Mark Hart

Ministry Secrets I learned from “The Karate Kid”

I love The Karate Kid. There, I said it.

Hey, don’t judge! Remember Matthew 7:1.

I’ll say it again: I love The Karate Kid and, to be clear, I’m talking about the movie, not the person (nothing personal, Mr. Macchio – you were great). Additionally, I mean the original movie, not the remake with Jaden Smith (again, nothing personal, Jaden… you’re quite talented little brother).

The movie changed my adolescent life. In the summer of 1984, every teenage boy I knew began practicing karate in their bedrooms in an effort to perfect “the crane technique.”

You could hear quotes like “Get him a body bag!” being tossed around the playground during impromptu martial arts competitions. I listened to the cassette tape with the song “You’re the Best Around” until it wore out… and then I made another one. Some guys even started tying bandanas around their heads. Luckily, I dodged that fashion bullet.

Reflecting on that magical summer recently, it occurred to me how many important ministry lessons can be drawn from the film.

So, here are 10 quick ones (just to name a few):

1. Change can be difficult but is often rewarding.
Many in ministry get stuck in doing the same thing the same way; monotony is deadly in ministry. Most of the greatest things in Scripture happen after someone allows themselves to be moved. In the Karate Kid’s situation – it was Jersey to Cali. Are you moveable and malleable?

2. Everyone needs a sensei.
More to the point, everyone should have a spiritual director. More than a mentor, a good spiritual director can help you navigate the spiritual life and achieve depths you never could on your own. Have you asked or given another the chance to guide you, spiritually?

3. A shower costume violates Diocesan safety standards.
This one’s pretty obvious. No way an adult should ever attempt this. Safety first, people…

4. Discipline pays off.

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Normally in Youth Ministry the word “discipline” is applied to raucous teens. But what of adults’ discipline in prayer, in diet, in Sabbath rest, and in exercise? Wax the deck, paint the fence… or, get to daily Mass, crack open the Word, roll those rosary beads. Trust that disciplines pay off exponentially over time.

5. Don’t wear white in the kitchen.
Remember when Daniel was spying on his girlfriend and the waiter doused him with spaghetti sauce? No spiritual lesson here, no loose allusion to Isaiah 1:18 – just be practical… if you’re going to hang out in a kitchen, go with dark colors.

6. Past relationships can hamper forward progression.
Anyone in Youth Ministry knows the drama that comes when teens in the youth group date and break up. What about when youth ministers or Core Members do? Take the high rode. Deal with situations. Invite people to take breaks when necessary, if you do, it won’t be such a dramatic or “Cruel Summer.”

7. Make friends with the custodian.

Karate kid

Let’s not forget that Mr. Miyagi was not just a karate guru, he was a true servant… he was the custodian. The sooner the custodian feels loved by the youth ministry team, the sooner others will get blamed for the T.V. cart being put back in the wrong closet.

8. Apologetics, like karate, is for defense only.
Knowing the faith and sharing it are two different things. As Daniel’s mom reminded us, “Fighting doesn’t solve anything.” (“Neither do palm trees,” incidentally.) Hand on the faith to your teens but not an antagonistic spirit. Apologetics are supposed to bring communion not division.

9. “Enemy deserves no mercy” (is theologically inaccurate – Matthew 5:44).
Obviously the Cobra Kai learned the hard way that true power – and ultimate victory – comes by way of mercy not force. Is there anyone who considers you the enemy? Offer them mercy—it renders any opponent powerless.

10. “You’re the best around.”
I love that song. It gets me pumped every time I hear it. Sincerely, though – you are great. You are a gift to the Church. You are doing heroic work in often times less than ideal situations. God is cheering you on – never forget that God doesn’t just love you, He likes you!

Remember these quick ten points and you’ll be hoisting that Championship trophy in no time!

I’m off to practice my crane technique.

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Mark Hart

About the Author

My childhood plan was to be a jedi. My teenage plan was to be on Saturday Night Live. God's plan was to have me in ministry. God won - and I'm glad He did.