The only time I have been superman—and I have been superman—was for superhero day during Spirit Week at the boarding academy I worked at. That was the only time.
Youth leaders (and teachers) often suffer from a superman complex, where they think they need to act like superheroes to be good youth leaders. A Superman Complex is an unhealthy belief that because you are the youth leader, you can connect with and save youth, while everyone else lacks the capacity to effectively minister to them. You are the one youth can relate to; you are the center of youth group attention; you are one they call when they need help, right?
While there may be some youth workers and teachers who are gifted with supernatural abilities, most of them need outside help—others—to be successful. Incredibly, Jesus did too. He gave us a simple model for youth ministry and education that if followed, will give REAL success. How do we effectively disciple youth? By building transformation teams. Together, parents, teachers, and pastors can—like Superman put it—be “more powerful than a locomotive.”
When Jesus said “I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and have power over the enemy” (Luke 10:19), he was talking to his team. He role-modeled what most successful people know: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan
If we want superman-like results—which is the only kind of results we should be aiming towards (i.e. Holy Spirit results)—then I would suggest focusing and simplifying our thinking back to Jesus’ model of ministry. Like Steve Jobs said, “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
In youth ministry and Christian education, where spiritual warfare is real and the villain is kidnapping the faith of many of our youth, we have some serious mountains to move. Here are three made-of-steel principles to “get our thinking clean.”
1. Think community over isolation.
Years ago I was driving through a town I used to live in, where I needed to stay overnight. I had to choose between staying in a hotel by myself, and calling up old friends to stay with them. With a busy agenda, I was tempted to not go through the extra work of calling. But before dismissing the idea, I slowed down my thoughts and conscientiously choose between community and isolation. If I chose isolation, I could be efficient in the short-term. But if I chose community, I could be rewarded in the long-term. After calling on my friends and enjoying their company, I once again realized how enriching community is. When it relates to youth ministry, it is easier to plan and execute ministry on our own (which we sometimes need to do) but it is more intelligent to think communally. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” Do you feel like you own the youth ministry or educational experience, or are you proactively engaging your church to own it with you?
Thinking community over isolation begins the process of becoming more family-centered in youth ministry, which by the way, is the “neo-traditional” way of doing ministry. If we are still doing youth-leader centered ministry, we are behind the times in current youth ministry trends in North America. Inter-generational community-based ministry is not only the latest trend, it is God’s way of doing things. Let’s think “Trinity.”
2. Think people more than programs.
Even in small churches we can be program based. “Let’s see who shows up to Sabbath School.” When a few kids show up, we focus on them; and we eventually forget about the ones who don’t regularly come. That’s a kryptonite sign that programs, not people, define our ministry.
Presently, I direct a very large youth ministry. My church has over 3000 members in it. Because we are big, our default mode is to operate through crowd, program-based ministry. Sure, we know fractions of our church members because of the social circles we are connected with, but how about all the other kids and families who need our love but who aren’t connected? They fall right through the cracks. They are the “ones” in the lost-sheep parable, but we many times don’t even know how many sheep are in our fold because we are program based. So 75 sheep showed up for youth group today, that’s great! How about the twenty five sheep that were missing—some who could have been present if we had just reached out to them? The message they heard was “we don’t care.”
Thinking people over programs is tough because we are so conditioned to think worship means order-of-service; Sabbath means going to church; success means attendance; ministry means a schedule of events; and remnant means a denomination. Why do we have to remind ourselves that “church” doesn’t refer to a building? Because we are program-based thinkers. That’s what most of us TV-generation leaders know what to do. To try to design a youth ministry where the program serves the people instead of the people serving the program is unthinkable. But if we want to be champions of the oppressed (like it is said of superman) then we will change our thinking from program-mode ministry, where there is fictional exterior-based success, to people-based ministry, where there is non-fictional soul prosperity (3 John 1:1-4). It’s not that we shouldn’t have quality youth programming or educational centers, it’s the priority and order. Which REALLY comes first CONSISTENTLY? Let’s think discipleship.
3. Think empowerment like Jesus thinks empowerment.
“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore”…and change the world. Empowerment was Jesus’ way of doing ministry. He chose his disciples; he invested in them and then released them for ministry. If we want our youth ministries and schools to go “up, up, and away”—superman style—then we will learn to empower. We only have so much creativity, energy, and time we can give, and it is not enough to do the work that must be done in our communities for not just Christian youth but for other youth and their families who need Jesus. Therefore we must become empowerers more than a do-it-yourselfers. We are called to transform our youth groups and classrooms into “armies of youth, rightly trained.” By giving our young people a vision for what God wants them to be and do, and by giving them opportunities, we can empower them to live for Christ. Let’s think synergy. Let’s think teamwork. Let’s think powerful outcomes.
Like someone said, “together, we can create the future we want to see.” What future do we want our children to see? And are we willing to work together to attain it?