Healthy Youth Ministry Challenges Young People to Take a Role in Shaping the Church’s Mission to the World

Complacency has a smell. It’s a musty, stringent odor that shows up when you’ve found yourself in the middle of something and no one wants to do anything. Faces in the room take turns not looking at one another. There’s a phobia of getting asked into something. The smell of the air feels thick, hot, moist, life-draining, and hard to breathe. Pseudo-patience overcomes the room and we wait for some kind of alleviation, for hope that either someone will make a move or the facilitator will just move on. How did we get here?

Remember the story of the little boy and his lunch and what Jesus did with that for a huge crowd? I wonder if God is waiting for us to offer just whatever it is that we are and can find and in grace-inspired obedience let Him make of it whatever it’ll turn into.

So, what holds us back?

I believe a fear sometimes overtakes us when it comes to local/global mission in the world. An inner hesitation weeds up that tangles our feet, thorns our ankles, and holds us back. It challenges our competence. It brings up our real, inauthentic desires. It shouts within us that we’re not doing enough or have enough people or money and that we should just give up. The hard part about all these is that there’s a touch of truth in them all–we are quite incompetent, our desires are usually inauthentic in their core, and there are never enough people.

The greater truth, the deeper reality, is that we’re a part of a story that is not about us but about love of God and the person of Jesus. The plot is that the Kingdom of God is emerging within the fabric of our world. Our God is the God of Jesus who somehow turned (and turns) the not-enough fish and loaves into an abundance. Our God seems to also have a liking for the incompetent, inauthentic, not-enoughs, and He fills their lives with His love and grace and sets them off, overflowing with a message and lifestyle of faith, hope, and love. (Why is the last one the greatest?) Our God also seems to like His paradoxes, saying things like, “When you lose your life, then you’ll find it,” and “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Now, how do we get to where God’s going? How do we become the kind of people who learn to naturally hand over the little bit of fish and bread that belongs to God? How might fear be overcome with love within us?

I think it starts with story, a story with two chapters. The first chapter: the story of Christ in the Scriptures–all He has done and plans to do. The second chapter: the story of what the Father in Christ by the Spirit has been doing in our own lives. I’m reminded of Deuteronomy 4:

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children–how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.'” (ESV)

Like our faith ancestors, we take care to recognize God at work in our lives and in our world around us. How has the story of Scripture trained our minds and hearts to see God in action and hear this invitation to come, follow, live, and die?

It’s here that I think a big part of our problem is. I wonder if we’ve gotten a bit cold to the person of God in and around us. I think we’ve studied a lot of Scripture (sometimes) but for whatever reason have had a hard time looking for God and His Kingdom coming and becoming around us. As Mark wrote for us, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,'” (Mark 1:14, ESV). It’s hard to join in on something you aren’t looking for, anticipating, or know of. I believe our mission as the Church is nothing more than joining in on the blooming of the Kingdom of God within the world, realizing that Jesus’ prayer taught us the direction of God’s hope: “May your kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (For more on this thought, I suggest reading Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli.)

So, how do we pay attention? I think it starts with community, the right kind of community, our community. It starts with studying Scripture together to learn the sound of the Shepherd. It starts by telling stories when we’ve heard the Shepherd speak and of what He’s doing in the world around us. It’s permeated with prayer and loving one another. The language and stories shape the imagination and perceptions of who God is and what He’s doing. It sends us into a new frontier.

After the start, our next step is in encouraging some visionary leadership. This kind of leadership sprouts within healthy community and it’s never boastful or controlling. It’s always permeated with the buds of the Fruit of the Spirit. It’s a leadership voice that has been shaped by the love of God to love others and is being shaped to creatively explore and express Kingdom movements. It’s also the kind of leadership that trains more leadership, who passes on the vision of the Kingdom of God coming, and the how-to’s of such a thing. (For more on this, I suggest one of the best leadership books I’ve read: Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins.)

The vision I’m talking about is where our kids really come in strong. Youth have the most bombastic ideas and have hearts that hold nothing back at times. Youthful enthusiasm dreams dreams worth dreaming and sees no limit, often to the sensation of invincibility. I wonder if the kid with the bread and fish was kind of like this, just acting first and seeing what would happen.

Alongside that, I remember again the Deuteronomy Scripture above. How can we not want to take our kids on this adventure and into this life with God? What would really hold us back from bringing them along and wanting them to experience the absolute best–if we’re really perceptive of it being the best of the best. (Yet, we have to leave room for that paradox again, that Jesus’ best is not what we often think of as the best. The call to life is also a call to die to self.)

As a last thought, what if our language embraced the words “Challenge” and “Invitation” side by side. In these I hear, “Come and live. Come and experience love in order that you might become truly loving.” And also the often hard to hear paradox of, “Come and die that you might live.” I can Imagine a world permeated with people of all ages saying to one another, “Come, check this out. Life has come to my life, Spirit to my spirit, and I’m learning how to become fully alive by dying to self and rising within Jesus. You’ve got to get in on this! Come along!” I think it’s that kind of life and story that expresses itself most purely in a life of mission. However, it seems as though only the ones primed to pay attention really catch on to this kind of life.

May our hearts and minds be shaped by the Story of Jesus so that we might become fully live, expressing ruminations of the Kingdom of God with every step, even the steps where we ask for forgiveness and love our enemies by forgiving them. Amen.