My husband and I are recently watched the wonderful Netflix docu series ‘Chef’s Table’. In each episode—six have been released so far—a famous chef is portrayed. Each of them is completely different.
Even though neither of us is a chef—though my husband did aspire to become one when he was young, but ultimately ‘settled’ for becoming a research engineer—we learned tons, while being equally entertained and amazed. I mean, some of these dishes are pure art. If they were on my plate, I’d almost consider it a waste to eat them.
But there are life lessons as well. Most chefs admit to being workaholics and to struggling to finding a life-work balance for instance. The regret was clearly palpable in some episodes. I’ll take a wild guess and state that many youth pastors struggle with this as well.
What struck both me and my husband the most though, was this: imitating their teachers, the chefs they learned the most from, only got these chefs so far. A some point, they all moved beyond imitating into inspiring.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, or so the saying goes. That may be true, but imitation will never bring you true ‘success’. When you start out, imitation is perfectly fine. After all, even celebrity chefs have started with the basics of cooking at some point.
I remember reading about a famous food critic in Germany once, who decided he wanted to become a chef. He managed to get a position with a Michelin restaurant, where he was put to work in the kitchen. His job? Cutting the vegetables with the highest precision. In the first months of his internship, he never touched a pot or a pan. All he did was cut.
At some point, these chefs started imitating their teachers, copying the dishes they’d been taught to cook. But they didn’t stay stuck in imitation. They moved on to inspiration. Each of them found their own particular style and contribution to the culinary world. And the thing that I loved most, is that each of them did this in harmony with the context they were working in.
Massimo Bottura, the Italian chef in Modena, started making new interpretations of classic Italian dishes. New Yorker Dan Barber linked up his restaurant to several farms and uses the purest local ingredients possible. Australian chef Ben Chewry uses unknown native veggies and chef Francis Mallman cooks in fire pits and with other methods that were traditional in the region he grew up in in Argentina.
What this has to do with youth ministry? Everything.
In youth ministry, like in cooking, imitation only gets you so far. When you start out, imitating what others have done successfully is fine. But you need to move beyond that and find inspiration in your unique setting and context. You need to develop a way and style and method of doing youth ministry that is uniquely you and perfect for your situation and context. Only then will you experience true ‘success’—with the help of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of God of course.
Where are you on that continuum between imitation and inspiration? Are you merely doing what others are doing, or are you inspiring others by a unique youth ministry?