Jesus redefined leadership as servanthood in taking on a humble form to most genuinely reach and minister to people –in particular, the last, the little, the lost, and the least; why do youth ministries attempt something different?
One of the places I’ve most often seen the gospel hit home in a tangible way with teenagers has been during service events or on mission trips. It is a concrete depiction of incarnation, of love being fleshed-out. And the physical interaction amongst the kids and between the folks they are serving provides a vessel, a metaphorical and literal vehicle for the message of laying down your life, putting others before you, and trusting yourself to the bigger picture of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. In an era where instant access to information, ‘relationship’, and entertainment rules our kids’ lives, the sometimes-awkward, new, and eye-opening experience of spending time in a soup kitchen, amongst elderly folks, or in another service capacity breaks through the familiar, stale, and often-consuming patterns teens actually really long to be liberated from. They are invited into something different, something oriented outside themselves — something that pulls the veil back a peak to let them glimpse the kingdom of God.
I think that we, as youth ministers (and, honestly, as the forgetful, broken human beings we are) lose sight of the fact that something approximating this same experience of glimpsing the kingdom of God is what drew us in, to Jesus, in the first place. Whether you grew up in a family where the story of the gospel was woven into everyday life or you had a specific break-through moment of encountering the love/power/presence of God, a Way different than the way of the world became a reality to you at some point.
So why do we fall into the snare of thinking that our ministries should be successful according to the world’s way (standards/measures)? And why do we see so many business-like models for youth ministry that functionally use power, control, and popularity to convince kids of the gospel — or maybe just to convince them to come to church?
Indeed, we forget the backward leadership of Jesus, the Way Himself. We forget the reality that the kingdom of God is at-hand, and that an emptying of self, a laying down of our lives is the call we live by. Servanthood is the invitation for us — the alternate to the world’s way of power and control. Contrary to glorifying ourselves, building ourselves up, or gaining more and more competence/pride/feelings of success, Jesus invites us as youth leaders to continue in His Way even as we head-up our ministries. This means that we get to point to what He has already done, is doing, and will do in lieu of worrying as muchabout the success of the retreat we just did, the small group we’re currently doing, and the lock-in we’ve got next week. We get to rest in the laying down of our lives and in the struggle to trust God with our ministries. We get to know that His strength is in our weakness, and He values the offering of our gifts and selves.
A youth ministry shaped after the heart and ministry of Jesus isn’t going to look pretty, folks; as much as we are inclined to maybe think it should, it is more likely to look like the nitty-gritty relational pursuit, perseverance, constant proclamation of the Word, and God-reliant sacrifice of time, effort, and energy. It is likely to bring you to your knees everyday with outstretched hands if you aren’t already there, and it’s likely to be one of the sweetest tastes of the kingdom of God you will ever experience – a taste much, much sweeter than the appearance of worldly success or the feel of finally having some control or power. It is a taste of eternity, and of Love, Himself, who laid down His life for yours.
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10: 43-45