Each summer, our church's youth ministry changes our Wednesday night youth group format. Normally, after the last worship song, students gather into smaller groups to discuss the message, their lives, and all that falls between. But in the summer, instead of these discussion groups, we host a huge, free barbecue for anyone who attends. My team sets up tables, cooks, cut vegetables, and serves our large group every Wednesday night. It's a special way to celebrate summer. I look forward to it every year.
But it didn't start smoothly. Our first year, I did all of the purchasing and most of the setup for the big barbeque meal myself. I had a small team who could have helped, but I took on most of the logistics myself, even down to setting up many of the tables and grills.
I did it all because I knew I would feel guilty if I didn't.
Short on buns
This is a very pastoral struggle. I see it more in those who pastor groups under 200, but it remains something most preachers and pastors wrestle with: shouldn't I be serving?
Many hours in pastoral ministry are given to study and preaching. Our congregation knows this, but it often doesn't seem like "real work." What do you even do all week? people wonder. They see us busy on Sunday, but they cannot imagine what we do with our lives through the week.
Many high school students realize they're not great at math or science and then they meet a youth pastor. His job seems pretty cool. Hang out with kids and be goofy and talk about God sometimes. I'll be a youth pastor! Our Bible colleges are filled with these pastors-in-the-making.
But any youth pastor (or pastor, for that matter), knows that our days do not stop; that the work, if it not put firmly to bed, could stay awake and badger us for all of eternity. We are busy. But busy with what?
This came to my attention when I didn't buy enough hamburger buns. You see, I am not a gifted organizer, nor do I have any idea how many hamburgers are needed to feed my youth group. And all of this became extremely apparent when we ran out of food after we'd only fed about half of the group. It wasn't a great night. Nothing kills a party faster than running out of food and drink—it's Scriptural, just read about Jesus' work during the wedding at Cana—and this night lost steam quickly.
One night after the bun shortage, one of my leaders approached me. "Why are you doing the shopping?"
"Well, I guess I didn't want anyone else to feel like they had to do it." I said sheepishly.
"But you're bad at it." She said.
"That is clear, yes."
"So let some of us do it—"
I cut her off with a reassuring, "No, no no," but she steamrolled forward.
"Come on. Our kids are in school and I've raised a good number of them; believe me, I know how to shop and a couple of us have the time to do it!"
She was right. Sitting before me was a perfectly capable shopper with wonderful skills of administration who was willing to do the work that I struggled to get done. This is how our barbecues changed to be successful: not by battening down the hatches and trying to hold on to everything down myself, but by turning as much ministry loose as I possibly could. And it was this lesson that made me rethink my role as the group's pastor.
Before this, I thought I was being a servant leader by doing everything that smelled like service: setup, prep, tear down, administration. But the truth is, I was being a selfish leader, taking all of the work on myself in order that others might see me as "not lazy" and "down to earth."