We all have hopes and dreams for the youth and ministries that we are a part of. Sometimes putting those hopes into words helps us to understand what we want, and how to move towards it. Today is a great example of trying to put some words to what we hope happens in our ministries, with……
“Top 10 things you want youth to say about youth ministry”
Josh Plant is the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for undergrad and then got his M. Div. at Truett Seminary. He is married to Camille and enjoys the Texas Longhorns, Netflix, and Chick-fil-a. He isn’t cool enough to have any pets…yet.
- I feel safe.
Above all, people should feel safe when entering a church building or event. This is even more applicable to student ministry because students are looking for a place to belong and be accepted. How can they feel safe if we have set rules for who is allowed and who is not? It is our goal to make sure that people of all backgrounds feel welcome in our group: gay, straight, black, white, religious, non-religious, male, female…you name it, you’re allowed and valued here. We want to leave room for those who are not “church kids.” At the same time, we are vigilant about creating a space that is physically safe for students too. We are always on the lookout for things we can do to limit the possibility of harm coming to our kids. This includes things like making sure students are riding with who they are supposed to be riding with, being on the lookout for adults who are not approved to work with students, and playing games that have are fun but safe.
- No one is left out.
One of my favorite things about the gospels is how often they show Jesus making people who were not valued by society feel valuable. In our group, we try to emulate that. There are no cliques and no favorites allowed. We try to make it like a second family (without being cult-like). As a pastor, this reminds me that I have to call/text/tweet each of the kids in my group…even the ones I don’t always want to. Maybe I should not admit that on the internet.
- This is not boring.
School is boring, church should not be. Students have a choice in how they spend their time. We need to give them a reason to be around. Let me say, though, that this should not rule out things like meditative prayer. It should rule out boring things that no one gets anything out of, whatever that means in a particular context.
- This is relevant.
For some, relevant means not boring. That’s not what I’m saying. Not only is relevant the opposite of boring, it is meaningful. We often equate relevant with “cool, new”. But relevant means meaningful. What we want students to say then is: This helps me grow closer to God and be a better person. This equips me for life outside of and after youth ministry. This helps me deal with real issues in a real way.
- I am able to use my gifts.
Why not let students lead? If they can’t own their gifts, they won’t own their faith. It will continue to be something they’ve been told about but have no feeling of. We take spiritual gifts tests and then tell people what some things are they can be doing with those gifts. We actively push our students into doing something instead of trying to let them figure it out.
- I form enduring relationships here.
With other students. With Sunday School teachers and small group leaders. With a pastor. With people I minister to. With the old lady who sits two rows behind me on Sunday. We want our students to know that these are relationships they can fall back on, even if they feel they have nowhere else to go. These are relationships that will be guideposts for the rest of their lives.
- I can disagree and still be loved.
This may be strange, but, as a minister, I genuinely hate talking with a lot of other ministers about anything having to do with faith. People don’t disagree well. I don’t know if we ever have or if it’s just the people of this era, but shouldn’t we be able to disagree on peripheral things? For that matter, shouldn’t we be able to disagree on important things and still make the other person feel valued and appreciated? People don’t disagree well, but Christians should. Students are, by nature, more argumentative and we should leave room for that somehow…but somehow love them so well that they cannot possibly feel unappreciated. We can’t vilify people that disagree with us and then hold up Jesus and say he is our example in life. Students see through that.
- I am challenged
People outside the world will challenge students, why shouldn’t we? We can’t coddle students or we end up just being babysitters who tell them to be nice to others. We have to challenge them or they will never own it.
- I am discipled here.
This word, “discipled,” is problematic for some, but I think most understand it as being taught how to practically think and act like a Christian. For our ministry, we want our students to say four things: I am taught how to live out my faith, I am taught how to share my faith in a normal way, I am taught how to think through what I believe, and I am taught how to go further in my walk with Christ without someone else doing it for me.
- Jesus is there.
This is what it has to be about in the end, I think, or we are just not doing anything special. We can serve others and come up with creative ways to fight poverty all we want, but if students do not believe Jesus is there to meet them when they show up, our youth group is just another not-for-profit organization run by good people. It’s just not who we are and not the niche we should be trying to fill for our students. Our students should be taught how to serve and do good while in our youth ministry, but they should also feel the love of Christ every time they visit. It may be a pipe dream, but it’s a great goal. We want them to actually feel like they have a chance to interact with the divine…I mean, it’s church for crying out loud.