The need for leadership came in sharp relief when the group of 13 youth workers was given a 5/16” tent pole and told that the whole group, without anyone losing contact with the pole, had to get it to the ground. Sounds easy, right? Not so much. With about 13 people talking over one another, the pole went up instead of down. People started bickering. It wasn’t until everyone stopped talking, listening to the lone one voice that emerged, like the Holy Spirit, as a guiding force, did the group successfully get the tent pole to the ground.
The adventure activity turned into a lesson from family systems theorist Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve. Because leaders are now working in a time of chronic anxiety, groups tend to play the blame game and get the exact opposite result of what they are aiming for. It takes courageous and non-anxious leadership to get any forward movement.
These 13 students of the inaugural Certification School in Progressive Christian Youth Ministry are facing just this kind of situation in their ministry. With numbers of young people in mainline churches declining rapidly, these youth workers face constant pressures to get numbers up. The training is probably not what you’d expect you’d learn to rectify this situation. The group is not learning how to play games more effectively (though we are doing adventure course activities) or plan mission trips (though we talk about mission), we’re learning as facilitator Jim LaDoux of Vibrant Faith Ministries says, “to be theologians who just happen to work with young people.”
By the end of the training, which will conclude with a final retreat in November, students will be able to name their philosophy of ministry and talk about their approach to leadership. They will have designed a youth ministry plan for the setting in which they work or volunteer. Today we will get a taste of how we approach leadership and ministry by doing a high ropes course. Needless to say there is lots of anxiety.