This month we are shaking things up a bit. Instead of the usual crowd of writers who are mostly youth ministers, this month we are giving others the chance to speak up. Each week the question is the same: “What do you want youth ministers to know?” Each week will see a different group of people answer. This week we are blessed with two teenagers, and two parents responding. They have some amazing things to say, so without further delay, jump right in to…..
“What do you want youth ministers to know?”
Kenzie Jackson is a senior at Chapin High School in Columbia, SC. She is a member of the St. Andrews Baptist Church Youth Ministry and thinks her youth minister Chris Cherry is just the coolest! (Can you tell she didn’t write her own bio?…) Since she didn’t respond to the text asking about a few of her favorite things in time, one can assume that Kenzie loves Q-tips, dust bunnies, demolition derbies, and Eggo waffles. Really though, Kenzie is a great dancer, great student, and everyone who knows her is proud to call her a friend. During the application process, her college “safety school” would make most mere mortals faint, and, as you’ll be able to see from her post, she brings a higher level of thought and observation to the table.
Seventh grade. The year that every child in my church looks forward to. The year that students can join the hallowed, yet ever elusive, body known as The Youth Group. When breakfast is served every Sunday. When (mildly disturbing) games are played regularly. When everything, the superficiality, the devoid understanding, the affectation of faith, would change.
Or would it?
The youth pastor role is often constrained as to include “leading the youth” and little else. During middle school and high school, when students’ inhibitions are most depressed and the willingness to strive for change is aroused, if students are simply “led” to interact within the status quo, then they become apathetic seniors who enter college like spiritual sixth-graders. Therefore, in order to specify the leadership role, youth ministers should know three things: we notice when we are just a job, we are tired of simply saying “Jesus,” and we want to look outside the doors of the church every now and then.
I would estimate that I did not exchange more than ten sentences with my first youth pastor. It’s true. He exerted his energy with senior high school students, forgetting to converse with the rest of us. The occupation of youth minister is relational. Therefore, youth pastors need to know that we notice. We notice if you are not enthusiastic about sharing life with us. We notice if we are last priority. And we notice this as a testimony to the value that you place on God’s children who do not pay your salary. Furthermore, trust is essential. We have more shadows trailing behind us than we would like to admit. And when youth pastors listen, but they shift their eyes in that condescending dance, we start to question whether we have been reading the wrong book. You know, that one with the Son of God who ate beside tax collectors and prostitutes?
“Um… Jesus?” If you have spent more than two weeks in a church, you know this to be a “Sunday School Answer.” When students move past the children’s ministry, they hope there is more. Youth ministers: do not be afraid of blank faces on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. When you think that it might be too thought provoking, do not refrain and do not apologize. We do not need nor do we want to be spoon fed. It might appear as though we desire the easy answers and the superficial understanding of faith, because during those moments of comfort we contribute more to the conversation. But I can assure you that when we are approached by our friends asking the tough questions, no one in the conversation is going to be convinced by “… Jesus?”
Finally, youth want to climb into this world. Donald Miller wrote, “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” Living inside our own heads or inside our own church perpetuates this lie. Investing in personal spiritual growth is essential. However, part of that growth coincides with stretching beyond the bounds of the four walls and noticing that not every person is like us. It means learning that when people are not like us, they are still children of God that he has been relentlessly pursuing since the beginning of time. And therefore, they deserve our service, respect, and genuine love, not just tolerance.
Remember that Daniel, David, Samuel, Mary, and Jeremiah were teenagers. Are you leading your students to pursue such lives of radical faith through relationships, study, and service?
Hey, I am Chloe Maxey from Knoxville, TN. I am a fifteen year old freshman at Central High School and the keeper (goalie) on the school soccer team. I’ve been playing this sport for eleven years. At the moment one of my biggest fears is learning to drive my Dad’s GMC 2500 HD ~ BGP’s (basic girl problems). Despite this, I’m looking forward to getting my drivers license and hopefully my own car this Fall. Kinda think of myself as an average girl in a somewhat average family.
One of the things I’ve seen is folks just like me sometimes get overlooked in the “average”. You see in this world of youth these days we try to not look too much like others. We spend a lot of time and effort to be a little different, but still fit in. Maybe I’m like others kids in your youth group ~“low maintenance.” There are lots of us kids out there, hoping to be noticed, wanting to make a difference in our schools, communities and missions.
I have been in church all my life and gotten to help on over ten mission trips. I’m proud to say that being in a youth program has always been an important part of living out my faith. I’ve witnessed my youth pastors work differently in their own ways and I have enjoyed learning from those differences. Most notably two really stand out; Johnny and Josh. These ministers have made efforts to attend soccer and volleyball games, school choir performances and competitions and other “average” student activities. These seemingly little efforts on their part have made a real difference in helping me know “I matter”. It’s helped me to become more invested in missions, service projects and everything else that pops up. I figure if they can do that for me, then I am more inspired to be an active part in whatever is happening in our youth department.
So here’s my point, don’t overlook us “overlook-ables”. There are lots of us and we will be there Sunday anyway. Your investment of time and effort in our “average” times often means more than you may know.
