Teens & Faith: Hard questions about youth ministry

It's not easy to work with youth in the church, but some are gifted for it. We all need to share our experience and work together for the success of the Church.

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Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Seeking to follow where God leads, and thankful that grace covers my multitude of errors.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The road goes on and on.

I received a call out of the blue a few weeks ago. The parent of a student I worked with at my previous church called to find out if I would write a recommendation for the student's Eagle Scout award. I was honored! Sure, I would.

Here's the dilemma, though. The church I served has a youth director now. That person ought to be the one to write the recommendation if the scout knows the person better. His mother assured me that the scout felt closer to me than the new director and would prefer that I write for him. So I consented.

I think youth ministry ought to follow the same rules that outgoing pastors try to follow. When you leave a congregation, avoid contact for a couple of years to allow people to accept the new person. It's been a couple of years since I left, but I am still wary about getting between students and the youth director.

When you get close to students in your ministry, you must realize that there is every likelihood that they will have another youth director/pastor within the next 3-4 years. Rarely do we in ministry get to follow a student all the way through the ministry. And changes in staff really do affect the students. If we leave a church without considering what the students will need after we're gone, we have missed a key to ministry.

I know that occassionally we get close enough to a student to think of them as our disciple. There's nothing wrong with that. However, when we go, the students need to be allowed to attach to the new director. They may always consider you a spiritual parent, but we must allow others to parent them, too.

The Principle: Stay clear of the youth ministry you are leaving for a couple of years. And be prepared (as best as possible) to tell your former students that they need to give the new staffer a real chance.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

You Can't Please Everyone...You Just Can't.

In the last two months my lay partner and I have worked on a redesigned ministry for this school year. We have the plan now. People are hearing about it. And, as usual, it has its critics.

It seems to be the way of things that the people who criticize most have the least to lose. Some of our students have complained (not to me, of course) that they don't like the new plan. The folks complaining aren't participating regularly in the ministry now, and haven't been for the last several months. It doesn't make much sense to me to leave things the same (which has been losing us Sr. High students) in order to please people who aren't coming anyway.

Principle I'm applying: Don't let the squeakiest wheel get the grease just because it's loud. Sometimes the wheel that needs the most attention makes no noise at all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Psalm 127 - Foundations of Spiritual Discipline

I was reading Psalm 127 this last weekend. It talks about the fact that if God doing what you're doing, it isn't worth your time. Be where God is. Do what God is doing.

So how do we discover where God is and what God is up to? The church has worked on that problem for quite some time. Our spiritual antennae are developed through discipline. Practicing certain things; making a habit of listening for God in a variety of ways. Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline is an excellent resource for adults. It's not just about lectio divina and fasting and walking the labyrinth. It calls upon practices that can be used throughout a "normal" day.

I think that often youth workers forget that working for the church doesn't guarantee a person a broadband connection to the Lord. Everyone has to work on it. I have caught myself trying to use my preparation for a youth message as my personal devotion/study time. It's never as good as time set apart for just God and me.

And as we get connected to God, we find ourselves being led toward new things; things that maybe we wouldn't have come up with on our own. When we learn to listen to God, we listen better to those around us, too. And God often puts people around us for a reason.

All the silly games or intense Bible study in the world will not get us to where we need to be if it's not where God is. We need to open ourselves to God's leading. The Lord will gladly escort us to the jobsite of His choosing. Only then will we be laboring fruitfully. The jobsite could be anywhere and the labor could be anything, but we must be sure God is in it.

I don't know anyone who works with youth who doesn't want their work to matter. Let's all take more time to tune in to God in whatever way works for us (and God!), and then we'll know our labor is not in vain.