Is your church imperfect? Youth ministry expert Deech Kirk says “welcome to the club.” Successful church leaders need to accept that every church is a work in progress and that building healthy, sustainable, thriving ministries takes time, hard work, and patience.
Every church is a work in progress. That realization has led me to believe that working at the church might just be harder than working anywhere else. Why? Because we expect it to be different and for folks to treat us differently. When they don’t, we question why any sane person would work for these people. I know I have.
You, like me, are a work in progress, too. You will be a better minister five years from now than you are today. You, like me, have not reached sanctification. You are not a perfect disciple of Christ.
It takes time and work
As people in ministry, one of our greatest collective fears is that someone will find the cracks in our perfect image and ask us to not do what God has called us to do. In my work with The Center for Youth Ministry Training, I have frequently had the opportunity to tell churches that if they want to have a healthy, sustainable, thriving youth ministry, it will take work and time.
And today I tell you the same thing: a lot of work and time. This does not mean that you need to work 80 hours a week. No! This kind of work is done a little bit at a time. Each piece of the building needs time to “set” so that it can be the foundation or launching pad for the next piece.
Of the churches that I met with to talk about strategic youth ministry, almost all can point to an amazing youth ministry in the area that they would like to be like. I have yet to find even one of those “amazing youth ministries” that was built overnight, in six months, or even in less than three years. Those ministries were all built one piece at a time and yours will be, too. If every year you work to improve your ministry by just 10 percent, then five years down the road, other churches will be pointing at yours.
Great youth ministries get a little bit better every year. So, if your church is not perfect, if it doesn’t have all the congregational assets or qualities found in the Exemplary Youth Ministry study, welcome to the club.
Water your lawn.
In the middle of Justin Bieber’s song “As Long as You Love Me,” sit the lyrics: “But the grass ain’t always greener on the other side. It’s green where you water it.” (I know…. I can’t believe I just quoted a Justin Bieber song.)
In a world that easily abandons the things that are hard, that wants it our way right away, and always wants what someone else has…
In a church where people leave because they don’t like the new preacher, the music, what someone said, or because the vote didn’t go their way…
I say, “water your lawn.”
Get to the work of tending the church and youth ministry God has entrusted to you. Continue to do this insanely hard, heartbreaking, hope-bringing, grace-filled ministry, and someday, you will have an “exemplary youth ministry” — not perfect but faithfully growing disciples of Jesus Christ.
This material is adapted from the article Imperfect Churches published on the website of the Center for Youth Ministry Training. That article is excerpted from a previously published letter in the book Letters to a Youth Worker.