Sometimes growing means getting out of the way
By Luke Johnson | October 13, 2016
Isn't it funny that, knowing what we know, we still use the words “sunrise” and “sunset” to describe the boundaries of a day?
Once upon a time those words carried literal meaning. The earth was center stage where everything happened, and the sun a mere lamp making its way across our sky. How jarring it must have been to live in those days, to be the first ones to reinterpret the universe as a place where the Earth is the little traveller, and the sun the center figure.
‘Reality’ can be redefined like this in ministry sometimes. Years ago when our youth group first began, I was the primary pastoral voice, the person at the center. The task of connecting and teaching and modelling rested most squarely on me. But as the years rolled on and the group substantially grew, our picture of the ‘cosmos’ needed to expand, and we ran with a bigger and bigger leader team.
At first, our leaders were people who came alongside me to share the work. In those days I considered myself to be something like “first among equals” – the guy making the administrative decisions but still a regular youth leader in every other way.
But something was changing. As an unforeseen consequence of taking on volunteers, I had become “the boss.” I was shocked into this realization one night when I jumped into a boys’ small group and assumed the other leaders and I would co-lead together. But what volunteer would want to assume command when the youth minister is in the room? So I awkwardly led the whole group, and made a mental note to stay out of the way in the future.
The ministry was evolving under my feet and I didn't adjust. I needed to leave the feet-on-the-ground work to my youth leaders, and recede into a central leadership role. I felt a bit like I imagine the Sun felt to realize it wasn't just another orb in the sky, but the thing providing order for everything else.
I struggled the rest of that year to be a leader to our leader team. It was probably “imposter syndrome,” but I didn't feel like I had sufficient ability or experience to provide direction to a team. It was an awkward transition from “part of the team” to “team leader”.
But I had learned my lesson. At the start of a new year, faced with an ever-growing ministry and our biggest leader team to date, I decided to enter “full boss mode.” I removed myself from small group leadership, leaving that task completely in my youth leaders’ hands, and submitted myself to becoming the ministry’s equipper.
In some ways I grieve the change: it has meant that I am somewhat less connected since I'm not “on the ground” in the same way our youth leaders are. But it also means that I get to witness (and rejoice in!) the fruit of our youth leaders’ ministry. I get to build into these adults as they serve our young people. And I get to watch the long history of our youth group unfold, holding the office of “longevity,” privileged to witness these young lives grow and mature even as the faces of our leader team change over time.
The evolution of a ministry can be scary, unsettling, even destabilizing. But when change comes as a result of the work God is doing, you might find yourself ministering with new fervour and clearer focus, even amidst your fumbling.