Chances are, if you come to a youth event where I have a role you’ll hear me say, “Build up, don’t tear down!” Then by a force of magic, the youth will hug, apologize, and realize their true role in the body of Christ!
Actually, the typical response would be something in the form of a whiny groan, or an “I know! I know!”
“Building up and not tearing down” is a concept that is easy to preach, but actually doing it, modeling it, and expecting our youth to do it is another task. Granted, some people have a gift when it come to encouragement. They have the gift to always be the positive beacon of light. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. Instead of relying on the path of encouragement, others take detours leading to sarcasm, gossip, or slander; detours we all know too well.
In a perfect world we’d love our youth to “get it together” right away, but do we model this ourselves? How can we possibly expect our youth to build up the body when we indulge in tearing it down?
All this tearing down the body are all symptoms of the same sin; PRIDE. There’s no room for pride in youth ministry. Believe me, there will be plenty of humbling experiences along the ministry path! Remember the old Lutheran phrase, “I, a poor miserable sinner…”? Youth worker and youth alike are broken people who make mistakes. Only by the Spirit are we enabled to pick up and try again. With this understanding, we may strive to be a model to our youth, pray that our youth may strive to be a model to their peers, and stay on the path of encouragement. I won’t pretend that I have mastered this walk, but in my opinion there are a few key ingredients to keeping on track.
One ingredient to encouraging our youth to build each other up in the body is to practice INCLUSIVE-ness, instead of EXCLUSIVE-ness. Make a point to reach out, encourage, and include them in the group. Make a goal to eliminate the cliques and come together as one group. Set a high standard for your group (and for yourself) that requires your youth to take a step outside their world and merge into other people’s worlds.
Another ingredient is to make sure that you emphasize both the shortcomings and the gifts the youth have within your group. The calling in youth ministry is not that our youth feel good, but rather that they know and have a proper understanding of the truth to share with others. When you emphasize both the good and the bad you equalize your group. With time and prayer, your youth will have a better understanding that we are not “good people”, but that we need our Savior who is the only one to offer us a new life through His death and resurrection. His love and faithfulness are all encompassing and all of our differences are set aside in Christ. This encouraging truth also serves as an equalizer.
The third ingredient is to emphasize that you, your support staff and youth are all ONE body in Christ. Paul speaks to this quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 12… “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts and though its parts are many, they form ONE body.” The reason we are different is so that we may compliment the other parts. Alone, you are just one little part, God designed us to come together as one. With this in mind, practice activities that encourage team building and emphasize encouragement. Make it a goal to carry this theme through all you do with the group.
The fourth ingredient is simply love. It’s no coincidence that the verses following 1Corinthians 12, Paul dives into the topic of love. We cannot even attempt to build up the body without the love that only Christ can give and work in us through his Spirit. In Colossians 3:14 Paul discusses what to “clothe yourselves with” and ends on this note; “…and over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Each day when you get dressed are you praying that the Lord dress you with love? This ingredient is necessary in order for the other ingredients in our “building up” recipe to work.
Why is it necessary for us to strive to build up the whole body…even the parts that seem “different”? It’s because we are one body. In 1 Corinthians12:26 Paul states, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” In other words, it’s not about us! There’s no “I” in team. It’s about the team and the team is about one goal. The team’s single goal is heaven.
On earth, we are here only for a fleeting moment. The moment is filled with constant detours off the “path of encouragement”. While we are here, it is important to let the Spirit work His power in us so we many strive to “build up and not tear down” and to encourage others to do the same. As the Spirit works He is changing us daily to be more like Christ so we can bear witness to the love and grace that only He can give. With the seeds planted we can pray and trust that as we continue in the faith together, we will all be united for one big celebration in heaven…something that will last FAR LONGER than this fleeting moment on earth, a destination that even the most positive “path of encouragement” cannot reach on its own.
We may never get to that magical point of seeing our youth “get it”. In reality, most of us won’t see it at all. The fact remains that when Christ called us, He called us to do the work, whether we see the results of our labor or not. When we go out and do that work, there is one thing we can be sure of: with the Spirit’s guidance and help the building up of the body will be beyond our imagination! Christ is the one foundation to build on! “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:11