Ask Rooted: How Have You Seen Gospel Fruit In Youth Ministry During This Year of COVID-19?

The past year has brought unforeseen challenges to youth ministers as weve pivoted in the midst of the pandemic. We are all weary from adapting ministry and policing social distancing. But we serve a God who wastes nothing (Rom. 8:28, Jas. 1:2). Here, some of our Rooted writers reflect on the ways they’ve seen God working in the lives of their students despite the challenges of doing ministry in a global pandemic—kind of like those evening debriefs on a mission trip when you challenge your students to share how theyve seen God at work!  We hope these responses will encourage you to keep trusting in Jesus as you point teenagers to him.

Rebecca Lankford, Youth Minister at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL

When Covid first hit and all of our lives came to a screeching halt, we made a goal to call every student on our roll and check in on them. We figured with their school years being suddenly uprooted, their sports seasons canceled, and the amount of death and suffering they were seeing on the news each day, our students would be ripe for pastoral care. What we found instead, was that students didnt seem to have much of a paradigm for interpreting the heaviness of the pandemic. Whereas we were expecting to come alongside lamenting and hurting students, we were met with statements like “eh, Ive been pretty bored, but I like not having as much homework.” We quickly learned that our students were pretty numb to the intensity of the world around them.

Flash forward to almost a year since those initial calls, and our students seem to have better language for their pain. After a summer of canceled trips, feeling the rising racial and political tension of our world, and losing grandparents to Covid, our students seem to possess a greater ability to lean in to the reality of this broken world. Do we want our students to experience pain? Of course not! However, we do hope that in having a greater sensitivity to the heaviness of 2020, they can bring these hurts to the Lord. They can join the psalmists in lament rather than continuing to numb their feelings with social media and video games. They can name their hurt and remember that they serve a God who hurts alongside them and who longs to heal their sadness.

God of course has been up to so much in the past 365 days, but I am especially grateful that He has awoken our students to some of the harder realities of this world. Not because He wants them to suffer, but because He wants to meet them in their disappointment and emptiness so that He may fill it with Himself. Thanks be to God!

Daniel Kim, Youth Pastor at Church Everyday in Northridge, CA

Something incredible that Ive seen in our students over the past couple months has been their thirst to find something new to fulfill them. Entertainment has begun to feel so empty for our students, and theyre craving something else to fill that void. To many of our younger students, the idea of staying in all day to watch cartoons or play games has always been an overly romanticized dream. But now that its become an everyday reality, our students can begin to see it for what it is. It cannot satisfy them. And where that dream has failed them, our small group leaders and our ministry have seized the opportunity to show them how only Jesus can fill that void.

When we held our first digital retreat in January, I had thought wed paced the retreat well between activities and seminars/sermons. But interestingly enough, the main feedback we got from the students post retreat was: “Can we have fewer icebreakers and games and focus more on the Bible?” I immediately felt rebuked and thought, “Oh ye of little faith, did you think our youth students would have such a small appetite for Gods Word?” As difficult as it’s been to do ministry in the pandemic, its been humbling and incredible to see God at work in ways that I wasnt able to before.

Kerry Trunfio, Director of Youth Ministry at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Topsfield, MA

For each individual, years from now the memories of living through a pandemic will differ. But for all of us, life took on a different pace. For those in the education or medical field, I imagine life seemed busier than ever before. But for our students, the pace of life slowed down. Their normal plans and obligations were changed or canceled. As a youth ministry, we saw the Lord bless us with an opportunity to see some of our busiest students more often than in recent memory. We give great thanks for a season in which we were given the gift of time, a rare commodity among teenagers.

I was encouraged by the time we spent with students reading through books of the Bible and having fruitful discussion. Our students spent regular time in the Word together, asking questions and encouraging one another. I continue to praise the Lord for the ways He redeemed a difficult time for His glory. My prayer is that as activities and commitments resume, our students will be reminded regularly of the words in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Josh Hussung, Pastor of Youth and Families at Grace Community Church in Nashville, TN

In my church I think there have been two major things that have been encouraging to see over the last year. First, the diminished time in physical presence with other people has created in students the desire to simply be together. Our students have been so excited on the occasions that weve been able to come to church for youth group, or even have small groups in person. Ive also seen God transform students lives in the quietness of their current situation, instead of at a big retreat or camp where people are calling for decisions.

Chelsea Kingston Erickson, Pastor of Youth and Families at First Congregational Church in Hamilton, MA

Just after the initial pandemic shutdowns last March, I spoke with a saint whom I deeply admire to talk through some of the pastoral issues facing our church. During our conversation, this wise man cautioned me against a “fix it” mentality by saying that there would be certain things we just cannot replace or remedy for people in this season. He urged me instead to feel the sadness of loss and to trust the Lord. That thought became a guiding principle for me in adapting our ministry to students. I realized how many times I am a “snowplow” youth pastor, trying to clear the way for them or otherwise minimize disappointment in one way or another!

As students have faced more loss and disappointment than many of them have previously known, we’ve watched them struggle with hard questions, begin to name their pain and frustration, and get creative about how to keep walking with Jesus and one another. In some ways, Covid has been an invitation back to basics: Partnering with organizations close to home rather than an international trip. Holding youth group outdoors under cafe lights all fall semester (yes, even in the New England cold!). Students have expressed how this has been true in their lives individually as well: More time at home with fewer activities has caused them to be more intentional about time with God in His Word and with their families and fellow believers. With these things in mind, we can take heart knowing there is far more gospel fruit to come from this season that what our eyes can see.

Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry

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