When I was in high school there was one class that I looked forward to more than any other: Gym. After lunch, it was my favorite time each day. But, if you're one of those people (like I am) who won't let students get away with answering, "What's your favorite class in school?" with "Lunch" or "Gym," then I have another answer for you. And I don't have to think hard. My favorite class in high school was Mr. Moore's Earth Science. Now, when I say that, please don't jump to the conclusion that I know much about science. I don't. What I loved about that class was that half of the time we got to go outside. We got to be in nature. And that was something I loved!
Out of that class I was chosen to be a part of a program called Down to Earth. For one week we got to leave school and go on various adventures. One day we did a low ropes course, another day we did a high ropes course, we went rappelling, and we even did free-fall rappelling off of a train track bridge. And the climax of our week was a hike into the woods, and an overnight camping trip. One of the things I learned through Down to Earth was the principle: Prepare for the worst; hope for the best.
A number of years ago I was in my first year of ministry at a church when we went on an international mission trip. During the trip I began to hear chatter about "Drama Wednesday." During the front end of the week, they kept saying things like, "Drama Wednesday is coming," "You know what happens on Wednesday," "Save it for Drama Wednesday." And then, when Wednesday came, sure enough, there was drama. When something negative would happen, or when students would get in an argument, or when students were acting clique-y, they would just say, "Yep. It's Drama Wednesday." Based on past experiences, they had resigned themselves to the fact that one day on a mission trip was going to be filled with conflict. It was like they had given themselves a Hall Pass to vent and argue and gossip and gripe on Wednesdays; to get it all out of their systems so the other days would be peaceful and unified.
This was one of those ministry culture things that I knew had to change. And, of course, the way of change itself brought on more drama. But a shift in thinking and attitude was needed. In his book Boundaries for Leaders, author Henry Cloud says, "Put some boundaries on the negative thinking, and you create an environment where negativity [can] no longer live" (p. 108).
Somewhere along the line, this group of students started living with the philosophy: Prepare for the worst, and then expect it as inevitable. My task was to help them shift their mentality to the Down to Earth philosophy I had been taught: Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. It wasn't easy, but over the next couple of mission trips we raised the bar and eventually the culture changed significantly.
I submit that there is a big difference between planning for problems and having a plan to deal with problems. We understand that problems and challenges are inherent when humans are involved. But rather than expecting the worst as an inevitability, we believe for, pray for, work for, and expect the best. As a youth ministry, we have a philosophy of ministry that guides how we approach people and handle situations. When the best doesn't happen, we aren't necessarily surprised or caught off guard. We try not to freak out. Instead, we simply try to work our plan for dealing with drama and challenges as they arise in a biblically-based (Matthew 18:15-17), relationally healthy, God-honoring, restorative, redemptive way. It might seem like a subtle thing, but I believe this shift in thinking makes a big difference in the culture of our ministries.
• Talk about the statement: "There is a big difference between planning for problems and having a plan to deal with problems."
• In what ways have you set the bar too low and simply expect problems? How can you raise the bar and change your ministry culture to expecting the best?
• What is your plan for dealing with problems in a "biblically-based (Matthew 18:15-17), relationally healthy, God-honoring, restorative, redemptive way"?
• What is your philosophy of ministry that guides how you interact with people and handle situations? If you don't have one, set a time to get together with your team and create one.
Kevin Mahaffy Jr. is a veteran youth worker with over 20 years of experience in the trenches, author, and speaker. He is married to Adriana, and father to his two daughters — Claudia, a freshman in college, and Natalia, a sophomore in high school. He currently serves as the student ministries pastor as well as a teaching pastor at Shelter Rock Church on Long Island, NY. If you would like Kevin to speak at your next event, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.