Youth Ministry: It’s a Lot Like Chess

“Unfortunately, many youth pastors think youth ministry is more like checkers than chess.”

When I was in elementary school, I learned to play checkers. It was an easy, fun and quick game to play with friends and family members. Chances are, at some point in your life you have played checkers, and it’s highly likely that you, like me, grew tired of playing the game. Checkers is a great game, but before long—since there isn’t much of a challenge—it becomes boring and easy not to miss.

On the other hand, when I went into junior high school, my uncle taught me how to play chess. This game was played on the same kind of board as checkers but had different pieces, which had different moves and made the game totally different.

Recently, I attended a conference with Dr. Chris Hill of the Potters House Church of Denver. During one of his sessions, he brought up how life and ministry are more like chess than checkers.

This made me think about youth ministry and how it really is more like chess than checkers—unfortunately, many youth pastors think youth ministry is more like checkers than chess.

So what can we learn from chess as it relates to youth ministry? I am glad you asked.

1. Youth ministry has different pieces.

In chess, there are different pieces that move in different ways. You cannot move a chess piece like you can a checkers piece. You have to understand how the different pieces move and work.

Your youth ministry has different pieces, and you also need to understand how they work. You cannot minister to seventh graders the same way you minister to high school seniors. You cannot train adult volunteers the same way you train student volunteers. Each of these ministry areas is different and requires different roles and strategies that may not work well for other ministries.

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When was the last time you looked at the different areas of your youth ministry to evaluate how they function and move in order to be successful?

2. Youth ministry leaders have to think ahead.

In chess, your moves have to be slower—or at least more thought-out—than they do in checkers. If you move too quickly in chess, and take your hand off the piece, you will not have the option to move back.

In youth ministry, it is important to not make decisions too quickly. We must think two or three steps down the road. How will that series you want to teach influence the student who comes three weeks from now? How will the outreach project that you plan to do now in your community benefit the students who will join the church and the ministry next month? Is the youth ministry leader who wants to serve a good fit for that role now, or later?

You have to ask yourself questions before you move, because even though it looks and sounds good now, if you haven’t thought it out, you might not get the results you were aiming for.

I hope that you think of your youth ministry as a game of chess, not a game of checkers. What did I miss? What would you add to the list? What would you change?

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Russell St. Bernard (@PastorRuss09) is the youth minister at Reid Temple AME Church’s north campus in Glenn Dale, Maryland, and the founder of After the Music Stops, a full-service youth ministry resource company dedicated to assisting leaders and parents as they serve their students.

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