Ever since I caught his act on Comedy Central years ago Mitch Hedberg has been my favorite comedian. He died of a drug overdose in the prime of his career but left us with some amazing lines. I think of this one almost every time I get up to speak. When referring to his own comedy routine he said “you can’t be like pancakes, all exciting at first but by the end you’re sick on ’em”. I may have left an expletive out. Although I think this is excellent advice for any speaker, preacher or performer it’s also excellent advice when your thinking about long haul ministry. I’m looking at an article now on the National Network of Youth Ministers that states that the average youth minister stays in their position for 18 months. You know, just long enough to get to know the students you are working with, and then boom you are gone. Now I realize that sometimes God does call people to other work, and sometimes in churches rush to fill a position they put in the wrong person, I also know that “youth minister” is often a stepping stone to other church positions. However I also know there are plenty of Youth Ministers that stay for a long long time. That means there are those who don’t even make the year and half. I think the reason can be explained with pancakes and the book of Joshua.
Youth ministry usually is all exciting at first. It’s all new music and bowling. Maybe you redecorate the youth room, get some old couches and a pool table. It’s awesome, everyone is excited, your excited, parents are excited, teens are excited but about a year in something happens. You grow to a point that you can’t handle it anymore. It becomes bigger than what any one person can handle. You take late night phone calls from parents and frantic texts from boys who just got crushed by a girl. There are plays and basketball games times to attend. You can only be so many places at once and now this thing that was all exciting at first is steering you straight toward the dreaded burnout. So what does that have to do with Joshua? Have you read Joshua lately? What do you think about when you think about it? Oh, it’s all exciting at first, spies, crossing the Jordon with another miracle, the Commander of the Army of the Lord making an appearance, walls come a tumbling down the sun literally standing still; super exciting stuff. But then what? It’s allotment time! It’s chapter after chapter of how they divided the newly conquered land among the children of Israel and by the end you’re sick of it.
So what does that have to do with youth ministry? It comes down to organizing, Joshua couldn’t lead all of those people in their day to day grind any more than a youth minster can be effective with a bazillion teens. You have to organize, you have to find other leaders or raise them up within your ranks. Jesus literally taught us this lesson by only taking on 12 to truly disciples. A growing, meaningful, impactful youth ministry can’t be managed by one person. There has to be a time of allotments, otherwise you get burnout or a youth ministry that isn’t changing many lives. Call them small groups, discipleship teams, covenant groups, whatever you want but if you want to impact lives for Jesus and not have to choke down anymore pancakes get help and then organize that help. You only have so much time, maximize it.