It was a typical summer day in Phoenix: omelets frying on the driveway, spit disintegrating into gaseous form the moment it left your mouth, dogs refusing to run or play for fear of spontaneously bursting into flames…you get the idea.
I was driving up the freeway for a lunch meeting when – BLAM! POP! (these words are much cooler if imagined in a comic book font and with some sound effects) – my rear tire exploded. Luckily, I was in the far left lane traveling at over 80 mph. Luckier still, it was about 116 degrees (and yes, I realize sarcasm can be a negative trait in youth ministry, but in this case I feel it accentuates my point quite nicely.)
My already bad day had immediately gotten worse. It was just “one of those weeks” in ministry where everything I did was wrong in someone’s eyes; I had a stack of annoyed emails to prove it. As if that weren’t enough, it was also the week that everything in our house broke almost simultaneously: dishwasher, garage door…even the coffee maker. Forget Murphy’s Law, this was straight up lunacy with a heavy side of spiritual attack.
I exited my car in dress pants and crisply-ironed dress shirt, removed the jack, and proceeded to change my tire whilst dodging the pebbles and other bits of assorted debris being kicked up at me by passers-by going much faster than 80. No one stopped to help – my only wish at that moment was that I’d been on my way down to Jericho (that’s a joke strictly for any Bible geeks out there – see Luke 10:30-37).
With sweat pouring down my face and my fingerprints now forever emblazoned upon the scalding hot tire iron, I quickly discovered that my spare would not last me long. I headed to the nearest tire shop to see what kind of a deal they would make me (translation: to see how many of the manager’s kids I would be buying braces for).
What happened next floored me.
This was no ordinary tire shop. The employees were having a blast. Though forced to work in an open-air garage in the dead of summer, the laughter of these men and women could be heard clear into the waiting room. A quick glance through the Plexiglas revealed that they weren’t messing around, either; no, this crew took their jobs – and having fun – very seriously. They flew around the garage, tossing tires to one another, racing one another with jacks and tire guns and cheering one another on as they went. Smiles beamed beneath the sweat and the grime – they looked like a family of Cheshire Cats wearing black face paint and safety goggles.
I was greeted promptly. They made eye contact. I was spoken to with respect. You would have thought my tire was on the President’s limo with how passionately and quickly they attended to it. They offered me bottled water. They made sure the temperature in the room was to the customers’ liking. They thanked us for our patronage. They communicated clearly and effectively to those waiting each and every time they emerged from the garage. They never once tried to “up-sell” me nor did they allow themselves to speak negatively or inappropriately at any time. This was a business that had been well coached and well managed; in fact, you wouldn’t have been able to pick out the manager, as he was out changing tires, too. He literally was not afraid to get his hands dirty. He just knew to wash them off before shaking my hand and thanking me for my business. Pardon the pun, but this place was a well-oiled machine.
Finding Our Joy
When life had done its best to suck the joy right out of me (and the air out of my tire), God handed me a bucket of joy and dared me to take a sip.
Is this the kind of experience teens and parents have with your parish youth ministry programs – or within any of your parish ministries, for that matter?
Many of those souls who come to you are often “having one of those weeks.” Are your ministries offering them an oasis of Living Water (John 7:37) or just a mirage?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the Core Team have fun? If not, why not?
- Do the teens coming feel welcome? Does the Core seem excited to see them?
- Is eye contact normal? Do Core Members speak to the teens with respect?
- Is there an effort to make the teens more comfortable in the (often) sterile parish environment?
- Is there any negativity in speech or action – even negative humor – on the part of the Core or youth minister?
- Is there clear communication as to what is going on in the night, making participants feel less awkward and more included?
- Are Core Members utilizing the smiles that God entrusted to them?
- Do the teens feel like you enjoy serving them?
- Is there a sense of urgency and importance about the topics you are discussing and the activities going on?
- Do the teens leave wanting to come back? Do they feel like you’d notice if they weren’t there?
God moved in a powerful way in my life that day. I need to learn to take James 1:2 more literally. Upon first glance, the entire ordeal was just the proverbial straw and my (camel) back was at its breaking point. A closer and more prayerful examination revealed to me that the Holy Spirit was very much at work.
Due to the location of my blowout, I just wandered into the closest tire center. It sits over 40 miles from my house. Based on my experience there, however, I guarantee you that the next time I’m in the market for new tires…I’m making the drive. Not only did they earn my repeat business, they earned my deep respect. I think next time I’ll even bring along members of my staff, too. This little tire shop taught me a lot about teamwork, service and the importance of finding the joy in what you do.
So the moral of the story is not to be afraid to ask these questions above – kick the tires of your ministry, if you will – before the wheels come off.
We have two great upcoming trainings / retreats for you to rediscover your joy and passion in ministry. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or need a little help getting back on track for another year, come to Camp Covecrest for our Life Teen (and Edge) Spring Training this March. Or think about bringing your entire ministry out for the Life Teen Training Convention this June in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona.