This is my opinion. I’m open to yours.
This isn’t a “how-to, try-the-new-model-and-it-will-solve-all-your-youth-ministry-issues” article. But hopefully it will get you to thinking why and how you are serving in youth ministry in your local family of God. So here goes.
To be a disciple means to follow someone to truly learn from them.
Jesus calls people to be ones who follow along with Him to see who He is, what He is like and what He does in His little Middle Eastern part of His whole creation (see end of John 1). Most of the time the people He invites to follow along with Him are simply doing just that – following and watching and being with Him, and occasionally doing what He does, and that’s it (see examples in Mark 6). It is three years of following along with Him. Do you get this – “with” Him…and He “with” them. Even as He ascends into heaven He reassures us that He is “with” us always and we “with” Him (see end of Matthew 28).
I wonder if we are not “with” each other enough in our being the family of God together.
I wonder if we are working too hard to get people on board with us…and in the meantime we aren’t really “with” each other enough. By the way, this is not a new problem. Moses, in Exodus 18:13-27, is counseled by Jethro to allow others to help him with his leadership of the people, thus moving Moses away from being the only one “with” the people and allowing others to move into leadership/shepherding relationships with the people of God. In 1 Kings 19:13-18, Elijah has been representing God in some powerful ways but mostly by himself. After his life is challenged by Jezebel he seems to think that he is alone. But God encourages him to return to the people as God reminds him that he has 7000 others who are meant to be “with” him in God’s mission. As we take more time to be “with” the people of God we will discover that this “with-ness” is always the best way to follow God on His ministry and mission.
As I’ve worked with youth and their families in my three churches for a third of a century, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to creatively entertain them so we can keep them interested in the church (mostly at the church facility) with the hope that we can at least get a little Jesus in them somehow someway before they bail because that’s what the research shows us they will probably do. And when I’ve done this, too often by myself as the head honcho DCE in the youth ministry in my church, it hasn’t worked real well. I found I had to keep coming up with new ideas, new things, new curriculum, new…new…new…and it hardly ever has worked for the long haul.
Do you know what has really worked better? Just simply spending a good amount of time with the people God connects me with. And you know what? It’s not a lot of them (and I presently serve in a church with a lot of people). And you know what? I have seen more of God at work in the few He has placed in my way than the many that I think I have to try to get into His way.
And I’ve learned to invite others to just be that way with me.
If I am to invite other youth and adults to follow along with Jesus, maybe I am going to have to move away from focusing too much on programmed moments and just spend more time having real life presence with people. Maybe I have to invite my family into inviting a few youth and adults into our life to be the life of Jesus together.
This is a lot of “I”, I know. So in the last 4-5 years the family of God who is our local church, has de-scheduled much of our programmed youth ministry (and our children’s and adult ministries as well) and shifted it more to a relaxed, restful, less-entertaining ministry of simple Christ-like presence at both the church facility and more often in our homes.
Now, admittedly, this seems to be taking forever to truly impact people like I believe I should be impacting them (note the “I’s” again). And yet I am humbled at watching God the Father in His way and time doing His mission work through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that I know I could never program. I believe we need to slow down and just have better presence with each other than we have been doing.
What might this mean for us as the people of God as we try hard to do youth ministry? It might mean first just spending time as adult leaders (note, not volunteers-not a biblical concept, by the way, but that’s another opinion for another time) learning again what it looks like to simply care for each other (see Galatians 6:1-10) as the body of Christ, not just in word but truly in deed. On a regular yet relaxed rhythm we might simply have to have dinner, play games, go on a walk, just hang out waiting for the Holy Spirit directed moments to show up, hear the Word of God who is Jesus, and pray together. Then, once we have learned how to do this culture-shaking behavior and enjoy God’s power through it, we can then invite youth and their families to enter into it with us as well.
And this is not something we can program for everyone to do all at once in one grand glorious attempt to change people’s lives for Jesus. Remember, Jesus spends three years with 3 to 12 to 70 people and it takes a few more decades before it really begins to impact small parts of southeastern Europe. It is meant simply to be tried by those who wish to try it…and see what happens. It takes time, but the impact seems so much better. How do I know? Because we have been seeing it happen slowly and surely in children’s and youths’ and adults’ lives as the family of God in our local area.
This is my opinion. I’m open to yours.