Youth Ministry Basics: Authentic Relationships

Let’s face it: Youth Workers can get a bad rap. The stereotypical youth minister is usually personified as a name-brand-wearing, guitar-toting, flip-flop-wearing, nose-pierced, religious-tattooed, iPhone-using, energy-exhibiting powerhouse who can do back flips from moving cars all the while texting and carrying pizzas for upcoming youth events.

While this youth worker may be the “face of youth ministry,” I think that there are many (if not most) of us who are not like that. There are many of us who celebrate the day that there are 7 youth attending Sunday school as if it were 700. There are also those of us who know in order to create authentic relationships, there’s more than the “flash” and “bang” of the mega-church; there’s the ability to minister and relate to students where they are. There’s also a significant need to “get smaller” whether you have a group of 9…or 90.

Our church recently went to see the movie, “To Save a Life.” (Side note: take your youth to see it…it’s great) One of the best parts about the movie, for me, was the relationship depicted between Jake, the main character, and Chris, the youth minister. When the movie begins, Jake is very apathetic toward Chris and only views him as a ride home after he ends up stranded at a party. As the movie goes on, Chris becomes a really strong influence in Jake’s life. He spends time with him, challenges him, listens to him, and helps Jake work through some difficult times. All through this time, you see Chris mentoring and modeling Christ.

It was a reminder to me the importance of the calling that we have as youth workers: whether volunteer, part-time, or full-time. Our job is more than just planning the fun events and back flips. We have been called to bring the life-changing message of Jesus’ love to students.  Part of the way that we get to do this is by creating authentic, lasting relationships. One of the best models we have is Jesus’ time spent with the disciples.

1) Jesus was present: The Gospels are full of accounts of Jesus simply being present in the disciples’ lives. For three years, Jesus was involved in the disciples’ lives. He spent time teaching them, eating with them, celebrating with them, and traveling with them. He was focused not only on His earthly ministry but building up those who would carry it on. For us the application is that we should remember to be present, to focus not only on the event but the youth who are attending. Make it a goal to spend time with each youth who attends. Make it a habit to invite a youth (or two) over to dinner once a week.

2) Jesus had 12 disciples, but there were 3 with whom He spent significant amounts of time:  Jesus gives us a good model to follow in that while He ministered to many, there were 12 in His “inner circle,” and even then there were 3 (Peter, James, and John) whom He seemed to personally mentor. I have learned in the past few years of working with youth, that there are youth who I will “click” with and others who I will not. There are also youth inwhom I have seen and recognized gifts that God has given them that I can help shape and develop in a more one on one basis. This may sound like playing favorites, but the goal is to mentor the three or four so that they can then mentor others. When it’s done well, it’s not done at the expense of the group, but for its benefit. If you can find other adults to come alongside all your youth to mentor, the stronger the group will be. Bo Boshers writes in his book, The Be With Factor, “…the standard by which Jesus measured his own success–and how we ought to measure our own success–was deep, lasting change in a few.”

3) Jesus looked for opportunities: Jesus took many advantages of culture, context, and community to provide teachable moments. We see this in many places in the gospels, from teaching at the temple, following healings, and by His use of parables. The same is true of us. There any many opportunities for us to interact with youth beyond the Sunday service to provide teachable moments. When we offer forgiveness to an unruly student, or are dealing with personal change or grief or even celebrating, we are showing Christ to our students by our actions and our words.

What are ways that you create authentic lasting relationships with your students?

Published February 11, 2010

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