by Stephen Ingram
Most youth ministers struggle for a number of reasons. We struggle because we are over committed, we work unorthodox hours, and we have difficulty finding consistent rhythm. We struggle because of lack of training, lack of time, and lack of support. We struggle because we care too much and often feel that others care too little. We struggle because so many of us, so often, are working from deficits rather than surpluses.
I think that most of you will agree with most of what I have written, so here is the good news and the bad news: Many of those struggles are simple parts of the ministry we are called to do. Things like caring too much, lack of time. and crazy hours are, in some ways, just a part of the job. We can usually deal with these aspects of our jobs and in many cases these things add spice, excitement, and drive to continue in our ministries. The real problems come when we are continually spending more and more time on those things that we really are not gifted to do. It is frustrating, tiring, and makes the other things that are usually bearable seem much more strenuous. We often find ourselves spending the majority of our time working on those difficult pieces and have less and less time doing those things at which are naturally gifted and inclined.
Let me put it another way. When I was in school I loved literature. It was and is a deep passion of mine. I could read and analyze Eliot, Frost, Bryant, Thoreau, Emerson, and Hughes all day. I loved it. It moved me, inspired me, and ultimately shaped me in profound ways. Math, however, was the bane of my existence because I stink at math. It’s not that I don’t value it, or not think that it is worth my attention. In actuality I spent much more time in high school studying math than I ever spent reading prose. This is what I was told to do, and if I wanted to pass, what I had to do. So my love was replaced with my hate and I struggled. Now please understand me: we have to attain a certain level of competence in areas that we struggle in. We need this for practical reasons but it is also beneficial for us to work diligently to attain something that is difficult to come by. In our jobs, our careers and our ministries we should, however, find ways to focus and specialize on those aspects that come naturally, through which we excel and that give us energy. If we are not doing this we will continually find ourselves spinning our wheels, frustrated and not finding joy in the areas of our strengths.
It is at the point where our passion meets our vocation where a book called Strengths Finder 2.0 shines. Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath is the most amazing resource I have ever come across to help people understand, utilize, and exploit their natural gifting. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it is a concept in which 34 primary strengths have been identified and an accompanying assessment is given. You are given 5 of the 34 strengths and then are given information on how to best utilize those strengths. It is incredible.
4 Tools for Utilizing your Strengths
- Really research and understand the strengths and weakness of your strengths. A lot of people will get their strengths, read the chapter, and never pick up the book again. This is a huge problem. I find myself constantly reading and re-reading my strengths. This produces a deeper sense of priority and affirms my calling and direction. It also helps me know what my weaknesses are. Every strength has what I call a dark side, which is when the strengths are operating against you. An example is someone who has the “Arranger” strength but functions out of anxiety can come across as domineering and micro managing.
- Supplement areas that are not your strengths. Again, I am not a numbers person and I never will be. So in my position I choose to lean heavily on someone who is a numbers person and I trust him or her to fill in my gaps. This could be a paid employee or simply a dad in your ministry who does a great job with numbers who also happens to buy into the vision of the ministry.
- Know the strengths of those you manage and work with. It is an immeasurably valuable resource if you can get everyone you work with to take the assessment and create a master list among your staff of the findings. Not only will you know how to empower those around you to do their best ministry possible, you also can help others live into their strengths. This is especially powerful if you manage multiple staff. Even when I interview people for positions, I give them the assessment to see if they would fit into our strengths structure.
- Help your students understand and utilize their strengths. We use Strengths Finder 2.0 for all of our student leadership team members. This translates into 40+ youth each year knowing and utilizing their strengths. It is such an empowering and powerful exercise to help students see their natural giftedness and pursue leadership from those strengths.
Stephen Ingram is a dad, husband, and foodie. He serves as the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He has a BA in Religion from Samford University and a Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. Stephen has worked as a student minister for over 13 years and also serves as a consultant with Youth Ministry Architects. He lives in Birmingham with his wife Mary Liz and their three kids Mary Clare, Patrick, and Nora Grace.
Stephen’s book Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel is now available from CYMT Press. He blogs at organicstudentministry.wordpress.com.