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, October 17, 2007

When life and ministry collide.

What are you supposed to do when life and ministry collide? Most of the time they are (or can be) complimentary and synergistic. Isn't it always better when things mesh nicely? Then there are the times when the needs of your family really drain your ability to function well in the ministry. What about that?

With my wife undergoing radiation treatments for cancer, we are facing this dilemma. I was gone from town for a month with my family as my wife underwent two surgeries in another state over the summer. This really impeded the ministry as I was pretty much useless for that period. Even once I got back (two weeks ahead of my wife) I was learning to be a temporary single parent and long distance spouse. My body was present, but my heart was badly divided.

The radiation treatments started easily enough. She was able to drive herself and function well, having recovered pretty well from the surgeries. That was then. Now she is wiped out by the treatments and is unable to drive regularly. I missed a few of her doctor appointments when others took her and have decided that I need to be there to help her communicate and to hear exactly what the docs are saying. When I get the report afterwards I don't always get all the information. So I am more and more divided again; giving more and more time to family.

This isn't bad. It is necessary under the circumstances. I am blessed to be a part of a congregation that supports our family very well and tolerates my inability to perform at full power right now. It makes me sad to know that there are many youth workers who would not receive the same support from their church, though. So how can we work this out?

I return to the idea that many hands make light work. The work of ministry is the work of the church, not just the staff. The problem is that we have allowed ourselves too often to believe that we must do it all or be seen as slackers. Then when a situation like mine comes along, the ministry suffers for lack of capable, trained volunteers to carry on when we must step back a bit.

I am looking for key volunteers who are called by God to work with teens and pre-teens. Mark Yaconelli proposes a discernment process to find these folks in our churches. http://www.ymsp.org I think it is different than many of us approach the task of finding adults. I think it is a better way and deserves to be used. I am also refocusing the ministry to guide youth towards Christ and strengthening their faith. I don't have time or energy to be constantly providing an activities based ministry. We will continue to have activities, of course, but with a deeper purpose in mind.

There's a good question: Do any of us really have the time to be doing things that aren't focused on growing our youth in their faith??

I am in a long process of examining the ministry with the goal of reworking all our facets to be the brightest reflector of God's light and love that we can be. It still won't be perfect, but I know we can get better and eliminate things that aren't moving us to the goal. In the meantime, my family gets more of my time and gets more of my attention - the way it should be.

When it comes to running a ministry or fighting cancer, we would all like the quick fix - the magic bullet. It doesn't exist. It all requires prayer and time and energy and faith. Life and ministry will collide. Keep God as firmly in the center as possible and it will work through, albeit slowly.