During the course of a meeting I had last Sunday, we were talking about making some changes in how we structure our youth ministry. We are trying to find ways to incorporate more youth into leadership and ownership of the ministry. Someone brought up the fact that if we involve some of them too much in leadership, they’ll never "get fed" because of their responsibilities in other arenas (some help out in children’s ministry, etc).
I started wondering, though, if perhaps we draw too distinct a line between leading and learning. I think back on my own walk, and while there are times where I was "fed" by others (usually in the reading of books or listening to others speak), there were also many times when I grew up quite quickly because of being put in charge of something. When you become truly responsible for something, a lot of immaturity gets knocked out of you pretty quickly. And after a few experiences of responsibility, I found I was much more receptive to "being fed" by other people. It was like all of a sudden the stuff they were saying made more sense, but basically it just reflected the fact that I now had a matrix of thought and experience that could catch more when people taught me. I also noticed this when I decided to finish my bachelor’s degree. I hadn’t been in a classroom for two years, and during that time had gotten married and had a son. I found that those life experiences of increased responsibility prepared me to get a lot of an education (at least I am pretty sure I got more out of it than the typical freshman… I couldn’t believe how many times I heard the mantra: "Is this going to be on the test?").
So it seems to me, as we re-structure a youth ministry, that it is a very good thing to give young people experiences of real responsibility. It actually facilitates spiritual growth in a way that simply "getting fed" can’t do. Experiences of leadership and responsibility prepare people to be able to receive from others, because it’s in those situations that we realize how little we actually know. Theories always sound perfect in my head, but when it comes time to work them out in real life, that’s when things get gritty. But gritty is where life is, too, and experiences of leadership and responsibility help us keep our heads and hearts humble as we seek to walk forward with God.