I’m a planner, an organizer, a structurer-of-schedules, and a tweaker-of-timelines. I live by to-do lists and daily plans. And, yes, I’m that person who will write something on the to-do list after I have done it just to feel more accomplished.
As a high school teacher, my classes are busy from bell to bell. And goodness knows that for all of the craziness that youth ministry entails, these schedules and timelines and organization are important (otherwise, we still wouldn’t have Jen’s permission slip and meetings wouldn’t be as impactful). And yet, as necessary as structure and to-the-minute plans and even the highest level of content are, this is not where our teens are meeting Christ.
“Free time” does not mean “wasted time”
When our newly-formed core team was putting together our first retreat, we set aside a few hours for “free time,” and I balked. “No agenda for two hours? But what will we do? Won’t they be bored? Why not schedule more meaningful programming like a skit or another talk or at least some sort of task to complete?” I was afraid of “wasted time.” Wasted time leads to boredom; boredom leads to mischief; mischief leads to chaos. Isn’t that how Yoda put it?
Fortunately, the wiser core team members won out. The time, no surprise, was not wasted, but spent building relationships with the teens through frisbee games, art projects, dance parties, and simple conversation. Free time complemented the scheduled programming of talks, small groups, and sacraments; it gave the teens time to relax, which they don’t get often. It gave the core team time with teens who may not have been in their small group or continue conversations with those who were.
Ultimately, none of this led to chaos, but left room for the Holy Spirit to work within our simple interactions (and He did!).
Ministry begins and ends with relationships
Before the retreat, the youth group meetings I planned looked suspiciously like classes I’d teach in school, complete with a powerpoint and handouts. Downtime was the devil! But I am constantly being reminded that our ministry begins and ends with relationship, and relationships need time and space to grow.
Don’t get me wrong: I can still make a pretty snazzy journal page, and I’m not giving up my to-do lists or timelines anytime soon, but if that timeline doesn’t include time for teens to grow in relationship with God and each other, then I’m not focusing on the right programming.
While frisbee itself doesn’t bring teens closer to Jesus (though some of our core team would quickly debate this), it does strengthen relationships and community, which is the foundation for evangelization. When we schedule time for “no agenda” elements and invite our teens into conversation and activities, we can model how to live the joy of the Gospel authentically in the ordinary occasions of everyday life, not just during praise & worship or small group time.