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Lessons from a War Doctor

I read a great book recently by David Nott, called War Doctor. He has worked in war zones all over the world from Sarajevo to Afghanistan, risking his own life to give people the very best care, even in the most appalling circumstances, learning new skills that work even when resources are much smaller than he would have in a well-stocked UK hospital.

What's that got to do with being a youth worker? The striking thing in the book for me, was when David realised that he was limited to what one man could do. Working in those situations, others had learned from him, but after this point, he made a deliberate choice to train others. He set up a foundation with his wife to train local doctors, so they could do what he could do. He trained other UK doctors so that they would be better prepared when they went to war zones. And there's the link to youth ministry - not that we're in a war zone, although it might feel like it sometimes on a youth night, but we should be training other leaders, so they can do things, at least as well as we can.

That's one of the reasons I wrote my book Raising the Bar: Nearly Everything You Need to Know about Christian Youth Ministry. I wanted to pass on nearly thirty years of ministry experience, including tips for pretty much everything you'll have to do as a youth minister, from doing a talk to planning a social event, alongside stories of successes and disasters to encourage you to keep going when it does feel like a war zone. I tell the story in my book of moving from my last post to my current one, realising as I did so that, despite having run weekends away for years, nobody else on our 11-14s team knew how to prepare for one. I'd always been the one to make it happen.

If you stay in your ministry for a while, by the grace of God, you'll grow in your skills. You'll hopefully be a great, leader, pastor and organiser (OK, so that might be a stretch for many of us), but you don't have to do everything, nor even do you need to do the key things! That's right - you don't need to do the call to commitment on the last night of a camp; you don't need to be the person who fills the gap if someone drops out of leading a session at short notice and you don't need to be the person who hits the winning run in a game of rounders or scores the winning goal in the indoor hockey - you can be the score keeper or the referee who makes sure everyone goes home with the limbs they arrived with, or as in our youth room, the person who has the decibel monitor to make sure the young guys aren't playing their music too loud while other people are playing hockey!

Two reminders I had recently. One was the talks for our youth weekend away. We shared the teaching between four of us. Two of us sat down to split up the passage (Romans 8 - great passage!), taking advice from a couple of other people too. But the best thing was the other three leaders sent me their drafts beforehand. I hadn't asked all of them to do that but still, they did it. That allowed me to look through them, to check they didn't overlap too much and to make sure they linked to the Bible text easily, applied Bible truth and illustrated really well. When the speakers stood up to give their talks, I believe they did considerably better talks because of the supportive process. I need to be doing that more often than I do, because the young people we teach deserve the best that our team can give them.

Paul says to Timothy:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2.2)

My ministry should not be about me 'making do with' other leaders, then parachuting in with a Super Bowl Halftime Show occasionally to show people how it could be done, if they too had the same training, experience, time to prepare and they knew where in church to find the Nerf guns... Not at all! I need to be taking on leaders, training. equipping and giving them responsibilities so they can grow and develop and point people to Jesus as clearly as they can.

The second reminder was again on the residential. I have handed on leadership of the 11-14s to a brilliant, capable leader. It was her first time being the overall leader on a weekend away. I was also on the weekend and watched how things went on Friday, then I sat with her for fifteen minutes on Saturday morning and we worked through the day's programme together, checking where there might be particular challenges, where she would need to take the initiative and step up in her leadership. The weekend was incredible, with at least five young people making commitments to follow Jesus, and one new family coming to church since then. The senior leader shone. She was really clear what she was doing, and led the weekend really well.

So, here's the learning - support others to do what you can do already. This is how ministry gets multiplied. Don't sit around grumbling, 'If only they could do it like I can do it' and don't try to do it all yourself. That's a dishonouring waste of everyone else's time and gifts. You lead well. You lead other people to lead well. If you don't know how to lead people well, get around people who know how to lead people well. When I felt I wasn't line managing my team well, I sat down with a Christian manager in the banking industry and he told me questions I could ask in line management meetings to get the best out of those times, and the best out of those people. I hope I'm a better line manager for that.

Questions to think through:

  • What do other leaders not yet know how to do that I could show them? Start small and get bigger. In our context, not every leader knows the water boiler needs to be turned off before we leave the church, but I'm working on it!

  • How can I help other leaders (or soon-to-be leaders) to become the best they can be?

  • Where can I be learning from others in my own leadership and teaching?

What am I personally going to do after thinking this through some more? I'm going to suggest that the guys who play their music right on the edge of deafening, get a decibel monitoring app on their phones themselves. I don't even have to be that guy.

Image by Raphi D from Pixabay.


If you want to think more about this, read the chapter 'A healthy team' in my book, 'Raising the Bar: Nearly Every- thing You Need to Know about Christian Youth Ministry' which you can buy here.

In it, you'll find other ideas about growing the value of serving among the young people in your church. You can find out what other youth leaders think about the book and read a couple of free chapters.

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Get more ideas and support for your youth ministry with my book: "RAISING THE BAR: Nearly Everything You Need to Know about Christian Youth Ministry."

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