When it comes to youth ministry, there are a lot of questions that are asked to the youth worker. When do you meet? What activities do you have coming up? How many youth do you have involved? How has the program grown? What game could you possibly be playing that uses pudding, ketchup, glitter, a hula hoop, and a rubber chicken? But I believe that there’s an underlying question that rarely gets asked that is far more important than some of these more surface level questions: what is the foundation for your youth ministry?
My family and I currently live in a doublewide trailer that has served many workers at our congregation well over the years. There are many features that are very beneficial to this arrangement, but the one that has the biggest downside is the lack of a foundation for the house. When severe storms come, which we get often in Missouri, we have to hightail it out of there and seek shelter in the basement of the church. A lack of foundation is fine most days, but becomes a clear issue when the storms come.
The same can be said of our lives in youth ministry. It’s so easy to walk through the seasons of ministry and forget what our foundation is. We get so busy with the planning, events, and programs that we perhaps miss out on why we’re doing what we do in the first place. This is fine for a while, but what happens when we get that angry parent email, when we spend a lot of time and energy working on a program and no one shows up, or when we feel like we’re not making a difference at all? Those storms can reveal our foundation program, and if not taken care of, can wipe out our desire to minister. Many youth workers, volunteers, and entire youth ministries have been swept away in these storms.
The goal of this entire blog is to help in laying a solid foundation so that you are not a casualty of that storm. We’ll be asking and hopefully answering the questions: Am I as a youth worker built to last through the ups and downs of ministry? Is our youth ministry built to last beyond the current leadership or staff members? How can I help cultivate a faith in the current generation of youth so their faith is built to last through the storms of life in a hostile culture?
For me, it all goes back to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:46-49,
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (NIV)
We want to be disciples who not only hear God’s Word and share it, but those that live it. Our foundation in youth ministry cannot be in games, building authentic relationships, having excellent programs, or exciting mission trip experiences. Those are elements of the ministry, but they aren’t the foundation. The only foundation that results in a built-to-last worker, ministry, and youth is faith in Jesus Christ – hearing God’s Word and putting that Word into practice in faith and life. For us to last in ministry, we can’t just read the Word and then tell it to teenagers, we have to be doers of the Word ourselves.
For a few self-reflection questions concerning this topic, ask yourself: Why am I involved with youth in the first place? When I deal with difficulties, what core ideas do I go back to that help keep me going? What am I most excited about in my youth ministry? What does my preparation look like for a program or event (is it just practical or does it involve prayer and spiritual preparation)? How would I describe my own relationship with God?
I pray that God will strengthen us on this journey, that He will remind of us what truly matters, that He would build in us a true desire to see others connected to Him, and that we would give Him all the glory. Building a foundation on the Rock of Ages is the most important element of a youth ministry, youth worker, or youth that is built to last. I’m excited for this journey together as we dig into what that looks like, and let God change us through His Word!