By Ross Carper
On Tuesday, the universe received a blog post from a certain fella who is a good friend of mine (and, full disclosure, his office is also right next door here at First Pres Spokane). His general question is intriguing: how do youth workers see our role as leaders of mission experiences like 30 Hour Famine? And the specific answer Brad gave provides something to chew on: we’re tour guides. If you haven’t read it yet, do so now: ready, set, click.
I love the tour guide metaphor. I just got back from a family vacation, and part of it included taking our animal-obsessed daughter on a whale watching tour. Our tour guides exhibited many characteristics I think youth workers need, but two rise to the surface (pun intended): (1) deep knowledge of the meaning behind what participants are experiencing, combined with (2) selflessness and wonder (it’s not about me, it’s about the whales, and yep, they are amazing). We need to be prepared enough to frame students’ experiences as we teach and lead and debrief. We also need to be humble enough to just let God be God in the moment.
For part 2, I want to play with metaphors, too. I’ll add my own, and also provide some specifics on how we can play this role during 30 Hour Famine season.
OK, so here goes… in addition to being tour guides, I think as Famine leaders we get to be coaches. Go with me on this for a moment; our culture is sports-obsessed anyway, so let’s just embrace it. Here are a few reasons this metaphor works for me.
- Coaches coach for a full season. First, notice I wrote “30 Hour Famine season” above. This is the first—and maybe the most important—way to describe our role as coaches. I firmly believe 30HF should never be a one-off event on the calendar, like “laser tag night” or something. This project begs to be given a full season, just like the sports teams many of our students are involved in. It’s not an event; it’s a community growing together over the course of a couple months, working toward a series of goals for a common purpose.
- Coaches instruct at the level of their players. For veteran leaders, it’s easy to forget that many of our students are new to this. They don’t really understand the connection between the gospel and why Jesus-followers should care deeply about people who are facing extreme poverty. We need to remember how beautiful this connection is, meet our students where they are, and help them discover what it all means for their own faith. Basically, we need to coach the basics of the Christian faith in action.
- Coaches don’t go through motions; they cultivate teams. When you look at the very best coaches at any level of sports, you’ll notice they aren’t just busying themselves making up a schedule, planning practices, drawing up strategic plays, and organizing rides to tournaments. They do these things, of course, but their major priority is to create a culture—hopefully one of teamwork and interdependence. This is where the real coaching happens. Leading up to your Famine weekend, what are you doing to form a real, functional team? In my context, we are trying to empower a core group of team captains (student leaders) and giving them real responsibility, letting them lead and create. And we’re trying to make sure our role players (those who are slightly less involved) are using their gifts to contribute as full members of the team.
- Coaches hint at what is possible. This week Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski reached 1,000 wins for his career. The Internet became thick with stories of how he has changed his players’ lives by empowering them, helping them achieve their full potential. Speaking on how he motivates players, Coach K is quoted as saying, “I tell them, ‘It’s in you. I know it is. I wouldn’t have recruited you if it wasn’t.”‘ It’s not easy convincing a few dozen middle schoolers that they can raise ridiculous amounts of money and go without food for 30 hours—and that they can actually change the lives of children across the globe who desperately need food, healthcare, and education. But once they actually start believing it, watch what happens. The wins start piling up, both for the students and for those they are trying to serve.
So that’s why I think we get to be coaches. But don’t forget, what we’re doing isn’t a game. As a 30 Hour Famine “coach,” your team’s purpose isn’t to throw a ball through a hoop more times than another group of teenagers over an arbitrary duration of time. Unlike sports (and don’t get me wrong, I love sports, too) the stakes are actually high on what we do. We must coach our team well for a full season if we really want our students to engage with what it means to be Christ-followers in a world full of hunger, poverty, and injustice.
Question: What’s your metaphor for what you do as a youth worker?