NAME IT, CLAIM IT, TRAIN IT
You can put together a fantastic program plan, but it is the culture within the ministry that can make it great or cause it to miserably fail!
“My kids are way too silly and out of control.”
“Our youth don’t want to do too much God stuff.”
“Our kids are not ready for things like Peer Ministry.”
“We only have a few kids that come. The rest are too busy.”
Church leaders often share these kinds of statements. Without a planned and intentional culture another has evolved. I believe culture can be created. It first has to first be named, than claimed while being trained.
I was invited to work with a group of Presbyterian youth on a retreat. My plan was great, but the kids were squirrelly, silly, and a tough group to get into any kind of amazing, cool, candle time discussion. I finally smiled and said, “Okay, this is crazy night. We’re tired and we’re just not going to get where I want to go. Let’s call it a night.” Then, one of the kids asked, “Where did you want to go?” I told them, “I really wanted to get us to a place were we could all be honest and open, sharing some deeper things about faith and life.” The next response surprised me, “Well, we want to do that.” Suddenly the whole atmosphere changed. Everyone quieted down and pulled into a tight circle. I lit a candle and we talked well into the night.
My take away: “Don’t keep the desired culture a secret!” Name it. Tell people what you want the culture to be. Make your expectations known. Share your excitement and experience of what can happen.
It is well worth the time to write a cultural statement. Here are some questions to get you started.
- Who are we?
- Who can come?
- How do we treat each other?
- What are we about?
- What do we value?
Self-fulfilling prophecy can help or hinder culture formation. Our personal assumptions become the forecast of our culture or ministry atmosphere. After a culture has been named, it must be expected, lived into, assumed, and claimed!
I remember Tommy Martin, my 8th grade social studies teacher. First days of class were typically about the syllabus and a long list of rules. Tom Martin, came in smiled and said, “I have never had a discipline problem in any class and I never will.” At that point, he passionately jumped into sharing all kinds of history that none of us had ever heard before, along with the consequences of that history on our lives. No discipline problems?!!!! We were 8th graders. We were supposed to be difficult. How did he do it?
As students at Pete Junior High, in Cedar Falls, IA, we already knew the rules for behavior. We knew how we were supposed to treat each other. Tom Martin treated students in a way that assumed we knew this. He had high expectations for us. He taught as if everything we did was vital to life and the world around us.
The word “assume” is powerful. It is how we view others. I now work with youth in various denominations and in all areas of the country. I work with all kinds of youth in a variety of situations. I have learned to assume all youth are already leaders. I tell them they are. I begin immediately treating them like they are. I assume they are my partners in ministry.
Claiming your ministry culture is crucial. When your program is vital to life, assume youth will want to come. Assume youth are critical in a ministry that loves and cares for others, loving because Christ first loved us, (1Jn. 4:19). Assume that a well planned culture will be magnetic, one that others will want to be a part of.
If you have “named” your culture, now you have to claim it every time you gather! I highly recommend the practice of using a “Culture-Keeper.” What is a Culture-Keeper? I am glad you asked! Before you start any event or gathering, choose one or two youth. Their job, early in your program or event is say three things in thirty seconds.
- Who they are and that they are really glad everyone else is there.
- Name a piece of the group’s culture that is personally important.
- Make a statement about why they come.
Skills shape human behavior. As an educator, I was taught that when teaching people something they need and can use, retention goes way up! Knowledge is good, but by itself does not stick or last. When knowledge is coupled with imperative, need-now skills, the very skills needed in life and needed within ministry, you will have an attentive and eager audience.
I love “peer pressure.” Especially when it is positive. Maybe a better way of talking about such influence is that most behaviors are modeled and mentored. Here is a youth ministry essential. You must create a core team of modeling and mentoring youth and adults. Such a team models and mentors the desired culture.
I think of core teams as being similar to a well trained camp staff. Each staff person is focused on building faith relationships with a few other youth. I’ll share more about this core team in a future E-news.
Begin with a core group! Train the skills that are needed to create a relational, faith sharing culture. Skills produce change. Don’t miss that. Lean in and read a little slower. Skills produce change. It is never enough to only tell people what you want. You must equip people with the tools that shape behavior, the behaviors that in turn shape your culture. Peer Ministry Leadership is the best place to start. Yes, my bias, but for many good reasons. Key to any Christian culture is one that cares, welcomes and affirms others. PML is the very best at giving people these skills and attitudes.