Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What I Learned about Youth Ministry from...Chef Ramsay

In this feature, I will discuss unlikely lessons for ministry I have learned from unlikely sources. Today, I will discuss what I have learned from ubiquitous TV chef, Gordon Ramsay.

You might know Chef Ramsay as that British guy who is always yelling on television shows like "Hell's Kitchen" and "Master Chef." I think he is on television for roughly 23.5 hours a day. In fact, I am pretty sure the CEO of Fox handed Chef Ramsay the keys to the network and said, "take care of the place while I'm gone."

I do have a particular fondness for "Hell's Kitchen." I think the attraction of the show is that Chef Ramsay finds the 16 worst humans on earth and then yells at them all summer. I know there are easier ways to find head chefs for one's restaurants. Chef is probably doing this on advice from his therapist so that he can have a productive outlet for his considerable rage.

In watching the show, I have discovered something that is somewhat useful in ministry. Chef Ramsay is a master at creating drama.

Well, not creating it so much as manipulating the circumstances so as to create an environment conducive to drama. He always makes sure to keep the two people who hate each other the most working together. He always increases the pressure on his contestants to strain their emotions. He is constantly making decisions to maximize potential drama.

Now, obviously, this is being done to increase conflict so as to increase ratings. However, there can be good that could come out of manipulating situations to produce conflict and tension and drama in youth ministry.

What Ramsay has discovered is that there is always drama to be found when you put 16 people in a competition against each other, then require them to work together. They are simultaneously working for and against each other. Of course people are going to snap on each other.

In ministry, we are always working with people who are fallen, who have struggles and insecurities, and can be very sensitive. Of course there is going to be drama in youth ministry. But is that a bad thing? Should youth workers try to minimize drama or exploit drama for the purpose of helping people grow?

I would argue that it is good to allow drama to take place in your youth ministry. It is good to have conflict among students in your ministry. It is good to deal with hurt feelings, damaged egos, and emotional wounds in youth ministry. And it could be a good thing to draw that drama into the open where it can be dealt with.

For one, your ministry can be a safe place for it to happen. All of your students are going to run into drama and conflict at some point. In your ministry, at least you have the possibility of controlling it. You can help people work out conflict in a gentle, Christ-like manner, and, in the process, teach them how to handle conflict and drama on their own. Should gossip or lying occur, you have a real-life instance of the damage things like that can cause.

Two, conflict can lead to good discussion. This could be a theological dispute, this could be a dispute over the proper lifestyle of a Christ-follower, this could be a relational conflict. Presenting students with two options of a debate from which to choose and making them pick one, or having students identify their positions along a continuum, or placing students who typically don't get along in a small group together are good ways of provoking some conflict with the intention of producing a life-changing discussion and dialogue. You can teach students to respect people who disagree with them. You can teach students the value of not making every disagreement personal. You can help them live with some tension, which, as most adults know, is a very valuable thing to learn to do. And you can help them sort through their emotions and maybe even discover reason and rational thought behind the discussion. They can learn from each other, learn to listen and understand people they disagree with, and all in a relatively safe environment.

Three, it's better to have it all out in the open where it can be dealt with than simmering below the surface. Apply some gentle pastoral pressure to a situation so we can get it all out in the open beyond sideways-glares and passive-aggressive remarks. Bring the conflict that already exists into the open where those involved can work it out before it comes out on its own (and this is never preferred).

Now, as a guy, I am wired to run away from drama. I like low-maintenance when it comes to relationships. I am not one to instigate drama or conflict. But in working with youth, I have found that it is often better to help that conflict come to light than watch it slowly grow underneath the surface. It's OK to draw that conflict out; the sooner it comes out, the better off everyone will be. And hopefully, you've taught the students involved how to deal with conflict on their own from now on.

I think there is room for disagreement here, and I am sure there are angles to this that both support my theory and disagree with my theory that I am missing. This idea is still very embryonic in my thinking at this point. I hope to have fully formed thoughts about this concept eventually. Probably when I am ready to retire.

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