Every week this year we are exploring the theme “The People.” Today we dive in to…..
The People I want my students to meet
Tim Schindler serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Ministry Development at Georgetown Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky where he lives with his wife and four awesome kids. He studied at the University of Kentucky and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY and has been in youth ministry for 18 years, with the last nine at GBC. In addition to student ministry, Tim also leads the church’s contemporary worship music. Follow him on Twitter @timschindler.
One of the things I consider a big part of my job as a youth pastor is to introduce students to people and experiences that will shape their lives. I believe deeply that students’ understanding of themselves and their world can develop through intentional interactions with others. So in addition to the important relationships youth in your church have with one another, I want to highlight a few of the other people that I want to make sure our students get to know during their time in our church’s youth ministry.
- They need to interact with a caring adult who is not a youth parent or paid staff—
There is an expectation that young people will have interactions with adults in a variety of capacities—teachers, employers, family, etc. However, I think there are few places where youth can go to have meaningful adult relationships with people who have no other incentive than simply to be there for them. Whether they are really aware of this sometimes-subtle distinction or not, I want my students to know that they are so important that even normal, socially-adept adults actually want to take time away from their busy schedules just to invest in them and their lives. They matter and are worth the time, with nothing else to be gained from it.
- They need to interact with a person experiencing homelessness—
Actually, more generally, who I really want students to meet are any people who are significantly different from themselves, whether it’s someone of a different race, someone with an unfamiliar disability, someone from a different socioeconomic background, or someone from a significantly different generation. No matter how brief the encounter, what I want my students to do is interact with people: look them in the eyes, learn their names, find out some of their story, place a hand on their shoulder, pray with them. What I have found is that, no matter the differences, through these kinds of interactions, what they come to recognize is their shared humanity. They need to see the shared image of God in the elderly, in the sick or disabled, and in the different races, ethnicities, and cultures. Without intentionally exposing youth to people different from themselves, we run the risk of them being able to completely dismiss whole segments of the population because they are somehow less important or less human; they are “them” or “other.”
- They need to interact with someone who shares a similar giftedness who is using it for God—
I think most of us share the goal of moving our students from observers to participants, from hearers to doers, but sometimes it hard to help each of our students take their own step to start using their specific God-given gifts. It gets a little tricky because developing our young people requires a more individualized approach to connecting them with others, but what I have found is that I am limited in growing the gifts of my students who have different abilities than me. I’m an introvert who likes music, philosophy, and fantasy football, but for an extrovert who loves visual arts, preschoolers, and dissecting frogs, I’m not as much help. Yes, I can teach them principles that apply to everyone, but I want to help them more than that. So connecting students with others with similar passions, experiences and personalities can go a long way in helping them visualize themselves using their gifts in a way that is true to who they are and to how God created them. Part of this process is affirming gifts in your students, but it’s also recognizing and celebrating the ways that others in your church are uniquely living out their faith in their areas of influence.
- They need to interact with someone from another stream of Christian tradition—
Along the same vein of my second point, I happen to think it’s important to expose our students to people who are an active part of a different stream of Christianity. It is important to begin instilling an ecumenical idea of unity among believers at least by the time they are teenagers. The tendency is for youth ministries to get defensive and walled off from each other to protect our kids from getting picked up by other churches. Unfortunately this can create a damaging culture of suspicion among those who love and worship Jesus. There should certainly be some dialogue with others outside the Christian faith, and even anti-faith, but we should create such strong partnerships and friendships with other local youth ministries that we trust them enough to create a movement of authentic Christian unity within our local communities. It’s spiritually healthy for youth to see themselves as “on the same team” as other believing teenagers.
It is through intentional experiences with others that our students will begin to assign meaning to those relationships and how to synthesize and differentiate their own understanding of who God created them to be. This will go on to shape their relationship with the world around them and what their relationship with Jesus will look like.
What other people would you add to this list?