In Response to Doug Field’s and Walt Mueller’s Blogs
Walt and Doug have made a quasi-synchronized blog post (see Doug’s here and Walt’s here) about the superstar phenomenon that they experience being notable leaders in the youth ministry profession (they use the term industry). They are responding to a phenomenon, especially at national conferences, where they are approached by youth workers who espouse beliefs that they must fit a Doug Fields (or Walt) sized mold. Reading this, I must admit, challenged my motives and made me examine the “why” to what I am currently pursuing in ministry. Part of me turned defensive, the other part stopped and reasoned with what they said:
At issue is the desire of certain youth workers to “become like them.” Kinda like Michael Jordan back in the day and the song “I wanna be like Mike.” I remember playing basketball for hours at the hoop across from my house, my friends back yard and at the school trying to be “like Mike.” The question that is begged is this a healthy or harmful question?
My answer: Helpful
Proverbs 27:17 – As Iron Sharpens Iron, so does one man sharpen another.
I am not sure the harm sometimes in asking “what makes you successful” as long as your source will point you towards Christ. What habits have you developed over the years that give you success. However, I take from Walt’s blog that he’s okay with that. He’d be humbled by it and happy to talk to you about youth culture and ethnography… Doug may be if you asked about PDYM and I would be if you asked about pastoral care. I think I was defensive about this point. I want to be called successful. However, I think they are challenging the definition of success. I tend to agree. “Don’t follow me, Follow Christ” works for life. I think SYM partially exists to help emulate the success of PDYM, Saddleback and to make life a little easier for youth workers who are overburdened (note: they do NOT want to try to make you into a copycat of Saddleback.)
There are two valid ways to learn from others in life: By doing what other people do right, well and good and avoiding the mistakes other people make. The point is, you can’t get to God’s calling in your life by being a plastic copy of one of these men. However, you can learn about how they got where they did, habits and character traits of leaders (them and others) and apply it to your calling.
My answer: Harmful
This question, although it may seem like you are being a better youth worker/pastor/leader/guru, actually is a backhand at God. For it 1) rejects the purpose that God has called for you in your life (Jer. 29:11); 2) Downplays that you are God’s creature and wanting to be someone else says to God “you didn’t do good enough making me” (Gen 1:27, 2Cor. 12:9) and 3) Affront’s God’s providence in your life. While more pay would often be nice, God promises he will provide for our needs, trying to grab something that isn’t ours is not trusting in God (like the Israelites gathering too much manna (Deut 8:3, 16, Ex. 16).
Several individuals at SYMC with these cards and flyers approached me trying to put themselves out there, it really didn’t work with me, what does work is relationship. All my current ministry partners/friends are from developed relationships, not fliers and propaganda.
What Questions Should we Be Asking?
I’m not a fan of telling people what they shouldn’t do without throwing out ideas on what they should be doing.
The Question is What am I called to be?
While working at Camp-of-the-Woods in the Adirondacks of New York, I was fortunate to be in a staff fellowship that involved Ravi Zacharias and Norm Geisler who were asked many questions by staff. One of these questions was along the lines of the above… How do I become (great)? Norm responded by drawing three circles on the board and showing three titles. Location, Passion and Scripture. He defined the following:
o Serve where you are and where God has put you. God might call you somewhere else, but don’t look for greener pastures for they may not be what God is calling you to be.
§ For me and my wife, this is the northeast of the US. God might have something better, but the culture, spiritual/theological depravity as well as familial support we have up there makes the northeast where we feel we will have the most impact. We moved out to go to Seminary, but are heading back ASAP. As part of God’s calling, we doubt being called outside of this area. (God might have something else planned though)
o What sets your heart on fire. What do you gravitate towards. This is something that when you are done, you often have tons more energy than when you started. For me, I realized that youth ministry was a true calling when I felt like a complete failure for only working 15 hours in a ministry setting.
§ My passion lies in the areas of Youth Ministry, Pastoral Care, Mentoring and Crisis Intervention/Social Work. I do not desire to pursue things that fall outside this scope.
o If it doesn’t fit with scripture, it isn’t from God. The three points listed above about why wanting to be Doug or Walt or <<name your “guru” here> are all valid here.
Is it who you know?
· Sometimes yes. Josh Griffin, for example, got his ministry position and his blog from becoming an acquaintance of Doug. But, realize that God is using Josh’s passion for blogging and is making his presence on the Blogosphere Great, rather than pursuing something else.
· I would submit that we already know the right person – Jesus Christ – Who is just and via the Holy Spirit will arrange the divine appointments required for you to get where you are going.
What can we do?
o Realize that these ‘Ministry Greats’ did those three points. They set out and did God’s will for them where they were located and over a long period of time made them who they are.
§ If you must copy, apply what they do well to your location, passion and scriptural calling. Think of the principles, ethic and habits they bring to the table and transplant those (and only those) to your ministry. But never lose yourself and the person God made you to be a facsimile of a “big gun”
· From my perspective, I’m about to leave seminary with a second masters and think that some churches are passing over my resume because it might look to them like I am pursuing ministry as if it is a second career. My reality, God led me through social work to make me a more equipped kingdom servant.
o Matthew 6:33 states, seek first the kingdom of God, and all this will be added…
o Wedding Feast: take seriously Jesus’ advice to the disciples and not seek to sit “at the big boys table,” but be present, at the less noticeable tables, doing what you are called and then being noticed, get called to “the big boys table”
For me, I don’t want the general session podium. However, I do feel called in mentoring and sharing my gifts with other youth workers. I would much rather be found doing what I am passionate about, counseling, pastoral care and crisis ministry among youth workers. If I were to select a service station it would be in the background, either in the counseling areas, or out wandering the floor looking for people to love on.
I have known many workers who have higher frequent flyer miles. One conclusion I have come to, the higher that these numbers go… the more difficult (if not impossible) it is to maintain a healthy family and to love on them appropriately.
· My biggest fear: Failing my kids (Mark 9:42), they don’t know who Doug or Walt are…
· In reality, I’m not terribly impressed with the “big guns” more than my heroes in the shadows like:
o A youth worker friend that skipped their oral exams (you fail, you don’t graduate) to be with one of his youth after his custodial Grandfather passed away.
o Worker in a small church, not knowing how to do ministry, but showing up and just loving on her girls…
o People who minister from the background, not asking for attention, but making tremendous impact in a single kids life.
· Learn to be consistently good in your current station, If you don’t learn to hit single A fastballs, there is no way you will hit a major league fastball.(See Luke 12:48, Matt 25:21, 23)
· From all that time I spent trying to “be like Mike”… the only thing I share with a Pro-basketball player is that I shared the height of Muggsy Bogues.