The Benefits of Planned Spontaneity
I recently slid down an ice slop towards rocks in the middle of summer wearing shorts and runners.
Why and how did this happen? Spontaneity.
I was on a road trip to Oregon with a few friends. We went to Crater lake and discovered that Crater lake is actually in the mountains and there was snow. Tourists could climb to this one lookout tower that the Park Rangers use to watch for forest fires. The lookout took about 15-20 minutes to climb from the parking lot and overlooked the entire region. One one side of the lookout point was a winding trail. On the other was a steep ice slope that loomed above the parking lot. Long story short. We ventured through the snow in our summer gear up to the lookout. Then, following the somewhat unwise idea of one of my fellow travelers, we saved time, and slid down the ice slop towards large scary rocks and luckily slowed ourselves down in time to arrive safely.
This exciting, somewhat dangerous, probably stupid, yet fun, aspect of the trip became a highlight. It took 5 minutes yet stands out in my mind. Why? Partially because it was spontaneous. We did not plan and were not prepared to climb through snow and slide down ice.
There is a fresh rush of excitement that flows when we do something spontaneously. It helps us feel young and alive. These moments often become highlights.
It is the goal and privilege of youth leaders to facilitate moments that become highlights in the lives of teenagers. Life-changing moments with Jesus but also fun times of adventure with friends. How can this occur? I suggest planned spontaneity.
Some youth leaders love the spontaneous and are generally not overly thoughtful or planned. Upside, fun stuff can happen. Downside, it cannot happen on a giant scale (i.e. on a trip), stupid mistakes may occur, and dangerous situations arise. Other youth leaders are quite planned and thoughtful and like to hold spontaneity at bay like a pre-teen guy that doesn’t quite know what to do about the girl he is interacting with. Upside, things are thoughtful, they can be trusted, and events are planned. Downside, sometimes everything seems predictable.
How do we combine the strength and safety of thoughtful planning with the fun adventure of spontaneity? Answer: planned spontaneity.
Planned by the leader. Spontaneous for the youth.
Youth ministry is not a personal road trip. Leaders don’t have the luxury of just taking random risks with the teens they lead. Yet, some of the best memories for the students are the spontaneous adventures. So youth leaders need to plan events, surprises. and treats, that students don’t know about and seem spontaneous.
- A “surprise” evening where suddenly everyone is going to the pool.
- A “surprise” outing after youth to Mcdonalds for mcflurries. Or the sudden arrival of free pizza for everyone at the end of the youth gathering.
- A “surprise” stop at the lake while driving to the youth convention to jump in for a quick swim.
- A “surprise” visit by a guest band for a late night concert during the overnighter.
All of these can be planned and thought out. The permission slip for the convention or youth night could include a variety of other events or stops. The swim trunks could be packed for the “hotel pool” or even better advise parents to sneak swim gear into the bags of the students. The more planning the bigger the surprise can be. Then suddenly and spontaneously bust out your surprise!
It is one thing to advertise a concert or pizza. It is one thing to do a pool trip or a lake stop. This can be fun. But when it comes out of nowhere like a surprise slap from the offended girl that you naively didn’t even know you offended. That is not just fun that is an adventure that could be a highlight for a month, year, or lifetime.
One simple way that we pulled this off in youth ministry was that we planned a series of random event nights. Youth knew that something fun would happen during the youth night. Parents filled out a general permission slip that covered a variety of events. Youth were then paired with a particular youth staff. It was up to that youth staff what they did in a one hour time slot during that youth night. Some jumped in the youth staff’s car and drove to the closest house, grabbed a bunch of swim gear, and went to the nearest pool to jump off the high dive. Others, went to the house of the youth staff were fine treats were prepared, others went to a classroom in the church building where a big video game setup was ready. Student were caught off guard. They were surprised. There was rushing, laughing, yelling, and the excitement of every student sharing their stories and boasting of how fun their adventure was. The energy level was far higher than if we had advertised everything ahead of time.
Be a wise youth leader. Plan.
Be a fun youth leader. Be spontaneous.
This article is a part of a series on youth ministry. Subscribe to stay in the loop with upcoming blogs.
Do you agree that spontaneity makes a difference?
What are highlights from youth ministry for you?