In this interview, National Youth Director Josh Wellborn talks to"America’s Number One Youth Pastor," Dr. Jeanne Mayo. Mayo talked abouthow her experiences leading through past crises prepared her for COVID-19, and how leaders can continue creating community from a distance.
Through her research, Mayo found that most sociologists are saying that the COVID-19 virus will “go down in history as more shaping than even [September 11, 2001].” However, despite the uncertainty and potential fear that can accompany times of crisis, Mayo views being a leader at this moment in history as a privilege. But with that privilege comes a responsibility.
She stressed that students have never needed their youth leaders as much as they do now. “I think we better see it through the filter of, this just gives the urgency to the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ for us,” she said.
She encouraged leaders to keep several things in mind as they continue leading their ministries.
First, during critical times leaders need to intentionally focus on offering both inspiration and hope. Inspire your students. Dispense hope in their hearts. You can acknowledge the reality of the situation without fixating on the negatives.
Additionally, leaders should stay calm. Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City at the time of 9/11, once said that leaders in crisis need to be the calmest people in the room. Mayo tied it all together and said that as a youth leader, yourcalm needs to be infused with inspiration and hope.
Going a step further she challenged leaders: “For your kids not to be hearing from you regularly now, your silence doesn’t represent calm. Your silence now represents distancing.” It’s imperative leaders continue to reach out to students through different platforms and means of communication—inspiration and hope are best translated through relationship.
Second, great leaders determine how to turn obstacles into opportunities for growth for themselves and for the people around them. Mayo recommended Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is the Way, which explores this idea further. In the current state of the world, we get to decide if COVID-19 is an opportunity to develop relational ties with students digitally and virtually rather than use it as an excuse to do nothing.
Finally, Mayo shared the three primary emotional focuses counsellors say youth and young adults are dealing with:
- Fear and anxiety
- Isolation and loneliness
Being aware of these emotions can help leaders filter personal communication with their students.
Teenagers and young adults feel the fear and anxiety. Mayo said, “I think we’re stupid to just do nothing but give them [students] little pep talks on fear is the opposite of faith.” While those truths are important to communicate, pastors and leaders need to acknowledge the validity of the fear, stress, and anxiety their students deal with. They’ve never been through anything like this before.
Today’s youth culture doesn’t deal well with isolation and loneliness. And with self-quarantines and social distancing becoming the new normal, human contact is extremely important. Ask volunteer leaders to make three personal contacts a week with their kids (texts, FaceTime, Zoom calls, etc.). Or, if your youth ministry doesn’t have active small groups, make a list of students with phone numbers and divide them up among your leaders. If you don’t have enough leaders, mobilize key students to make at least one personal contact a week.
The last emotional focus is boredom. “I think as youth specialists we’ve got to understand for all of us, adults included, boredom does not by itself take us to Christ-honoring places,” Mayo noted. She said a simple addition to weekly services could be scheduling a fun, relational Instagram Live at the same time every night. It doesn’t have to be mandatory, but it provides a touchpoint for students to plug in to.
Because boredom and apathy usually become a pathway towards negative things rather than positive, “your goal is not being profound, your goal is upping the contact.”
Mayo noted that prior to this global crisis, ministry was service-contextualized. It was about things like how the service went and how many people attended. But this season is forcing churches to stop and realign their priorities.
None of us are going to come out of this crisis the same way we entered it. So leaders, use that to drive your ministries back to the “why” behind the “what.”