There’s a saying I read several years back that I really liked, it went:
Work like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ve never been hurt
And dance like nobody’s watching
I liked it so much that I printed it out and hung it on my wall. I signed my emails with it. I even quoted it in a book. Looking back…I’m not so sure I agree with the premise, at least not the last one (about dancing) and not as it pertains to youth ministry.
No, as a Core member or a youth minister – really, as anyone who is in a position of leadership, mentorship or who serves as an example to teens – we need to become even more self-conscious and more self-aware.
Eyes Are on You, All the Time
You know those awkward moments on a dance floor, at weddings when the entire crowd clears into a circle, leaving only one or two people in the middle to do an impromptu dance “solo”? You know how awkward it feels to be in the middle? Remember how much safer it felt to be on the outside of the circle, relatively unseen, with nothing great expected of you?
Sorry to tell ya, but you’re in the circle.
When you say yes to youth ministry, regardless of our role (priest/religious, youth minister or Core member, full time or part time or unpaid), you are now in the circle and all eyes are on you.
You might not think that’s the case but you’d be fooling yourself. I’m not suggesting that it’s a level of constant scrutiny enjoyed by celebrities, criminals or politicians, but it’s not too far behind.
You never know when teens or their peers will be around. That next trip shopping at the mall, that next dinner out at a restaurant, that next jaunt to the movies or quick run into a Starbucks…look around, teens are flirting (at the mall), bussing your table (at the restaurant), pouring saturated fat (on your movie popcorn) and peddling coffee cake (at Starbucks). You might not recognize them or their peers, but many of them will probably recognize you, or the t-shirt you’re wearing with the name of the Church emblazoned it, or the cross around your neck
You’re on the dance floor and they’re forming a circle. Time to bring your A game.
Feel the Rhythm of the Music
Remember that scene in the ‘80’s classic Footloose, when Kevin Bacon is trying to teach Willard (the rhythm-less cowboy) how to dance? He’s on the basketball court, he’s in the stadium bleachers, he’s jumping around tractors in a cornfield trying to get him to listen to the music and feel the rhythm. Remember? Forgive me for this next line.
Spiritually speaking, you’re Kevin Bacon.
If you don’t have spiritual rhythm, there’s no way that those entrusted to you are going to learn how to dance. Oh, make no mistake, they’ll still be on the dance floor, but it won’t be dancing – it will be a mosh pit or slow grinding or crowd surfing, but not dancing. There will be no virtue present without grace.
Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins that we speak about least. Most Christians would like to identify sloth, strictly speaking, with laziness. “Sloth” is probably the one deadly sin that most youth ministers don’t feel they struggle with, due to their tremendous personal busy-ness. A closer examination of sloth, however, would show quite clearly that sloth is a spiritual laziness. Not only are apathetic souls not praying, they’re not praying in any rhythm or even trying (like Willard the cowboy) to put themselves out there, make themselves uncomfortable and even attempt to “feel the music” or let God lead.
Sloth inhibits our pursuit of God, not His of us.
We need to be praying, first and foremost. By extension, we need to let the rhythm of prayer infuse our lives. By doing so, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. His life is the rhythm by which we must live and dance, for He is “the Lord and giver of life” (Who proceeds from the Father and the Son).
So do yourself a favor, Kevin. Before you try to teach others the steps, be sure you’re spending time in studio (chapel) with the Divine choreographer.
Mixmaster DJ, Give ‘em a Beat
Have you ever been at a wedding when the DJ puts on a horrid musical selection and everyone leaves the dance floor in a mass “exodus” that would make even Moses stand up and take notice?
Why do they leave the floor? Is it because they all simultaneously have a hunkerin’ for cake? Is it because they need to lose their uncomfortable (but oh so cute) shoes? Is it, perhaps, to find the hotel bar and check the score of the game they are missing?
No, it’s because the DJ was more concerned with his favorite playlist than the guests’ needs.
I’ve been at weddings where the DJ played 50Cent when the dance floor was filled with seniors. They couldn’t get off the floor quickly enough (literally). This is a generation who believes Eminem to be strictly a candy and knows “Fergie” as the former Duchess of York.
You get the idea.
We must, as leaders, be constantly aware of not only our teens’ dancing ability (or lack thereof) in their spiritual lives, but also of what songs will get them dancing and keep them dancing.
Every one of your teens has a different level of skill, different familiarity and comfort with different forms of music (prayer) and different willingness to look silly when doing it (based on their sin, awareness of His mercy and openness to His grace).
Select your playlist carefully, meaning pay close attention to the patterns and types of prayer you offer to them and lead them into, if you want to get them dancing (praying). Fill Life Nights, weekly events and retreats with a variety of prayer experiences and be patient in teaching different methods and forms of prayer.
The Last Dance
Your job is not only to dance in the circle (lead by example) and to help them hear the beat and learn the rhythm (how to pray) but also to model and create prayer opportunities that will help them grow better, stronger, more confident and more free.
Then, and only then, will they be able to “dance like nobody’s watching” because their relationship with Christ, made possible through prayer, will be so strong. At that point, they’ll be ready for leadership and be thrust into the middle of the circle, themselves, as peer leaders, Core Members, Youth Ministers, holy parents, priests and religious.
Our mission is leading teens closer to Christ.
That mission is made possible by, first, letting Christ lead you.
So pray, pray hard and pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17) that the Holy Spirit would fill you so full of the grace of God (rhythm) that everyone you encounter on the dance floor of life would also dance before the Lord with abandon (2 Sam. 6:16).
Dance like God is watching.