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“Control freak!” That’s the term we use in youth ministry for senior pastors who won’t give us our way or elder boards who veto our latest hot youth ministry idea. But to be honest with you, I have an element of the “control freak” still inside of ME. And from time to time, it has been costly in the progress of our youth ministry. How about you? Let me share some of my thoughts.

  1. Excellence is not always as high a goal in youth ministry as participation. Thus, I need to “chill” and let my students own more things—even if the quality is lower than what “the select few” could have produced.
    One time, one of my high school guys wrote a skit to go with a portion of my talk that night. When I saw it at rehearsal, I almost canned it completely. My initial impression? It stunk! But I’m so glad I allowed the guy to share his skit. The kids responded to it far better than I expected and better yet, the guy spent the rest of the night grinning from ear to ear. Point taken, Little Miss Control Freak: Involvement sometimes trumps excellence.
  2. When I was a teenager, church leaders cheered my most feeble attempts to be involved. I was given a chance to learn and grow. How well am I doing that now for the teenagers around me?
    Yes, I’ve got to admit that I can be a tough coach sometimes. I cringe when the youth worship set has a bunch of dead time or a couple of leaders show up for our youth service dressed in something like their bathing suits. But, I have to remind myself that someone was amazingly tolerant of me when I was young and learning. They lived by the mantra that “failure isn’t fatal.” So, I need to often remind myself that I thwart people’s growth when I allow myself to focus more on “control” than on “encouragement.”
  3. High control takes a lot of the fun out of youth ministry. And it also runs off some of your best potential leaders.
    Strong leaders want to be clearly led, not controlled. They want to feel trusted and given space to pursue their dreams. They want to feel like comrades, not bellboys. Insecurity, on the other hand, makes us paranoid of strong leaders. Thus, we easily create a team of weak people and “yes men” around us—people who can be easily controlled (Did I say “manipulated”?). Youth ministry becomes so much more fulfilling and fun when we surround ourselves with strong individuals who are empowered to be “make it happen” people in the youth ministry.

What is sometimes my greatest involvement in student’s lives? It’s for me to be on the front row cheering them on. That’s about it. I’ll probably also be the informal “encouragement giver” afterwards if the huge crowd they envision doesn’t appear. I’m learning the joy of being “out of control.” How about you? Just remember this simple principle: If you have to tell people that you are their leader, you probably aren’t.