Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Reflections on Selling Ministry

We all do it. Whether in the local church trying to get our folks to bring their friends, through mass mailings or newsletters, or like me, on the floor of Youth Specialties this weekend. We are selling ministry. I have spoken to hundreds of youth workers trying to get them to see the advantage of bringing their youth group to Lake Junaluska for their next winter or summer youth retreat. I have passed out countless posters and brochures, stood for hours on the concrete floor and explained what our ministry would do to enhance theirs. Why do we have to sell ministry?

I have struggled with this since I was a pastor in a local church. When I discovered that my entrepreneurial tendencies suited ministry and my salesmanship helped build my attendance I have wondered whether that is really a good mix. Does the end justify the means? Is the life change affected by a youth attending an SEJMYP event justify the slick marketing, hours of negotiation with bands and speakers and the time building a set? On one level the obvious answer is yes. There is no price to put upon a soul. That one youth could one day lead dozens, hundreds or thousands to Christ. In that way the work is certainly worth it.

The question I struggle with is how is this better than the world? I mean, Apple has a minister of evangelism to get people to convert from Microsoft to Mac. Should we have to talk a youth worker into bringing their youth to a life changing experience? Should we have to convince them that our program is flashier or will have a great impact than somebody else’s?

I often hear stories of when the LJ events were filled to the gills. Across the SEJ the thing to do in the summer was to bring your youth to have an LJ experience. It was in the culture. If you were Methodist you’d never consider taking them to a “Baptist” or “non-denominational” camp (not that there really is any such animal as ‘non-denominational’, but that is another blog). You wanted your youth to experience your theology. It mattered what was taught. It made a difference what they heard. It is not that you discriminated but that you were more discriminating. Now, youth workers aren’t concerned about theology but about splash. Is the production the best? Is the show the coolest? Is the destination the hottest?

We wonder why we are loosing youth? One reason may be that we have sold out and cheapened our theological commitment. That we don’t expect or even care of our youth believe what we teach as “long as they believe something.” Theology matters, and because it matters I will continue to sell ministry…one youth worker at a time. So if you want a youth event where mainline, orthodox teaching matters, I’ll see you at the LJ. I remain:

Consumed by the Call

Gracious God, who calls us to live out our faith and walk our talk, lead us to think before we act and not to buy what is best but what is needed. In the name of Jesus, AMEN.

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