Youth Ministry as Family (Part 1)
*This is the first of three posts on viewing Youth Ministry as Family.
My favorite model of youth ministry might not be a model at all. I don’t think it’s necessarily programmatic or something that can be replicated. It’s more organic than that. Programs tend to be structured things that operate within a larger system. You can anticipate a program. You can plan for it. Truthfully, we all need a little of that structure in our churches. The problem, however, is that sometimes we become managers of programs instead of ministers to young people. Viewing our ministries through the lens of family combats a strictly program-centered mentality.
And you know that guy Jesus? Well, he said a lot about family.
In John 19 we’re taken to one of the last scenes of Jesus’ life on earth. And what does he do with one of his last remaining moments? He thinks of his mother. In fact, in an unbelievably compelling scene, Jesus instructs one of his closest followers, John, to take His mother, Mary, as his own mother. Moreover, he then tells His mother to take John as her son. Often times we brush past this revolutionary scene with little regards to the ginormous implications of such a saying. Jesus is causing a break in the system. Yes, by dying on the cross and freeing us from the bondage of sin, but also by establishing a new pattern for human relationships. Essentially, Jesus is saying that family is no longer concerned strictly to blood ties, but will now be formed by the blood he shed on the cross.
Jesus institutes a new way to understand family.
If we begin to view our students (and our ministries) through the lens of family, I wonder how that might change our approach to this crazy adventure that is youth ministry?
I can tell you one thing for sure: We’ll stop seeking a success in ministry based solely on external factors like numbers, compliments received, or whatever other exterior measurable factor we perceive to be a sign of success. Instead, we’ll begin to look at our family members, asking God how we can best serve and love one another, all the while realizing that spiritual growth happens in connection with our relationships.
Success in a family is about being together. Success in the church is about being with God.
The truth that so many of us have found and poured our lives into, is that youth ministry is really a beautiful thing. The chance to be with young people–to love, support, encourage, and teach–is thrilling work. And to think that in some contexts youth ministry is this distant, programmatic and extremely pragmatic thing is sad. You can’t package and sell discipleship, and then look back at the end product. That’s a false and broken system. And let’s be honest: our young people deserve better than that.
Over the years I’ve never been able to brag about having a youth group of hundreds of kids. I just can’t. We don’t have the best facilities or the craziest, most creative events (although I think what we do is awesome). But I do know that our students are known. They belong. Caring adults pour into their lives and have real, substantial relationships with them. We have students who love Jesus. We have students who are still figuring it out. We have students who have walked away from the Lord, and they know, regardless of where they land, that our church is home.
In any ministry endeavor you have to define success. If success is based on how many you get, how big, how shiny, how streamlined things are, then there is a problem. I’m not saying you don’t have a successful church or you’re not a gifted leader. I just wonder if you’ve bought into the wrong idea about success in the Kingdom. Families are in it for the long haul, not the short term. Families understand things like transitions, growth, loss, good times and bad times. The Youth Ministry that is a family gets this. We get that together we go far. We understand that following Jesus is a yearly, monthly, weekly, daily grind. And we get that we are in it for good. No matter what.
Families understand that members are not just another number or seat filler at the dining room table. They are an integral part of the family itself. No matter your church size or dynamic, if we desire to to follow the road of Jesus, to be the church that is a light on the hill, then it will look and feel like family.