Youth Ministry as Family (Part 2)


*This is the second post on viewing Youth Ministry through the lens of family.

Previously I wrote about viewing our youth ministries through the lens of family. The reason for this is we often get caught up in a game of program centered ministry, which is an oxymoron because managing a program isn’t ministry at all.

Ministry is about people.

Our weekly programs play a significant role in that process, but they exist only to strengthen our ministry

One of the more common illustrations of a pastor in the New Testament was a shepherd caring for his flock. Perhaps this is a metaphor that loses its potency in time, but that imagery of protecting, guiding, and nurturing is part of our call to ministry.

Part of being a pastor is, well, being pastoral. When we act like a family, we create a space where leaders are shepherds, seeking to support and care for our young people.

Do we create ministries where multiple shepherds care and guide sheep? If not, what might it look like to head in that direction? I have a few thoughts:

Being Present

One of the greatest resources we can give to young people is the gift of our presence. Our presence says more than our words or sermons. If you want  the chance to speak truth into the life of a young person, you earn that trust by the consistency of your presence. I think we’ve always known this, but it gets difficult to keep up especially with the demands of ministry.

Back when we were all reading Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, (which is a great book btw) it seemed like the goal of youth ministry was to make things more pragmatic. It became all about the gathering. Unfortunately, the pursuit of efficiency and pragmatism doesn’t always jive nicely with the real needs of students. Whatever illustration you want to use, be it a funnel or a baseball diamond, students cant’t be squeezed into one category and programmed to.

That’s not an accurate picture of discipleship.

To be present is to love and care. It’s the commitment to walk along students regardless of where they’re at on the spiritual spectrum. It’s a tango of one step forward, one step back. Furthermore, being present communicates the true meaning of the church–to live as God’s family on earth.

Families are in it for the long haul, no matter where its members are at on the spiritual or developmental scale.

Being Available 

Another area we can show care and support is by being available. The gift of presence is reinforced by our commitment to being reachable. Now, being available doesn’t mean ‘being on call’ twenty four seven nor does it mean we view ourselves as a doctor in the ER, rushing around from emergency to emergency.

Simply put, it means students have access to us.

I often wonder if we inadvertently project ourselves as untouchable. We are the pastor, the leader, the head hauncho, far removed from the daily happenings of our group. I get that certain ministries are very large and the availability of the pastor becomes increasingly difficult. Perhaps you’ve seen the meme where it says the youth pastor from Saddle Back understands the frustrations of working in a small church…because his youth ministry is a small church. However, the availability of leaders and pastors shouldn’t be contingent on size.

Do our calendars and programs create space for this kind of accessibility? If not, maybe we need to restructure things in order to care more deeply for our students. Again, this combats a model of ministry that is clearly program centered.

Our availability creates space for real conversations, real ministry, and potentially real life change.

Being Transparent 

A final way we can nurture and support our young people is through being transparent. I believe in this final concept, like a lot. Being transparent doesn’t mean sharing our deepest darkest secrets, or sharing every detail of our lives with students. That takes discretion and tact. It does, however, mean we can open up about our lives and our own spiritual journey.

We show students that we don’t walk on water, that we also struggle with sin, and that we are also in dire need of God’s mercy and grace.

Sometimes we project an image of perfection that no one—not even us—can attain. That’s not the picture of Christianity I want students to see. I don’t want build a ministry based on legalism and hypocrisy. Instead, I want them to see that following Jesus doesn’t get easier as you get older. There will still be bumps in the road. There will still be struggles. But there is also grace for the journey. Henri Nouwen talked about being a wounded healer. If you haven’t noticed, wounds are abundant in our world, and this is particularly evident among our young people who’ve grown up in a world where they’ve been abandoned by adults.

Let’s be the kind of leaders that serve, love, and live out of our brokenness as we pursue Christ together.

A final word…or two

The gift of working with young people is greater than any compensation or earthly reward we might receive. As we learn to care for our flocks–to feed them, nurture them, lead them–we’ll see the importance of creating families where we care for each other. This takes both grace and truth.

Jesus was our perfect model in this area. He consistently led with grace, and followed up with truth. Grace and truth make great dance partners. And they also allow us to show genuine care and concern in our youth ministries.

A young person may only remember a handful of messages over the years. Likewise, they may recall a Bible study or two, or that time you taught them the Greek word for faith. The truth is, those memories will come and go, but what will stay are the relational memories.

The care and concern shown in our ministries will be a lasting legacy, only to be strengthened in time.


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1 Comment

  1. Denise

    I am making this blog entry a mandatory reading for my next care and counseling class this fall, so clearly have you summed up the importance of presence and care as foundations for ministry.

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