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The Blob or the Dry Bones?

“Rich … I think this is all super fun but we really need to know what on earth the plan is,” said one of my team members. We were at a team day retreat and I had made the mistake of asking my team to tell me the full facts of where we were at in the youth work.

I was 21 and I’d been the youth leader at the Kings Centre in Sheffield for nearly a year.  Up until that team retreat I’d thought we were all doing really well!  I’d increased the team size and everyone seemed excited. I was full of vision, enthusiasm and was a big believer in relational, non-programmatic youth work.

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In my mind youth work was all about ‘hanging out’ and getting excited about the vision God had given me. We hung out, and then we hung out some more, and then we hung out some more, and then … you guessed it … we hung out some more.  It was all really fun, and everyone was excited by the vision but the problem was that we weren’t really moving towards that vision.

Despite the growing relationships and deepening of vision the lack of action led to growing frustration.  The problem was that I was terrified of moving towards those pesky programs!!

Over the last few years God has led many youth ministries to move away from simply being programmatic in their approach to youth work.  I think it’s such an important recapturing of the core of discipleship which all begins with real authentic relationships. However often I find that youth ministries tend to move towards one of the extremes.

At one end of the spectrum we have those who, like me when I first began, have abandoned the idea of having program’s and have adopted instead a purely relational approach with no structure at all.  This creates wonderful, organic, relational, family-feeling youth work. However they often lack the infrastructure and organisation to actually achieve anything and often young people drift away because they never get to go on the kingdom adventures that Jesus has for them. For the purposes of this blog lets call them “BLOB youthwork!”

At the other end of the spectrum you have the youth ministries which are so professional that everything is organised.  These ministries have all their ducks in a row but often haven’t managed to build deep, authentic, discipleship-enabling relationships with the young people.  They are typified by youth leaders who see their ministry as their job from which they need to build clear boundaries to keep the young people out of their personal lives.

I remember chatting with one youth leader who told me he had come up with a great system where he had a separate Facebook page for the young people and a different one for his personal life. When I asked him “why,” he said it was because he was worried that the things that he did on his personal one wouldn’t be helpful for the young people. Was he really saying that the best thing to do was to hide his real life and present a fake life for his profession of youth work?  I honestly can’t think of a better way to destroy any hope of building a discipleship culture than hiding our lives from our young people.  These youth works often have all of the structures but none of the relationship.  For the sake of this blog why don’t we call this “DRY BONES youth work.”

The reality is that we need both! Deep end relationships that go way beyond the program’s that we run so that we build a real discipleship culture. But … We also need structure.  So how do we get both?

We need to be:

organic and organised,

Relational and structured

blob and bones!

We’ve got to try and have it all.  It really depends on your personality.  I naturally will always go towards the organic end of the spectrum.  I love being free, building relationships and seeing what evolves.  The discipline for me is being organised.  I hate planning meetings, schedules, planners, and strict timings.  The reality is that in order that I’m a good leader these are the primary skills I have had to work on.  For others it is the other way around.  Some naturally build organisation into everything and the discipline is to allow enough space for the organic to occur.

 So what do you do most naturally and what is a discipline for you? Would love to hear in the comments below.

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