“Liberté, égalité, fraternité!” was the cry of the French Revolutionists.
They wanted liberty, equality, and brotherhood for all people. (Do you hear the people sing?) I’ve seen many youth ministers try to start their own revolutions under banners like:
- Out with the Old; In with the New
- Contemporary Worship is the Answer for the World Today—Above It There’s No Other—Contemporary Worship is the Way
- Small Group Discipleship
- Family-Focused Youth Ministry
- Or whatever they heard at the most recent youth ministry workshop
If you seek to change an organization like the church by revolution, you will most likely fail. At the best, you are going to cause great pain and war because a revolution invites conflict, sides, and right and wrong.
Instead of revolutionary tactics to change an organization, I’d like to suggest that we coax it.
Mark DeVries introduced the idea of “evolution, not revolution” to me during my time as a Youth Ministry Architects consultant. There is a great chapter in his book The Indispensable Youth Pastor with this title. We have tried to embraced this philosophy at the Center for Youth Ministry Training as we work with new youth ministers.
I have tried to learn this as a practice in my own life, but Mark as chairman of our board can attest to the fact that sometimes I forget. Sometimes I’ve already decided the best course of action and I’m going to simply tell our board what we are doing. Inevitably, this action always meets the most resistance because it requires change in the shortest amount of time.
Let me explain. Evolution is a slow process. Instead of a revolutionary charge, it involves the introduction of new elements—DNA, pollen, climate—that over time are adopted into the organism or organization making it different than it was before.
- tries something on a small scale to see if it works. If it does, then do it again. If it doesn’t, try something else. Repeat.
- expands the number of people in an organization who have heard, thought about, and agreed to a new idea or direction.
- lets someone else think it was their idea.
- gradually moves from one philosophy of ministry to another, one program element at a time.
- promotes growth in the organism or organization.
- destroys what was for what should be.
- assumes you are right.
- creates division.
- at best prunes and at worst kills the original organism.
So instead of charging up the hill with your small group banner raised high to destroy the evil forces that want a youth group meeting, have a six week study at someone’s home. If they like it and want more, then you will be ready to provide it for them. If their love for small groups grows, then it will someday replace the youth group meeting. Evolution, not revolution!
Instead of inviting parents to all youth ministry events in the name of family-based youth ministry, how about having one event for youth and their parents? If it works and they like it, call it family-based youth ministry and give them another taste. Evolution, not revolution!
Take time to think about the current changes you are trying to implement. Would others say that you are using an evolution or revolution philosophy?
(Many thanks to Mark DeVries who continues to teach me these principles and whose words I have certainly borrowed, if not directly quoted in this article.)