For many of us, leadership is a by-product of youth and children’s work. But we want to lead well, so each month we unpack an issue we face as leaders, and offer some guidance to traverse it.
Have you ever experienced a holy moment involving an inflatable sheep?
No? Too bad.
I have, and we’ll come to that later. First we must come to the discipline of celebration…
Perhaps it sounds odd to consider celebration as a discipline. Isn’t that something you do when your football team scores or you get a new job or graduate from university? Doesn’t celebration as a discipline sound a little, well, rigid?
But pause for a minute and consider how many of our celebrations are indeed disciplines: birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter…all celebrations that we have developed the discipline of returning to year after year to rejoice over the people and things we value the most.
And certainly this was the case for the people of Israel. Consider the celebrations, most of which involved a good deal of eating, the Lord commanded his people to practise: the feast of the unleavened bread, the feast of the first fruits, the feast of weeks and the week-long celebration called the feast of tabernacles. We serve a God who loves a feast!
A God who instructed his people to reserve time in their annual schedule for celebration, saying things like: “You may spend the silver on anything you want: cattle, sheep, goats, wine, beer, or anything you desire. You are to feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice with your family” (Deuteronomy 14:26, CSB). That’s our God!
As we can see, ‘discipline’ is not a synonym for ‘difficult’, ‘boring’ or ‘lifeless’. On the contrary, the disciplines of the Spirit, properly and consistency applied, are the pathway to the full and abundant life Jesus promised!
And so, while thinking about celebration as a discipline may have the potential to play to the shadow-side of our religiosity, failing to do so may result in not doing it at all!
With that in mind, then, what might the discipline of celebration look like in the context of leading our children’s and youth ministries?
Celebrate each other
I was part of a youth team for many years that developed a practice we called ‘shout-outs’. The basic premise was to celebrate the good work we saw our teammates do after a night at youth. Yes, there was rightly time for post-session reflection and improvement but tempered with a regular mechanism in place to celebrate the good. So what could it look like for you to develop a practice of celebrating one another in the ministry you lead?
Celebrate what you want to replicate
Celebration is a powerful tool for culture-building in the ministries and teams we lead, because celebration re-enforces shared values in the hearts and minds of those we lead, communicating that which we are pursuing together with greater clarity than any vision talk ever could.
Pastor and leadership expert Andy Stanley writes: “What’s celebrated is repeated. The behaviours that are celebrated are repeated. The decisions that are celebrated are repeated. The values that are celebrated are repeated.” That means, whenever someone does something in line with the culture you’re trying to create, celebrate it! Shout them out publicly so everyone knows that this is the kind of thing your ministry values. This will have an exponential effect on reenforcing healthy culture amongst your team young people.
So what are the behaviours and values that you want to see replicated in your ministry, and how can you celebrate them when you see them?
Celebrate the wins
Youth and kids’ ministry is hard. Often there are problems to deal with. Sometimes people don’t show up to the things we’ve worked so hard to organise. Many times we can feel frustrated in the apparent lack of progress our young people seem to be making in their discipleship to Jesus. It’s easy for all this to get on top of us, diminish our passion and even cause us to give up.
But celebration is like an injection of hope – an antidote to cynicism that lifts our weary spirit and infuses us with renewed tenacity. It’s a much-needed reminder of why we do what we do. That’s why it’s the responsibility of every leader to ensure our teams pause for long enough to celebrate the wins along the way.
The anti-trafficking organisation, Hope for Justice, pops a bottle of champagne every time a person is rescued from slavery. This is a wonderful example of the discipline of celebration. What might it look like to build a similar ritual of celebration into your youth and children’s ministry…just probably one that doesn’t involve alcohol?!
However you choose to do it, it’s critical you avoid the temptation to just move on to the next thing, because there’s always a next thing demanding your attention! So whether it’s a young person who opens up about their life in a new way or a child who gives their life to Jesus for the first time, take time to pause for long enough to celebrate the wins, big or small.
“There were party hats, poppers, whistles, confetti and, yes, a blow-up sheep”
Which brings us full circle to the inflatable sheep…
It was our annual Limitless team away day and we had dedicated some time to celebrating new youth ministries that had been pioneered through our ministry over the previous twelve months (something we now do every year as a discipline). And celebrate we did. There were party hats, poppers, whistles, confetti and, yes, a blow-up sheep. Why? Because one of the locations we had pioneered was in Wembley and another one was in Wales. Still don’t get it? I don’t blame you….
Our pioneering team leader asked the rest of the team: “What is Wembley famous for?”
“Football,” we replied.
“And what is Wales known for?”
And so we embarked upon a game of ‘sheepy-uppy’’ which is basically keepy-uppy, but with an inflatable sheep.
And in among all this madness, there was prayer, there was laughter, there was thanksgiving, there was rejoicing, there was singing, there was worship…there was celebration.
It was ever-so silly. And yes, ever-so holy.
Dear friends, we need a spirituality that serious enough to experience the pleasure and presence of God in the silliness of celebration.
And so I leave you with this charge: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”