Sustainable Ministry is Collegial Ministry
By Luke Johnson | November 4, 2015
Ministry is hard work. You can’t do it by yourself. At every turn, you’re going to need to lean on someone -- maybe for advice, maybe for completing tasks not in your wheelhouse or those you just don’t have time for. And very quickly, you’re going to need not just ‘helpers’ but ‘partners’ -- colleagues.
I’m a part-time youth minister in a fair-sized Anglican parish in a small Canadian city. Four summers ago (2012) I was approached by people in my church to consider establishing a youth ministry for the parish. We started with 6 or 7 kids in the first year, around 13 the next year, about 17 last year, and 27 this year. Things have been going well numerically -- but that’s just the data.
I’m deeply grateful for the type of support I have around me. I have regular access to a youth ministry veteran, with whom I can talk candidly about group dynamics, ministry strategy, practical issues, and future plans. I know that when I talk to Ken, I’m getting the raw, real, full-meal deal. It’s a no-nonsense relationship in which bluffs are called and challenges are made. Conversation with Ken over the past four years has been an indispensable cold glass of reality and perspective when I’ve faced challenging relational or organizational issues.
I meet regularly with my parish priest, Fr. Dean. “Grateful” doesn't begin to describe my experience of this relationship. We talk about the ministry, but more often Fr. Dean’s questions are about self-care, about my own well-being as I conduct this work. We talk about spirituality -- not the flimsy pop-soda idolatry our culture loves, but the pilgrimage of pursuing the living Jesus, the kind that sees Eustace “de-dragonned” in Lewis’ Dawntreader. Fr. Dean reminds me often that “the world already has a Saviour”, which means, “Don’t work yourself to death just to accomplish something that will pass away along with the one who accomplishes it.” I find, at least 80% of the time, that the things we teach and the ways we pray flow directly out of Fr. Dean’s leadership. I am regularly inspired by being in Fr. Dean’s orbit. It’s been enormously encouraging to be counted a fellow-labourer, a fellow minister of the gospel, in the work of the parish.
My wife serves alongside me, holding together all the logistical details. I love to give shape to the ministry, to ‘meet’ our young people pastorally in what we study and how we pray -- but the group wouldn’t function if I didn’t have someone to hold together the details of Where, Who, and When. Being able to lean on her giftings in these ways releases me to tend to the work I do best.
As our youth group has grown in number, so has our leadership team. The first year we were joined by one youth leader volunteer, then by four, and now by six. Youth leaders are indispensable, wonderful people without whom the whole thing would fall apart. It’s a joy to work alongside people who “get it”, who want to help young people to encounter Jesus in scripture, to learn to pray, to put down roots in the Church. I ask my youth leaders to consider themselves “co-ministers” -- not merely helping out, but ministering in their own right.
We are also surrounded by enthusiastic parents and parishioners who pray, donate food, give rides, sponsor low-income young people to attend retreats, host small groups, and who make our young people feel welcomed and “belonged”.
I describe all of this simply to demonstrate how much help is required to grow a ministry. It’s really the work of the whole parish. People are involved in different ways and to different degrees, but everyone plays a part in calling our young people to respond to Jesus.
If you are ministering in your own parish, I hope you will take the time to seek out ministry partners and collegial relationships. You'll be able to work with greater focus, in greater joy, and for greater time.