Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. It marks the beginning of the holiday sales season. The day has been controversial of late due to just how early retailers want to begin the shopping extravaganza. Most believe the origin of the term “Black Friday” is based upon retailers operating in the red until that day in which they move into the black and continue to earn through the rest of the season. Researchers, however, found that the day was first coined “Black Friday” by public servants in Philadelphia because the traffic was so bad on that day. Regardless of the origins of the day, the reality is that it has become a huge day in America.
I remember the first Black Friday I participated in. My wife and I were newlyweds, a mere two weeks of marriage stood between that morning and us. We saw the sales and got excited about a Christmas tree that was 60% off. We set the alarm and got up at 4am, made our way to a giant retailer and commenced to find our new tree. What we were a bit unprepared for were the thousands of other people out looking for that tree and other amazing prices on products they just had to have. We did eventually find our tree and make our way back home but we left with two key thoughts:
- Our tree was awesome and we were glad we did it.
- No sale was worth the price we paid in battling the masses and we would never do it again.
So, we never did it again. We typically find all of our sales online these days and the lure of Black Friday has never drawn us back to the big night/morning/day of sales.
So what happens when our Student Ministry takes on a Black Friday feel? Think about it: how many times have you planned an event or planned around a life event such as Friday night football or summer break? How often have you pushed that event like it is the greatest thing in the world wrapped in the “can’t miss” language? You sent invitations, you begged and pleaded with your students to get there, you offered so many amazing reasons why they just could not miss and lo and behold they showed up. They showed up in such a way that it was crazy and it was awesome and you could not believe it.
Then it was over.
So you planned on doing it again. And you tried to leverage the same strategy for other events. You even potentially saw the results repeated. But every program runs its course. Every strategy plays out. Every awesome new idea becomes a tired old idea – no matter how long it takes to get there. So what then?
The reality is that programs and events serve a purpose in our ministries. They serve to help us reach those we might not reach with other methods. But they cannot replace Christ’s command for us to make disciples and to spend our life investing in the lives of others. Of course, no one would argue that their events and programs are used for any purpose other than reaching the lost and taking the gospel further. But there is a point at which the program or event can become an end unto itself. While it isn’t our intention to lift an event above the call to make disciples, it can be difficult to stop doing something when we know it will be a success, at least in terms of numbers or when the people we serve look to it as a tradition. But tradition must never trump Jesus. In Mark 7:1-9 we find the Pharisees doing exactly that. They cling to their tradition, which, like many of our programs and events, are founded in good things. The Pharisees were pursuing holiness, the problem is they had taken the tradition far beyond its intent. Ultimately, they worshiped the tradition and ignored Jesus.
In Mark 7:8-9 Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” While this is the extreme, it serves as a warning to all of us who work in ministry. Focus on Jesus first. Make Him the priority. You will have to determine if your programming or events reach to the point of being a tradition that has outlived their usefulness. But take time to evaluate each and every one each and every time you do it. That is a critical part of your job as you lead students. And it isn’t always easy.
I have friends who simply love Black Friday, and I have some who claim it is the worst thing to happen to the Christmas season. I don’t really land on either side. I see the fun in it and the craziness in it. But when it comes to ministry we must be very careful our strategies and events and programs are leveraged for the gospel; that they are all about Jesus and that they help with our call to make disciples. If not, then it is time to let them go.
This post was written by Chris Swain, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry Publishing