Thursday, July 31, 2014

Youth Ministry Soapbox: Stop Trying to Build Your Platform

Photo Credit: psgreen01 (Creative Commons)
*Rant Alert*

I keep seeing folks in the youth ministry tribe spending loads of time promoting and building their platforms

Whether it's guest blog posts on a big-name youth ministry blog, creating a blog and website to offer brand spankin' new services and advice for youth ministry folks, becoming youth ministry consultants or coaches or speakers (instead of pastors or full-time youth workers), writing and selling self-published books and/or e-books...the amount of social media platforms in the youth ministry world feels like it's exploded.

With the increase of technology and a globalized world, more and more voices are being added to the cacophony of the Internet. With so many voices on so many platforms, all vying for position and followers and clickbacks and links, it feels akin to having thousands of individuals standing on their elevated towers with bullhorns and fireworks, trying to draw attention to their idea/service/product/self.

Here is my contention:

Everyone can build a platform. Not everyone should.

We are a tribe that is both often at the forefront of new technology and cultural advances; we're the early adopters, the innovators, the entrepreneurs, the risk-takers. We are also a tribe that often feels like our voices aren't heard in our own contexts--the elder board/senior pastor/parent/student didn't care to listen to our wisdom or idea.

Do you see how these two characteristics could lead to a pandemic of platform-building in the youth ministry world?

Yes, I am questioning your motives. I am also questioning mine. I've seen the log jammed in my own eye, the mixed motives of my own heart when it comes to social media. I know the brief euphoric rush of getting a few hundred "likes" or "clicks" or "favorites" for a blog post. As an author, I know the tension of wanting to promote my books because I genuinely believe in their message and content, but also not wanting to become a salesman. I recognize the irony of sharing this post on Facebook and Twitter in the hopes that it exhorts and stirs up some conversation. Yet any platform I have in the youth ministry tribe is simply God's grace; it's a gift that I want to steward well, to be a voice of encouragement and wisdom and hope for our tribe. This soapbox moment is simply meant to question our focus in youth ministry and draw us to what matters most: making disciples of the emerging generation.

Are we striving to please God or people? Are we called to be a shepherd and teacher and discipler of young people, or social media mavens? Do we spend as much time in prayer for the people we disciple as much as we spend writing and honing a blog post or tweet? Will God be more pleased about our impressive Google analytics stats and strong Twitter following, or our quiet faithfulness to our vocational calling and His leading?

Is Jesus calling me to be a better social media specialist or a better pastor?

This rant is not meant to be discouraging or demoralizing. The individual voices and stories of the youth ministry tribe ARE valuable, and worth sharing. Many of the best wisdom and ideas will likely go unnoticed by the crowds. That's okay; Jesus warned us about things like that. This is why I love movements like Open, a localized gathering of youth ministry voices with less platform-building and more kingdom-building. It's why I love youth ministry network gatherings (find your local network here) where local youth workers can share ideas, share life, and pray for each other as peers around the table.

I'm not asking you to shut down your blog or close your Twitter account. I'm just wondering about our hearts, individually and as a collective. I'm hoping Jesus can heal them of any motive of self-promotion and an unhealthy obsession to be noticed. Shut off the technology, sit in the silence, listen for God's quiet voice stirring in your soul. Where is your heart today?

*End of Rant*

What did this post spark in you? Share in the comments.

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