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student ministry, youth ministry, youth worker

Youth Worker or Dancing Bear?

By Guest Contributor September 30, 2014

By: Chris Maxwell 
Portions of this article are from Chris’s new book, 
Pause for Pastors: Finding Still Waters in the Storm of Ministry.

I travel to and speak in many different settings. I’ve led large youth groups and small youth groups. I’ve taught in ancient sanctuaries and modern conference centers. I’ve praised through contemporary worship songs and traditional hymns. I’ve known young youth pastors trying to look mature, and old youth ministers trying to look young—and usually failing. I love the variety. I appreciate the diversity. I honor the ancient and the modern.

But I cringe when ministry is done poorly: shallow relationships, flippant attitudes, and no lasting change in students. In most cases, minor changes could make major improvements. Many of these youth ministries could be something great. They have quality people and ideas in place, but performance has taken the place of true ministry. The spotlight points away from the students—the audience—and toward a single person on a stage.

Ministry leader Darren Schalk challenges us with a story that asks the question, “Are you ministering or performing?” He’s addressing all pastors, but this is an issue that applies to youth workers as well as anyone. As you’re reading, ask yourself how the pursuit of perfection might be turning your youth ministry into a performance.

I’ve been attending church since I was negative nine months old, i.e., conception. (Wait, negative seven months—I was early.) I believe church attendance is vital. I still believe it to be part and parcel of the Christian package. But church today often seems cold, calloused, and showy.

We’re so secularized and consumer-minded. We choose our churches based on who has the best programs, which actually means, who can spend the most money on decorations and engaging speakers. And we ask the ministers to dance for us each week. Not literally (although, some do that, too), but like dancing bears.

Showbiz Pizza was one of my favorite restaurants (if you can call it that). They were competitors with Chuck E. Cheese, but I preferred Showbiz—I liked their robotic animal band better. Of course, in hindsight the robot animals looked like something out of an 80s horror movie. But when I was young, their halting movements and blank eyes were charming.

As a kid, I always jumped at the chance to go to Showbiz, eat some pizza, play a few games, jump through the ball pit (praying no one had dropped a hypodermic needle in there), dance with the guy in the bear costume, and listen to the robotic band play a tune for me.

I wonder how different our church services are from a trip to Showbiz or Chuck E. Cheese. At so many churches today, we grab our food and beverages, the band plays, the bear dances, we’re entertained, and then we go home. But is this really church? Is this really the Body of Christ?

Many ministers feel like dancing bears who have to put on a production every week. The lighting has to be right. The videos and sound have to be flawless. We’ve bought into the idea that “he who has the most toys wins.” Whoever can afford the best bear costume and put on the flashiest show gets the biggest crowds.

To be honest, I hate unpreparedness. Nothing irks me more than when someone, particularly in a church service, gets up to do something without preparing first. I believe in doing everything with excellence and, when leading, I try not to let anything but the best occur under my watch and supervision. Yet some things inevitably slip through the cracks.

There’s a fine line between excellence and perfection, between preparedness and performance. When your goal is perfection, ministry can easily become performance, and those are two very different things. Consider these key differences between ministers and performers:

  • A minister seeks to glorify God, honor the Spirit, and uplift Jesus.
  • A performer seeks to glorify, honor, and uplift self.
  • A minister lets God move the people.
  • A performer seeks to move people through talent.
  • A minister will get out of the way when God is moving.
  • A performer won’t budge, for fear of losing the spotlight.
  • A minister is concerned with the ministry.
  • A performer is concerned with the show.

It all boils down to a mind-set: whom are you seeking to glorify, God or yourself? In the end, I think that’s the only question that matters.

So the next time you have a chance to minister, don’t turn it into a performance. Pause for a moment and make sure your outfit isn’t doubling as a bear costume. Seek God, not perfection. Be a minister, not a performer.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More