I am a card-carrying member of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. The great thing about the NET is the authentic support you receive from people in similar situations. Consider it a genuine “ministry of presence” that is offered. One of the major purposes of the NET is to hold an annual continuing education event / town hall gathering called The Extravaganza. (Avid readers will recall my enthusiasm for attending the E’09 next month.)
Aside from the big “E”, the best thing the NET does is encourage youth workers to form local or synodical networks. This has been a passion of mine ever since I started in youth ministry. Five years ago, my friend Angie and I set out to establish a Des Moines area network of people who work in Lutheran churches. The group started out as a monthly get-together for the purpose of support and idea-stealing / sharing. Eventually that grew into planning some joint ministry events (worship, service, games, etc.). It was fun to watch the collaborative creativity flow through our small little group.
As we continued getting together – saying good-bye to some people who moved on and welcoming new friends into our fold – something unexpected happened…
We started becoming friends.
This was both exciting and odd for each of us. Of the current group of 6 people, it’s unlikely that any of us would have hung out together in any other setting. There are about 10 years of age between the oldest and youngest members of our group. Four are single…two are married with kids. We all have very different life stories, and yet we were brought together by our passion for youth ministry.
About this time last year, we began an unofficial ritual of getting together on Wednesday nights (a typically busy night for youth folk) for some socializing. We befriended each other on Facebook. We’d text each other or chat during the week. We even got together in the Fall for a little BBQ at my house. I think everyone started to enjoy the fact that we all liked being around each other. Our Network had evolved into more than just a group of youth workers hanging out once a month…we were connected and even immeshed in each other’s lives.
Which was both good and bad…
All friendships bring with it a certain level of “drama”. The metamorphosis of our Network from colleagues into friends was no different. Relationships require work…the closer you become, the more work is needed. Time, energy, communication, patience – all are necessary in nurturing relationships. They’re also necessary in effectively working with youth and parents. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time, energy, patience, and healthy communication left at the end of the day…we get sucked dry.
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The other day I was having coffee with one of my Network friends. A handful of relational issues had sprung up in the past few weeks. Everyone seemed to be on edge and frustrated with someone else in the Network. This caused me to pose the question, “Is it all worth it? Do the benefits of having a youth ministry Network outweigh the negatives?”
My friend paused…looked at me, and answered very simply:
“I would have quit my job a long time ago if it wasn’t for our Network.”
Wow. For this person, the support, encouragement, nudging, challenging, and inspiration that came from the Network made the job of Youth Minister a lot more fulfilling and a little less lonely. I agreed. We are called to an emotionally-draining, physically-exhausting, high-burnout job in which many of us are over-stressed and under-paid. We need to connect with others who still care about helping young people and families grow in faith, knowledge, and love of God. We crave new ideas, inspiration, and the sharing of best-practices to not only make us “better at our job”, but to infuse new life our own faith journey.
I am grateful for the networks that I belong to – most specifically, to the “unholy half-dozen” that shares life and ministry together here in Des Moines. I’m excited about a couple of new ideas we’re kicking around for 2009 (which I will share in this space), and I pray that God uses me to be a blessing to these people, just as they have been a blessing to me.