How To Handle the Weekly Ebb and Flow of Youth Ministry

Photo by James Qualtrough on Unsplash

 

   I recently had an exchange with a youth leader related to the normal weekly ebb and flow of youth ministry. It is not something I have thought about recently, but if we have been in youth ministry for a while then we have had to come to terms with the rhythm of ministry. On a week to week basis we have natural rises and falls. We build up towards our weekend programs and then it dips after that. We lift towards a mid-week program and then ease down. And then at various times we have bigger rises and falls where we have a big outreach or event. 

   As I was thinking about the topic I was reminded of the ocean tides, and the plants and creatures that exist in the tidal zone. (As the parent of a 7 year old, I have to admit that what came to mind was an episode of the Magic School Bus.) The current ministry environment is very similar to the tidal zone.

   The plants and animals in the tidal zone know, and are prepared for, the changing tides. They know the lift and turmoil of the incoming tide, culminating in a high tide. They know the drag and flow of the outgoing tide, finishing with the low tide. There are things to learn from them that we can apply to youth ministry.

 

1. They make their home on the rock

   Plants and animals that live in the tidal zone are predominantly found on the rocks. The rocks are stable and give them grounding. Rocks don't shift or move with the tide like sand does. The plants anchor themselves to the rock, some of the animals anchor themselves and some animals find shelter in the crevices and rock pools.
   With the ebb and flow of youth ministry, our emotions, soul, body and spirit lift and dip, and we should make our foundation on the Rock too. Of course our rock is Jesus and our relationship with him. We need to anchor our identity in him, we need to embed our security in his love for us, we need to shelter our souls in his caring and careful hands. One of the messianic prophecies is found in Isaiah 42 and verse three says "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;". Our Jesus is compassionate and kind, he wants us to bring forth his kingdom on earth, but understands our humanity, our weaknesses and frailties, and our potential.
   The plants and animals that thrive in the ebb and flow, are the ones that have established themselves firmly on the rock.

   How is your relationship with Jesus?

 

2. They know and expect the rhythm

   The life that exists in the tidal zone is not surprised when the tide goes out after a couple of hours. They aren't thinking to themselves "What is happening?!?!" They understand and expect that the tide comes in and lifts them, bringing nutrients and good things. They also know that the tide will go out, leaving them a bit drier, maybe hunkered down in a rock pool to protect themselves from drying out completely. And when the tide is out, they know that if they stay on the rock, if they take care of themselves through this moment that the tide will come back in.   In all these moments, they are prepared. As the tide comes in, they are preparing and ready to open up and make the most of the opportunities that are coming their way. And as the tide recedes, they are preparing and getting ready to settle down until the next time around, conserving what they have to make sure they make it through.
   In week to week ministry, if we are not prepared for the dips that often follow the highs, then we can wonder what is wrong with us. We can have a great weekend of youth and ministry, but so often on Monday we still have doubts about ourselves and what we achieved. It is even more so if we went into the weekend with high expectations that were not met.
   Your body is not designed to live at a constant level of excitement or stress, it is always trying to find balance. As we work towards running a program or event, we can get a sense of excitement and/or stress. That can be a good thing in that it can help you focus and achieve more, but once that stress or excitement has been relieved, once the event or program is over, your body is trying to return to its normal state. So the chemicals and hormones that were released under "stress", stop being released and the opposing chemicals and hormones are released to rebalance the body. Unfortunately the rebalancing can swing past "balance" and in the opposite direction before it corrects and finds normal. So the correction to the high can over-correct before it finds balance and gets to normal.
   Of course Satan has been an observer of humanity for thousands of years, so not only does our body play a part, I am sure that Satan also uses these opportunities to influence us. The Bible talks about us not being ignorant of the Devil and his schemes, and I am sure this is one of them. I believe the phrase "kick 'em while they're down" is fairly accurate here. Sadly some of his agents are disguised as people in our world, who in their brokenness can bring forth discouragement right when we don't need it (but that is a blog post all on its own).
   If we understand some of these rhythms, we are more prepared for them and more able to push past the dips. We become more able to stay for the long term, rather than getting discouraged in the moments. We would think that there was something wrong with the oysters and crabs if they abandoned the beach just because the tide went out, yet we can find ourselves doing something similar if we are not prepared.

Do you know your weekly rhythms? Are you prepared for them and how they affect you?

 

3. They capitalize on the high tide

   When the tide is in and water is all around them, those plants and animals are all gathering nutrients, they are absorbing needed water, they are grabbing food etc. They know that if they wait too long then they will miss the opportunity, so they make the most of it.
   We should do the same. When things are flowing, in the buzz and excitement of a gathering of young people, we need to be focussed on our purpose and mission. We should be connecting with young people, absorbing those great things that sustain our souls, fulfilling our calling, leading, preaching, lifting, serving, reaching etc. Because we have the opportunity right then, and we don't want to miss it.
   Whether one youth shows up or multitudes, we show them God's love, we execute on our plan.
   Matthew 9:37-38 says Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” In those moments where we are leading and ministering, we are the answer to that prayer, we are stepping into the harvest, into the lives of young people to bring them closer to the God who loves them. Make the most of those moments and celebrate them as they happen.

Are you making the most of the opportunities when they come?

 

4. They know how to continue through the low tide

   As the tide begins to flow out, preparation begins on the rock for the next phase. As the waves come less and less, the plants and animals close up and those who need shelter find their hiding or resting spots. Those who had open shells, close them to preserve the moisture inside. As we finish our event, pack up, debrief, celebrate the wins etc, we also need to begin preparing for what comes next. Remember that humans are complex beings, our spirit affects our soul, our soul affects our body, our body affects our soul and our soul affects our spirit. We exercise our will when we choose which will ultimately rule us, but they interact and influence each other.

  • Physically - leading up to our events or programs, we can become drained physically with lack of sleep, poor diet choices, physcial exertion with set up, running and pack down. So post event, make sure you allow your body to recover. Get some rest and eat healthy is a fairly simple equation.
  • Emotionally - running events and leading youth ministry is a draining activity, and more so if there has been disappointment as well. Physiologically there have been a bunch of chemicals released to help you cope with the stress and excitement, and as mentioned above, these need to rebalance and a bit of a dip is likely. So be prepared for that. Set in place some things that will help you get through. One example might be to practice thankfulness, find one or two things that you can be thankful for, even if that is just a lesson learned. Another example is to journal or to get yourself around good people that fill your cup. Do activities that fill your cup. One word of warning is to watch out for activities that offer artificial highs. Activities like video games, junk food, over eating etc, can all replace the "high" of ministry with an alternative high to try and skip past the low. This is not a healthy way to respond and has consequences that will catch up with you. My advice is to understand the low, experience it, process it and then move back into balance.
  • Mentally - your mental resources have been used and need to replenish, especially if tired. SImilar to the physical, rest, relax, read a book, watch a movie. Don't look to do your budget immediately after a draining event or program.
  • Spiritually - we are spiritual beings, the spirit realm is real and there is a battle going on. So be aware that this is a reality, but always remember that you are not alone and that Jesus is on your side. In the ebb, make sure you don't neglect your relationship with God or his people, put on some music that connects you to God, go for a walk in nature and have a conversation, visit another church sometimes so you can worship anonymously with no expectations from youth, parents or leaders. Take the opportunity to lay the event/program and all the sacrifice at God's feet, asking him to use it for his kingdom and purposes in your life and the lives of those around you.

What will you put in place today, to make sure you survive the moments of low tide?

 

I hope this has been of value to you. If you have questions or comments then please let us know, we would love to hear from you.