I know what it’s like. You’re sitting on a Friday morning beating your brain against the wall trying to come up with a creative illustration or game for Sunday. Or you’ve got retreat coming up and every idea seems to fall flat. So what do you do? Hop on the internet, jump in a forum, and ask the masses. Or maybe you grab your credit card and head to the Youth Ministry Mega Mart for some “inspiration”. I’ve been there myself. I know how hard it is to come up with quality programming week in and week out, especially when we have so many responsibilities to manage.

Everyone needs a little help when we’re stuck in a rut and we shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every single week. But I’m seeing a trend in youth ministry that worries me about our future. I’m seeing more and more youth workers depend on outsourced material (curriculum, games, training…etc) to do the work of ministry. Often, these “time savers” have a negative impact. Eventually we rely too much on other people’s work instead of our own.

You know if you’ve been guilty of outsourcing your ministry if you’ve…

  • Used a curriculum/talk outline without contexualizing it for your own students or internalizing the message for yourself
  • Played a purchased or “borrowed” game without testing it out
  • Asking someone to name your youth group or plan your retreat. (yes I’ve actually seen this)
  • Spent an exorbitant amount of time trolling youth ministry websites looking for “inspiration”

There is a danger to all this outsourcing. It’s making us incapable of leading ministries on our own. We become TOO dependent on other people for inspiration, which leads to shallow, generic youth ministries. We have access to such a large amount of resources that it’s just too tempting to copy and paste other people’s work into our own context. In the end, we stunt our leadership trajectory because we’ve haven’t put in the time to actually get good at the craft of student ministry.

Here are just a few dangers I see on the horizon if we continue to outsource our ministries:

  • If we rely on other people’s creativity, we’ll never learn to be creative ourselves. Really creative people will tell you that being creative is a daily discipline. There are no shortcuts. Outsourcing stunts our creative abilities.
  • If we rely on someone else’s message, our own messages will become shallow and powerless. The truly impactful talks that I have given over the years were ones that I agonized over and internalized. There was prayer and contemplation involved. When I outsource my message to someone else, I lose that part of the process and my students WILL notice the difference.
  • If we rely on someone else’s strategy, we can miss out on God’s specific vision for our ministry. Only YOU know your context. You and your leaders need to be the ones who seek God for a vision and direction that is unique to you. When you outsource your ministry vision/strategy, you’ll miss out on seeing the next adventure that God wants to take your ministry on.
  • When you rely on someone else’s work, you lose a sense of ownership and pride over your ministry. God is calling YOU to be the shepherd of your ministry. When you take someone else’s work and calling it your own, what can you be proud of? Instead, God is calling you to take personal responsibility for what he’s entrusted you.

For the record, I buy curriculum and resources all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I know that when I copy and paste someone else’s work, my leadership and my students suffer. That’s why whenever I get inspired from someone else’s work, I try to adapt it and internalize it for myself.

So much in student ministry simply cannot be outsourced. Relationships, teaching, leadership care, listening to the spirit…I could go on. This way is harder, for sure, but on the other side of that wall is a ministry that is richer, deeper and one you’ll be way more proud of.

So what about you? In what ways are you in danger of outsourcing too much of your ministry? And how will you begin the process of owning your part of the process?