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Football Players

I have often wondered what would happen if football coaches approached their work like most youth ministers are expected to. For example, I wonder what would happen if when a player was too busy to show up for practice, the understanding coach simply said, “We’ll miss you. I hope you’ll be able to make it next week sometime.” Imagine the players leaving practice and hearing the smiling coach say, “Thanks for coming. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow.”

If a football team operated like a typical youth ministry, we might expect concerned parents to call the coach, saying, “Can you tell me what’s been going on in practice? My son says it’s boring, and he doesn’t want to come anymore. I was wondering, could you make it a little more fun for them? And by the way, you might want to talk to the coach at the school across town. He seems to have the right idea.” The coach might send out quarterly questionnaires about what the players would like to change about the team (I can just imagine the answers: “shorter practices,” “more winning”).

A coach, responding like a typical youth minister, might first feel guilty that the practices were not meeting the boy’s needs, and he would try to adjust his program to suit this boy (and every other boy who complained). Between trying to keep everybody happy and giving every student a good experience, the coach would squeeze in a little football practice. And what kind of season would this coach have? It’s a safe bet that the coach wouldn’t be the only one who felt like a loser.

But this is the very way that most churches expect to run their youth ministries. To expect that youth be committed to the church at the same level of commitment that would be expected on an athletic team would draw the charge of legalism and of religious individualism that the expectation of commitment to the church has become implausible to most Christian parents. Because the god of individualism pressures us to program to the lowest common denominator, we seldom raise the expectations high enough for teenagers to experience real community.

Real community means real responsibility for each other. It means a commitment to be there for each other even when the schedule is tight and when motivation is low. But the typical Christian adult in our culture knows little about commitment to community.

Mark DeVries, Family-Based Youth Ministry, (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1994, pp. 150-151