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.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Losing it for Jesus' sake

Have you ever met a youth director who couldn't stand the thought of the youth going to another church's youth meeting? Perhaps they were just uncomfortable with the idea? Why is this? Maybe the director works for a church or denomination that considers itself doctrinally pure; if the youth went elsewhere it might be seen as putting their souls in jeopardy. (This is not so far fetched.) Maybe the director is under pressure to draw in as many students as possible or risk losing funding for the ministry or perhaps even employment altogether. Or maybe the director is so unsure of himself/herself that the idea of youth going elsewhere is felt as a slap in the face. (Is the reality meter rising yet?)

I think when students make the effort to go elsewhere for a youth group meeting, a couple of things may be possible. First, students may check out other ministries because they are curious. This generation has a need to explore in a way that previous generations did not. Let them look! Hey, encourage them to look around! They need to know that it's OK. You can help them with that. Give suggestions. Offer to go with them. Do you know what's going on with your neighboring ministries? Competition shouldn't be our motivating urge. We are all part of the Body of Christ, right? We should want to know what others are up to. We might even be able to help out, or cooperate. Do you think Jesus would like it if churches would work together?

Second, they may have a different need for worship or fellowship than your ministry is providing. Is that so bad? We simply cannot be all things to all people. Each ministry has to be what God wants it to be, not what we want it to be. In this vein, we need to be accepting of students who would come to our meetings from other congregations; to pressure such a student to switch congregations would be a true disservice to the Church.

Third, least likely, and most importantly, students going elsewhere could be a sign of trouble in your ministry. Trouble can have different levels of severity. It may be that something simply isn't working. Maybe you need a different time for your meeting. Perhaps the format isn't working out. It may also be that something bigger is wrong. Do you have an environment in which the students feel safe; safe from criticism and/or abuse? If volunteers need to be changed, then change them. If gossip is running rampant, you need to stop it.

Principle I'm applying: Jesus said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it." (Matthew 10:39, NLT) Be willing to give up your ministry in order to find it. Clinging to it as though you're hanging over a cliff will surely make things worse.