ‘husky’ guys. I was trying to sleep on a self-inflatable pad (that didn’t have very good self-esteem apparently) in a sleeping bag that was a size and a half too small for a husky guy. I would dose for about ten minutes and then awake as some part of me either fell off the pad onto the hardened ground or slipped out of my straight-jacket called a sleeping bag.
Finally – in the middle of the night and to the symphonic sounds of coyote calls – I finally decided I needed to adapt if I was to sleep a wink.
I unzipped my sleeping bag so it was the biggest comforter I’d ever seen (yes, even big enough for a husky guy), positioned my self on my flate-less inflatable mat in the most comfortable position I could muster – and slept deeply and soundly until morning.
Now what’s the point of all the TMI? There are times in ministry when things just don’t go as planned. Someone throws a monkey-wrench in the carefully-thought-out mix of your ministry ideal. Equipment doesn’t work to its potential or for its intended use. You step WAY outside your comfort zone only to find it’s VERY uncomfortable there.
You can spend the entire night resisting adaptation – trying to force square pegs into round holes (husky guys into slender bags). Or you can simply adapt. You can adjust to the circumstance. You can show your students how to make the best of a bad situation. You can get a good, deep sleep in the midst of coyotes.
Youth ministry, of all professions, is about adaptation. We adapt to trends. We adapt to everyone else’s calendar. We adapt our eating habits, sleeping styles, and musical tastes – all in an effort to love God by loving students.
So the next time things go awry in your ministry – your mattress doesn’t inflate, your sleeping bag is too small, or the coyotes are singing the wrong song – remember…you can adapt. You can sleep well. You can find Jesus EVEN in the midst of tent camping.
Darren is a veteran youth pastor in Corpus Christi, TX, and the co-host of Mi Podcast – a weekly podcast for parents of teenagers. (www.facebook.com/MiPodcast)