Elle Campbell, the first guest of Women in Youth Ministry’s season on innovation, ironically is a bit ambivalent about innovation. She believes that innovation is all about solving problems, and that any innovation that doesn’t solve a problem “is just a vanity project.”
Elle and her husband, Kenny, are the founders and leaders of Stuff You Can Use, and produce curriculum, resources, and content for youth, children, and adult education ministry leaders. They started this organization ten years ago because they were creating content they needed, and then just decided to share it in case other people needed it too.
“I think we can waste a lot of energy solving problems that nobody has.”
Spoiler alert: they did. Stuff You Can Use, and their products, including Grow curriculum, are now one of the most often cited and highlighted resources in the Women in Youth Ministry Facebook group. Elle took to the podcast to talk about Stuff You Can Use and then shared her best strategies for allowing the problems, and the innovations that respond to them, to bubble up from your context:
1. Creating space
You can’t innovate, or work on creative solutions to problems, if you’re drowning in the day-to-day of keeping your ministry afloat. Creating space to actually work on your ministry and not in your ministry is crucial.
Practices like Balcony Time, architected by Mark DeVries, and which you can learn about here, here, or in many Youth Ministry programs, create that set-aside time, and allow the dust to settle enough for you to see what is a “just this week” problem, or a “Woah, this is a real problem” problem.
2. Cultivating Empathy
Ultimately, having compassion for the people that God has put in front of us is among our highest callings as Christian leaders. We are called to have empathy for the teenagers and families in our communities, and to be present in their struggles, hopes, and yearnings for the future. All of us care deeply about our teenagers and families, but we have to be able to hear what they articulate as their deepest problems and needs, not just what we imagine their needs are.
Tools like surveys and simple coffee conversations without presupposed answers can allow us to begin to understand what our teenagers truly need. Asking what the needs are, not what the solutions should be, first, is key to authentically innovative problem-solving.
Being Humble Enough to Hear Criticism
There is a reasonable chance that when we take time to analyze our ministries, to listen deeply to the problems that our teenagers have, they may not respond with “you are doing everything perfectly and are perfectly responsive to our needs, and you need to change nothing.”
We all know that, but it can be hard to hear all the places where we still have to learn and grow. Entering into conversations with a sense of joyful humility, feeling energized by all we can still learn, instead of defensive or protective over what we already have, is the final piece allowing innovation to happen.
Innovation is crucial to post-pandemic ministry, innovation is crucial to ministry in a world that is changing faster and faster every day, and also, innovation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Innovation is part of the sacred work we are called into, not a personal testament to our own ingenuity.
Elle truly models the joyful, energetic way we can see the problems in front of us as invitations into new and exciting work, innovation in its most organic context. The benediction we’ll share from her, is one that will inform this whole season of innovation together. Women in Youth Ministry, let’s dive into innovation together, and “Keep learning, and keep trying stuff.”