Social media and the publishing industry have developed and championed the now commonly-used term “platform” as something leaders should nurture. Platform is “about leading a tribe of engaged followers” (Michael Hyatt) or “a group of people who are likely to buy your book, if you should ever publish one, because they already know of you and they like something about you” (Rachelle Gardner).
For those who have authored books, this makes complete sense. When publishing companies are able to invest little to nothing in promoting titles these days, authors have to carry the promotional load.
Without careful thought, though, the concept of platform has leaked over into ministry circles and is reshaping the images of what ministry looks like. Modeled after itinerant speakers, authors, and those seeking notoriety with larger audiences, when we speak of the ministry platform we often implicitly mean a stage with multi-colored lights, various musical instruments, and a gap between the leaders and the audience. Though the weekly program is an important element in youth ministry, I don’t think it’s THE platform that we should seek.
For the youth worker, what is the shape of that platform?
We automatically think of the stage and available microphone, beckoning us to come and fill in the emptiness with our music, witticisms, or insight. We are fascinated by the idea of the spotlight focusing on us, the blue beam acting like a tractor beam as all eyes are locked on our every gesture and story from our own life.
But is that the right image for a youth worker? Is doing something like a TED talk the pinnacle moment of youth ministry?
I think platform is a potentially dangerous topic in youth ministry for a variety of reasons and, before I get going too far here, I invite you to read David A. Zimmerman‘s fantastic analysis of the problems inherent in an all-out assault on building a platform without thinking about some of the outcomes of that pursuit.
Over time the relational center of youth ministry has been ditched for the stage with lights inside a religious building. We’ve move from the corner stoplight where we meet teens in the neighborhood to the spotlight where teens are to come to meet us. If ALL that we have is a prepared program where we hope that a lot of kids show up and get something out of it (and I certainly did this as a youth pastor), then we’re missing the important element, THE platform for adults who model Jesus’ ministry approaches with others.
As a teacher, I’ve been challenged by the image of the hub. The classroom is only part of the platform for me, one spoke of the wheel. But it’s easy to forget that and “just do our job,” to not get out of the office and spend time with students. Leadership isn’t complete when only done from the front of the room, though that’s a large part of what I do (and why I get paid, I guess). But to lead people means that I need to be in the middle of people. To reach youth means we need to be in the middle of youth.
If you kept track of your time this coming week, how much of it would be spent “up front” or planning that upfront time and how much would be spent in the midst of those with whom you minister/lead?