Things have been pretty quiet around The Doc File recently, largely because I am now squarely in the middle of the summer youth ministry grind. Looking back, I actually didn’t write a single post in the month of June, but that is not too surprising when I reflect on what my June looked like:

  • Portions of three different weeks were taken up by three different camps that we participated in: NWA Work Camp, Uplift at Harding University, and Green Valley Bible Camp.
  • Four different speaking engagements (one at Farmington, one at camp, one at a retreat, and one at an out-of-town summer series), all over different material.
  • A youth group lock-in the day after we got back from camp (I have been a youth minister for too long to make such a rookie scheduling mistake!).
  • Teaching two bible classes and/or making arrangements and leaving plans for substitute teachers on evenings when I have been away.
  • Making plans for our Vacation Bible School in July,  working toward several changes to our education program beginning in September, and organizing the 2017 Deeper Youth Conference in November.
  • In addition to these ministry responsibilities, we also made two trips to Little Rock in June for follow-up appointments related to Kinsley’s surgery.

It has been a busy month, and the reality is that things won’t slow down too much for a while. I am currently in Alabama for a few days of vacation surrounding Independence Day, but as soon as I return we will be back at it with 10 days or so of prepping and then doing VBS, followed by our summer youth trip.

I don’t say any of this to be whiney or to complain, and honestly, most of the youth ministers I know have summer schedules that are this bad or even worse. Spouses of youth ministers sometimes joke about being “youth ministry widows” or “summer widows” because they go so long without seeing their spouses who are continually jetting from one event to another. I do wonder, though: is having a hectic summer packed with constant activities the best way to do youth ministry? What I am about to say may seem self-serving since I would like to slow down a bit in the summer, but I am seriously starting to think that the answer is “no”:

Hectic summer youth ministry is expensive.

This is the most practical consideration on the list, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. I try really hard to keep our youth ministry activities affordable, but the reality is that, the more you do, the more you spend, especially when you start talking about camps and extended trips, or families with more than one student the youth group.

We have a policy in place where we never want a student to miss an event because of cost, and thus, we make provision for students who can’t afford a certain event; at the same time, just because we have that policy in place doesn’t mean that students and parents always take advantage of it, and I am confident that some students miss out on certain events due to cost without telling me.

Hectic summer youth ministry separates children from their families.

I have written before and also spoken many times about how I believe that youth ministry should be built upon the twin pillars of the physical family and the faith family (where “physical family” refers to moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, etc. and “faith family” refers to the church congregation), and that it is these two groups that, ideally, pass on faith to young people. This means that youth ministry should work hard to strengthen the ties between a student, that student’s physical family, and the student’s faith family.

Unfortunately, the hectic summer youth ministry model that we have been talking about doesn’t necessarily do a great job of that. Sure, constant youth activities can work wonders to strengthen ties within a youth group, but unless you are very intentional about about including parents and other adults from church in meaningful ways, what you can end up doing is providing a full list of activities that cause your students to largely check out on their families and their church family for a couple of months, which is never good.

Hectic summer youth ministry encourages activity without reflection.

When I think about it, having an overwhelmingly busy slate of summer youth activities makes perfect sense in light of our larger cultural problem of constant busyness. People seem to be busier now than ever before. We have made being busy in some sort of virtue or badge of pride, as if it is healthy to constantly be burning the candle at both ends, rushing around from one activity to another without time to catch our collective breath. A hectic brand of youth ministry fits right in with the surrounding culture.

Part of the problem with such busyness is that it deprives us of the time for reflection (and in time, I think it progressively deprives us of the desire to reflect and then even the ability to do so): how can you sit and process the experiences you have just had when you have to immediately turn around and run to the next thing? I don’t want to make too much of this, but isn’t it possible that continually going from one thing to the next without ever reflecting on what we have done actually makes us shallow, attention-deficient humans?

Concluding Thoughts

To be honest, at this point I have more questions than answers. Considering our own youth ministry schedule, I think we have done a pretty good job of not overloading students throughout the year, but I think the summer is undoubtedly hectic at times.

I have tried to mitigate that somewhat by providing some down times during the summer where there is not much going on. June is crazy, and July ends that way, so I intentionally don’t schedule much around the 4th of July (hence, me being on vacation for a few days!) or after the first few days of August, in hopes of giving students time to catch their breath and be around family. Perhaps these down periods are sufficient, but I am also planning on critically evaluating our summer schedule for next year, and seeing if it would be beneficial to pare down a little bit in an effort to make the summer a little less hectic for our students.