In my brief time in youth ministry I have learned an abundance regarding youth culture and ministering within it. Communication is constantly changing because of the advances in technology. Families are broken in more ways than ever before with the magnification of social issues that are becoming more prevalent and common place in our society. But the one thing that has not changed is the way that we minister, that is, in building relationships.
In order to gain a better perspective on this subject, and to provide a well-rounded discussion, I interviewed three DCEs: one with years of experience and great insight, and two who are just starting out, but offer fresh outlooks shaped by their varied immersions.
Scott Rauch, Trinity Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois - 25 years plus one year of internship
Rebekah Freed, First Trinity Lutheran Church in Tonawanda, New York - DCE Intern
Julia Mueller, Currently serves in internship placement and as a missionary in Riga, Latvia, with LCMS World Mission
What is your definition of youth ministry? If you have served more than five years, has your definition changed? Why or why not?
Scott: "Youth and adults serving together for the glory of God" --hasn't changed because it encompasses everything I understand our lives in Christ to be about just from a youth ministry viewpoint.
Julia: I would define youth ministry as the investment in the lives of young people in the name of Jesus Christ. It is not just spiritually guiding, or providing activities for them to do. It is walking with people as they journey through this time in life referred to as 'youth'.
Do you agree with the statement, "Youth Ministry speaks to the full range of life issues of youth in the congregation and community"? Why or why not?
Scott: I understand the premise and agree but would maybe add "family" in front of congregation and community. My context here as I write is that I had a conversation with two sets of parents this week about the relationship their teens have with each other. I do not plan to have the same conversation with the youth because their parents will. So adding family to the statement would be an important word for me.
Rebekah: Yes, I agree with this statement. It seems that one of the biggest parts of youth ministry is really just meeting students right where they are... and often times it seems that most of the doors into true life-changing ministry happen through those "issues." For example, this past week there was a student at an area school who committed suicide and earlier this year a teacher at another area school was killed in a car accident. Through those issues and situations I had a chance to interact and share Christ with some students who would never show up on a Sunday morning. But on the other end, youth ministry is also about celebrating the high points in students' lives and doing things like showing up at a student's musical to encourage and support them. It really is about the whole range, good and bad.
Julia: Yes. Youth ministry can and even should be made fuller by including generations outside of their own in the ministry that is purposed for them. Faith life is not just something that should be encouraged at church or on high school mission trips where it is easy to see God and live faith. I think we are doing more of a service to God's children by being aware of reality and facing it with young people, instead of leaving them hanging to discern the world with whatever tools they can come up with. We can provide a safe and educated setting for discussion and action in regard to the full range of life issues.
"Youth Ministry" covers a broad stroke of students; how do you manage this?
Rebekah: I have had the joy this year on internship to explore what it looks like to work with both high school students and young adults. While a lot of places seem to group middle school and high school together (at least in a job description) it's been fun to see some of the benefits of having high school and young adult ministry as the focus. It has shaped the way I look at high school ministry in the sense of realizing more of what the high school graduates will face once they are out of high school. It puts a higher focus in my mind to be using the years they are in high school ministry as a time to prepare them for what's next in their lives and their faith.
Julia: With my limited exposure to working in youth ministry I have been pleasantly surprised to find that "youth" is actually a little different from place to place. Here in Latvia our youth ministry ranges from seventh or eighth grade to people in their 30's... basically anyone who is not married. While some could say it is bad to have such a huge age range, I think it has been a blessing here. It provides opportunity for the younger people to see older people they admire and look up to living out their faith. We have small groups that are divided by age, which is good for discussion (eighth graders are working with a whole different level of development, not to mention life experiences). There is also a mentoring of sorts that happens as the older youth are leaders and they help the younger ones find their areas of interest and a place to contribute and serve. When I first found out that youth ministry here was so widespread I thought it could never work out. Now as I am more involved and seeing things as they play out, I see that it is a very natural thing. I think intergenerational ministry is very important, and this is one way that I see it happening; it may not be from age 1 to 100, but I still think it is an important and valuable way of being intergenerational.
How does Scripture play a role in how you minister to teenagers? List one of your favorite passages for ministering and what it means to you in engaging students in Gods message of love and hope.
Scott: Ephesians 2:8-10 helps me remember that it is by God's graceful work in Jesus that I get to participate in His mission and ministry of restoring His creation to what it was meant to be. It is His workmanship in the lives of youth that needs to be focused on. He is the One who is to be bragged about as I see youth struggle, survive and thrive this side of heaven.
Rebekah: As I think about using Scripture as I interact with students, I love the theme verse that has been used for our high school ministry, Crossroads, since before I came, from Jeremiah 6:16, "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." It seems that there arent a lot of places to simply find "rest" in our world and especially in the high school years, it seems youth find themselves often at a "crossroads" trying to figure out where faith and real life intersect. To be able to continually point students back to Gods word to find "the good way" is a powerful thing.
I pray for each of you, as your continue to minister to youth in whatever setting God has called you, to turn to Gods Word first and be mindful in how you reflect the love of Jesus Christ with youth and their families.