Rick Reams has been married 28 years to Stephanie. They have 3 children-Raychel-24, Jackson-22 and Jennings-19. A long time youth worker and former interim youth minister @ Calvary Baptist church in Lexington KY.
I see youth ministry in two forms.
The first would be a relational ministry. In this a minister should strive to be
1. A role model-don’t try to fit in with your youth. Don’t try to be “cool”. Show them what it looks like to be a man/woman of God.
2. A mentor and not their friends. Kids have enough friends they need a leader.
3. A prayer warrior both for your youth and your youth workers. Ask for prayer partners in your church who are outside the youth group to pray over you and your youth by name.
4. Push your youth outside their comfort zone-group them with kids outside their “clique”, have youth pray for the group and others.
5. Make the youth group a “safe zone” where individuals can be themselves with fear of being made fun of.
6. Introduce youth to missional activities which may at first seem frightening. Do work with the marginalized, the poor and homeless
7. Be other centered
8. Freely share your testimony and stress the importance of youth having and sharing their own testimony.
9. Discuss difficult topics(sex, promiscuity,abstinence, alcohol and drug abuse and self mutilation.
10. Stress confession and forgiveness
11. Show up outside of church to support your youth.
12. In all ways express the love of Jesus Christ.
As for in the church services and activities:
1. Be biblically based above all else: Use the best materials available. Don’t be tyed to a curriculum which is no good because a certain affiliated group wrote it.
2. Share your love of the Bible with your youth. They will only be as interested in Bible study as you are presenting it.
3. Have fun but make sure you always have a purpose behind activities.
4. Inter-mix kids of different ages, sexes and spiritual maturity in groups.
5. Instill a mentoring program with defined roles for the mentors and those being mentored.
6. Put youth in charge of welcoming guests-be intentional by assigning this role. Youth aren’t as interested in being greeted by adults as they are by their peers.
7. Intersperse older adults, young adults(both married and single) along with college students in teaching and chaperone roles.
8. Pair youth with elderly of the church for a time of mutual sharing.
9. Be aware of the traps the world offers and have solid plans in place to combat these-ie: anorexia/self worth or mutilation/self love.
10. Offer bibically based retreats-disciple now etc.
11. PRAY PRAY and then PRAY again. Make it second nature to your youth. Teach them how to pray publically and privately.
12. Always have a spiritual under tone to church events-basketball games, volleyball games, open gym nights, etc. Prayer at the minimum. Devotions if time allows.
13. Stress confession, repentence and forgiveness of sins. Try to instill a non-judgement attitude.
14. Above all else be Kingdom minded and LOVE YOUR YOUTH!!! You may be the only Jesus they ever see!
Jennifer Ward is a wife and mother to three boys. She has worked with children for 16 years in and out of church. She can usually be found on the sidelines of one her sons’ many football, lacrosse or baseball games.
As a parent, it’s hard to let another adult have influence over your child. You hope that those who come into their lives are positive role models though some prove not to be. It can be difficult to teach my children that people are human and we all make mistakes when they adults around them want to point out their mistakes but pretend as an adult we’re immune.
Please, as a youth leader, you have a lot of pull with my kids. They look up to you; they admire you; shoot, some of them even want to be just like you. I know I did, I wanted to be exactly like my youth leader when I grew up. Unfortunately, life can change things and I didn’t end up exactly where I had planned. Please, let them know that this is okay.
It’s okay to have big dreams, it’s also okay if those dreams change as life happens. It’s okay to make mistakes, no one’s perfect. Please, teach my children the power of grace and forgiveness. Help them to find the fingerprints of God on all of those around them.
At the same time, please please please, hold them accountable. Help them learn to hold one another accountable without being hurtful. As parents, we try to teach our children grace and mercy but, the world does it’s best to help them forget those lessons. Please, be that extra voice. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of the things my parents said to me as a kid. However, I remember not just the words, “God don’t make junk” but I can still hear the sound of my youth leader’s voice as she said them, repeatedly. The older my kids get, the harder they work to block out my voice. I’m just mom, I know nothing. But you…they listen to you, even when you think they’re not, they are listening.
I can remember there being conflict within our youth group. We were teenagers, we got in fights, it’s what kids do. The way the adults around us handled those arguments, helped us work out those feelings, it’s what helped us learn how to deal with conflict from a Christ like perspective. Please, help me teach my children the same thing. They’re going to have disagreements, have times they don’t like each other. Help them learn to love one another at all times, even in the moments when they don’t like one another.
You see, even if you have no children of your own at home, as a youth leader you’ve just become a second parent to a bunch of moody teens and preteens. They need you and to be honest, so do we. We need that extra set of eyes, that second voice of reason. You can do things we as parents can’t do. You make church cool without downplaying the importance of God in their lives. You are closer to their ages so you are by extension still cool while we are not and haven’t been since they were like 5. It’s okay though, being a parent makes you realize that eventually, they’ll be ok with claiming you in public again…one of these days.
Until then, we’re counting on your help to keep them on the right path and we know, it’s not an easy job. However, as long as we know you’ve got their best interest at heart and we can see you’re treating them right, we’ve got your back. After all, teenagers can be scary, we know, we have to take them home!