As our district connectional ministries in Walterboro began compiling the needs of our churches from “listening sessions,” a need that arose frequently across the board was concerning the desire to grow healthy and exciting youth ministries. Reading down list after list, youth and young people were on the minds of the people of the church. I was so encouraged to see that so many folks cared about the next generation.
Also, at a recent Salkehatchie (service oriented week-long) camp, a new adult leader stood up during a ceremony and talked about how he has been concerned about the future considering his age. He then glowed and an electric chill went through the room as he proclaimed, “After being with you [young people – teens], I am no longer worried.” We want to see more of this hope in all of our churches, but the task seems hard and often the hump of understanding the particulars discourages those who might otherwise be planting the seeds of a healthy ministry.
We need people from all backgrounds, who care and are willing to step out.
What holds us back? I do not think it is apathy or indifference. It is clear that most congregant’s want to see a healthy ministry and do talk about it. Perhaps the issue is more about a purposeful restraint focusing on the aspects of understanding and then pressing on through the paralysis of fear. Let’s address them going backwards.
When starting a new ministry, especially youth ministry, there should be a healthy element of fear. Fear puts us in the fight or flight response and church’s act the same way an individual might act. The choice to fight, or move forward with the goal to reach the young, needs to be made, the adrenaline needs to flow a bit, the thoughts and prayers and butterflies need to be felt and experienced. Somehow a group of people have to commit to get beyond saying, “Something needs to be done,” and begin the actual work.
The disciples huddled together wondering, “what’s next?” These moments of waiting and praying are important. When the Holy Spirit breaks, it is often unexpected, everyone will remember it, and boldness will be the result. Let God breathe into you; your eyes, your hands, and mouths will be opened.
On to understanding, and how we know how we should proceed as the spirit leads us. I often hear, “I don’t feel like I’m adequately trained to do youth ministry.” Many churches do have Youth Ministers, like myself, who have purposefully dedicated portions of their life and education to ministry to youth and families. Perhaps the vision of the church is to hire someone to grow and train a team of volunteers who will reach out – but many don’t. Likely if you’re reading this, you are the one who is thinking about stepping up.
What kind of training do you need? Honestly – if you have a regular devotion in the Bible, listen attentively to your pastor each Sunday, and involve yourself in a Sunday School class or small group – you have the base training to reach out to young people. The image of a youth worker in my mind is the person who sees a young person, reaches out a hand or says “hello, how are you doing?” Potential ministers to youth are everywhere in your church. If we believe in the sainthood of all believers, you and your grandma are a potential minister.
It was a man in his late 50’s , Mike, who ministered to me when I was young. He didn’t participate in big games, he didn’t run and play basketball with us, but when we arrived he heard our stories, he shook our hands, he prayed for us and cared. He organized one trip per year to Niagara Falls, and we loved him for it. I’m a youth minister today because of his heart. You can be like Mike today, without any programs or training at all. Take a course as you begin, but test out the waters. Get to know one youth well. Stick with it, and you’ll see how rewarding the relationship can be.
The ministry that God has for you starts in the strengths you already have, and transforms you in the boldness of your eventual growth. If you fight rather than run, you will adapt to overcome many challenges. There is no promise of easy going in the pioneering stage. We’ll talk about philosophy and the challenges of practical youth ministry in the future, but for now take the first steps of reaching out. Press into God and ask him what to do.
Like Peter, who spoke so mightily about Christ to the people of Jerusalem after Pentecost, you are an agent of change breaking away from the chains of the past and visioning out a new future with Christ at the center. Perhaps by gathering a few people who commit to read through the book of acts together and who begin praying for a fresh movement, you can gain a new start – but the important thing is that you begin and never, ever lose hope.
(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)