Have you ever watched a hamster running furiously around the inside of a hamster wheel and wondered, "What is that little guy thinking?" You watch it run and run and run, sometimes with bursts of energy, where you wonder if the hamster actually thinks it is making some kind of progress.
But it goes nowhere.
Sometimes that's what ministry can feel like.
Like hamsters running on a wheel to nowhere youth leaders run the cycle of annual priorities (camp, curriculum, rally, curriculum, retreat, curriculum, repeat) without ever asking the question, "Are we getting anywhere?"
Too often the ministry wheel (that annual cycle of the way you've always done ministry) can run you, your adult leaders and your teenagers ragged...with little to show for all your efforts.
So how do we escape the hamster wheel? Here are 4 ways:
1. Take a break long enough to ask the really hard questions.
Get out of the hamster wheel so that you can pray, think and evaluate. Ask yourself hard questions like:
-How spiritually on-fire are my teenagers?
-Are my teenagers accelerating in their faith or just coming to youth group?
-Is my youth group growing because new disciples are being made and multiplied on a consistent basis?
Be brutally honest. Ask God for divine insight.
Consider getting away for a weekend to spend time thinking and praying about this. Read the the book of Acts and compare what you read in it with how you are running your youth ministry (or how it is running you!)
2. Re-discover your mission.
We don't technically need a youth group mission statement because Jesus already gave us the ultimate one in Matthew 28:19,20, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
This is what we are called to do, to make and multiply disciples. If your youth group is more defined by meetings than accomplishing this mission then it has been "hamsterized", institutionalized, and needs freed from the ministry wheel.
A few years ago I wrote a book called Gospelize your Youth Ministry that unpacks how to build a youth ministry that advances the Gospel and makes disciples. It's all rooted in the seven values that drove the early church. These same values can drive your ministry too if you get out of the wheel long enough to figure it out.
3. Create a new cycle.
Sometimes we need to break the old cycle and accomplish your mission. If year after year you've been doing the same camp, same brand of curriculum, same old-same old and are getting the same results, it's time to break the cycle and create a new one.
Everything we do should go through a mission grid. "Is this (camp, conference, curriculum, activity, etc) going to help us get from here to there?"
At Dare 2 Share we have seen youth leaders who have finally chosen to break the camp cycle and bring their teenagers to Lead THE Cause (our full week intensive training for disciple multiplication.) Many of them ask themselves afterward "Why didn't I take my teenagers to this earlier?"
The answer is simple. They were stuck on the ministry wheel, going to the same camp year after year because, well, that's what they've always done and that's where they've always gone.
They discover that Lead THE Cause actually helps them, not only get off the ministry wheel, but escape the cage altogether. And now they have the beginnings of a youth group that is making progress toward the mission God has put in their hearts!
4. Ask God for his strength to escape the wheel!
Paul tells the Ephesians believers, "be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" Ephesians 6:10. This same power is available to you and me. God will give you the strength to escape the ministry wheel if you yield to his indwelling Spirit and take a courageous step of faith.
The collective power of the Trinity is available to you to escape the ministry wheel. Unleash it through faith and escape!
Let's stop running around in circles. Let's start accomplishing the mission God has placed in our hearts!
After all, we're not hamsters! We're ambassadors of the King!