Chapter Three: Ping Pong
For some reason, ping pong came very natural to me. So I started playing it all the time. I played ping-pong even when I didn't have anyone to play ping-pong with. The hospital's people said it made me look like a duck in water, whatever that means.
- Forrest Gump
If I’m gonna use a quote from Forrest Gump, why that one? Why not, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” or “Me and Jenny was just like peas and carrots,” or “I was running?” If you’re like me than a handful of memorable moments spring to mind at the mention of Forrest Gump because whether you liked the movie or not Forrest was a brilliant and memorable character. But of all the quotes that jump out this one might not be the first, but to me it is typical Forrest; honest, blunt, humble, innocent. You see if Forrest were less like Forrest and more like us than a discussion of what he was really good at might not have begun with ping pong. Ping pong is normally not glamorous. We want our strengths to be glamorous. Sometimes we want that so badly that rather than focusing on what we are really good at we think of what we wish we were good at. We are still hung up on trying to be rock star Barbie even though we are tone deaf and the only instrument we’ve mastered is the air guitar. Why? Rock star Barbie gets the photo shoots and interviews and fans screaming her name and that is appealing.
Perhaps being a rock star isn’t on your to do list but the point is we want to seem a little glamorous. We want to feel like others notice the work we put in so we try to be good at the things that get us the recognition. In youth ministry this can translate into a lot of flash and no substance. We put all our energy on what we think gets the attention instead of what might be needed for a more eternal success. Please don’t misunderstand, I like cool lighting, games and hype as much as the next chick but this is not about the energy or atmosphere of your ministry, this is about you. Are you trying to be the rock star when God has built you to be hospitality Barbie or organizational Barbie? In any career you need to know what you are really good at and what you aren’t, ministry is no different. Though pastors usually have to wear a lot of hats they have to understand where they are strong and where they need help. They also need to be okay with both sides of that coin or reaching their full potential might stay out of reach.
Some of us never even think about what our gifts are and just try to do everything, especially what is the most fun, the easiest or the most glamorous. We look at others to decide what kind of youth pastor we should be to be successful and just try to do what they do. I have been there. I have seen all these big names in youth ministry and listened to them speak and heard about all their successes and thought if I could just talk like them or dress like them. If I could just do my youth service the way they do theirs then I will be successful too. It was not until I sat in one of their living rooms and got the view from behind the curtain that I realized how wrong I was. There is no magic formula to follow or simple definition of success that can make this line of work cookie cutter.
Every church is different, every community is different. They bring with them different personalities and issues that make it impossible to just do what someone else does and it work the same way. Can you glean from another ministry and try out ideas? Of course, but if they don’t work than let them go. And most importantly in the trying you have to be yourself, who God made you to be. God didn’t make you good at everything. I wish He did because in some instances it would make life easier but alas it is not reality. You have to see an honest view of yourself, the way God sees you. Know what you are good at and do it with all your heart.
My husband and I have the privilege of working together in our youth ministry. We are two very different people however. I am organized, creative and detail oriented. He is outgoing, and spontaneous. It is easy for him to be friendly and build relationships and it is not for me. I have to work hard to connect with students and leaders. On the other side it is difficult for him to plan events and remember every specific where I thrive at that. I would be lying if I said there were never times when I am jealous of how easily he can talk to a stranger or at how quickly he jumps to help others. I wish these qualities were stronger in my own personality but I have to work at them. And I have learned to be okay with that. We split the workload where possible, we help pick up the slack for the others weakness. In doing so we are stronger.
You may not have the same dynamic we have enjoyed but you can come close. If your youth ministry reaches beyond one or two students then get help. Find people that can pick up the slack where you are weak. If hospitality is not your thing then find someone who is warm and welcoming and let them take the reins there. If following up with students is difficult for you then find someone who knows how to work the twitter, Facebook and phone lines. If you aren’t creative then find a drama queen to take over the drama team. Get the picture? You may hold the title of youth pastor but you are not in this alone. You will always have to wear a lot of hats but whenever possible take the hats that don’t look as good on you and put them on someone who knows how to wear ‘em right.
You see youth ministry is more than an inspiring sermon or awesome worship service. When you have those things its great but they are not what really get kids coming back. They hold the glamour but its the little things that hold the hearts of students. Its that someone remembered it was their birthday and sent them a card or text message. It was that someone met them at the door and asked them about their week. Its that someone notices when they aren’t there. Its showing up at their sporting event and cheering them on or applauding when they take the stage in that school musical. Its letting them know they are loved no matter what that allows you to really impact their life. I have preached some good sermons and had a worship team that could rock socks and students were moved, God was able to touch them. But the best sermon is not nearly as effective if the student sitting in the chair thinks you don’t care about them. Perhaps you are really good at the sermon, make sure there are others to help you be good at everything else. And realize that these people don’t take your place, you still have to work on stretching yourself where you are weak but they are holding your arms up like help did for Moses.
I love that story. It can be found in Exodus chapter 17 starting at verse 8;
While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand. So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.
Moses was the big guy. God had spoken to him, he set the plan and Joshua followed it. While the battle raged all Moses had to do was hold up his staff. Notice Moses didn’t swing a sword, that was what he had Joshua for. No he held his staff and even that became tiring, difficult. His muscles would tense from the strain and his arms would drop and when they did the Israelites would start to falter. Moses needed help and it came from Aaron and Hur who simply held his arms up so that the staff stayed in the air. They didn’t take the staff from Moses they just helped him keep it up. Your leadership staff, your volunteers, your under-shepherds are Aaron and Hur. They can’t take the staff from you but they can help you hold it so the battles you and your students face can end in victory.
Maybe you are rock star Barbie, but even she needs a manager. Maybe you are Wonder Woman but even she had a whole tribe of amazons. We are not meant to do it all alone, and we don’t do everything as well as someone else could and that is okay. God gave you what you need to do the best job possible, including the gift of help from Him and others. So discover your ping pong. Own it, love it, thank God for it, and remember that glamorous or not sometimes ping pong is exactly what God needs from you in order to be a success.