Essentials in Youth Ministry: Others

We want to feel necessary.  We want to feel important.  An easy way to fill these desires as a youth worker is to make our youth ministries about us.  We even do what I just did — call the youth group “ours” and come up with clever tricks to make the kids want to come be with us.

But it’s not really about us.  Youth ministry is about our Triune God – giving glory to the Father, in Christ, by the Spirit.  Certainly we’re actively involved in the work of God in these kids’ lives, but it’s God’s work through us – not ours in which to boast.  Ultimately, these kids are God’s. The glory is His.

What these kids really need, then, is not more of us, but more of Jesus and His grace.  Certainly they need to see more of Jesus in us and through us, but we are not the only – nor the primary – means through which the Father by the Spirit points the youth in our churches to Jesus.

The primary means through which – by faith – the Spirit roots our youth in the grace of Jesus is Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, and fellowship with other Christians.

And the primary community through which God has ordained to practice these means is the church – the family of God.  And though we serve the church in a very unique capacity as youth ministers, we are not the fullness of the church in and of ourselves.

The youth need to see and experience God at work in others. They need to see and experience the wisdom of God through others. They need to see and experience the fellowship of God with others.

And “others” as I’m using it doesn’t refer only to other youth in the youth group.  They need to know their senior pastor(s). They need to know other parents. They need to know seniors and other adults in the congregation.

Though it has many flaws and downsides, one of the helpful correctives of postmodernism is that it reminds us that we all see things from a perspective.  This includes how we see God.  I am much too heady for my own good.  I need people in my life with passion and emotion in their worship and relationship with God.  They help me see aspects of God that I can’t on my own.

If the only picture of God that our youth see is from our preaching and teaching, then they are missing out.  Involving other adults in youth group — or better yet, involving the youth in the fuller life of the church — is one of the ways God uses by his Spirit to nurture our walk with him.

It might feel like a slap in the face to be told we’re not as important as we think we are, but really, this is good news.

We can’t do it all.  We can’t be all things to all people — we aren’t meant to be.  There are kids with whom we have difficulty connecting.  But the same Spirit at work in and through us and our ministry is also at work in and through other Christians and the other ministries of the church.

If a kid doesn’t want to meet with us, maybe they will want to get together with someone else from the church.  If they don’t want to come to youth group, maybe they will want to join the choir or the praise team.  If they don’t want to come to Sunday school, maybe they will want to join an adult Bible study.

As Paul puts it in a beautiful passage on the unity of the one church in the one Spirit, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

The family of God is an incredible blessing for those of us who can’t do it all (which is all of us).  Let’s not neglect the body of Christ in our ministries that we might together be built up in God’s love.

Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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