Below is the article I wrote for this month’s church newsletter. I really struggled writing it; I just couldn’t put the words together like I wanted to. Hopefully, it will be coherent enough that people will mildly understand what I was getting at. As we’re trying to communicate a new way of doing youth ministry to the people in the congregation, I’m trying to come up with ways to explain my non-heiarchical, non-authoritiative, fluid, and organic approach to ministry. It’s hard to do that in written form with only one page at your disposal. An anology I used at my last team meeting was like a web, but I would need to include graphics for my article, which I don’t want to have to mess with. So for this month’s article I used the analogy of a virus. So, here she is:
It has long been acknowledged among those who practice youth ministry that it is impossible for a youth minister to do all the work on his or her own. Once you get past about eight teenagers, one person really can’t give each student what they need in order to grow and mature. So, youth ministries have typically developed adult volunteer “staff” who are also dedicated to teenagers in addition to the youth minister. These people lead small groups, teach Sunday school, help organize events, etc. This has leant youth ministry to be conceived of as a top-down sort of structural program. The youth minister recruits, equips, trains, and releases other adults within the congregation to do a bulk of the ministry with teens. Of course, getting more adults involved in the lives of our teenagers is better than expected one “hired gun” youth minister to disciple a whole group. However, while this sort of structure may be beneficial for certain things, I believe it is limited in providing an overarching understanding of how youth ministry should function.
Instead of thinking of a structured organization with a youth minister in charge of a specific group of adults who minister to teenagers, we should think of youth ministry more like a virus. “Youth ministry” needs to be an attitude that pervades everything I do. I value young people, give them opportunities to develop their gifts, and challenge them to make a difference. I take time to listen to them, to share my life with them, to sacrifice for them, to ask them about their relationship with Jesus, and to study the Bible with them. When I do these things, and have an attitude where these acts will flow out of me naturally, I will “infect” other people around me with this attitude. Other people will see the value of the young people in our congregation. My conversations with other adults will be peppered with the things going on in the lives of our teenagers. As I do this, the “virus” begins to spread to those people, who will spread it to the people in their lives, and so on. As the “virus” spreads throughout our church our teenagers will not be ministered to only by a small, specific group of adults who are under the “authority” of the youth minister, but our teenagers will begin to be ministered to by the whole congregation.
This is youth ministry. If you are doing the above things, you are doing youth ministry. It doesn’t matter that you don’t teach Sunday school. It doesn’t matter that you are not the youth minister. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never gone on a mission trip. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the difference between an iPod and a PSP. It doesn’t matter that you are sixty years old. You can still be a part of the youth ministry here at Hope.
In order to begin to radically transform the lives of our adolescents, it takes all of us working together letting them know that they are valued and that we care. So, next time you see one of the youth around, take time to talk to them, listen to them, and value them. If you see them doing something good, compliment them. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. Likewise, it takes a whole church to disciple a teenager. Now that is youth ministry.