I had a few minutes with the guys from ym360 at the Texas Youth Minister’s Conclave last week and we were talking about you. Not by name, so relax. But, we were talking about the people who are doing youth ministry face-to-face, week-by-week in churches large and (mostly) small.
Here’s what we know about you . . .
Most of you are volunteers, either volunteering to lead your churches youth ministry or to assist in it. You may be in youth ministry because your own teenagers are in the youth group, or have been in the past. Another, somewhat smaller group are the part-timers, or bi-vocational youth ministers, who work a “real job” and then spend the rest of your time trying to lead your church's youth ministry, while balancing family, work, and (for some) school. The smallest percentage of youth workers is the full-time, paid church staff.
So, as I said, we were talking about you. We were talking about your needs and the issues you face. And in talking with the ym360 guys, I discovered that the most frequent call they get goes something like this: “Help!” (BTW, one of the great things about them is that they answer their own phones!) Often, the youth worker on the other end of the line is asking questions like, “How do I get started?” “What do I do?” “What will encourage students to come to the youth group?” “What do you teach them when they get there?” “Where do we go from here?”
We chatted for a while about the best way to answer those questions. We talked about good books for beginning youth workers, such as Doug Field’s Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry or Kara Powell and Chap Clark's Sticky Faith. We talked about pointing people to the ym360 Blog, a great source of youth ministry knowledge with daily content from over 50 different youth ministers. We discussed the great training opportunities at youth ministry conferences hosted around the country (and some internationally). These are all great answers. I’m a great cheerleader and champion for all of us – volunteer and paid, greenhorns and veterans, young and old – to keep learning how to be more effective.
But, as we talked I was reminded of one thing that every one of us could do without needing to buy another resource, or attend a conference. You don’t need a degree to do this. And it turns out to be the most effective thing you can do in youth ministry. What’s this answer for the “Help! I don’t know what to do” question?
“But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13)
Wait! Don’t just keep reading! And don't stop reading, either. Resist the urge to dismiss this as too simple. Let the power of this phrase sink in.
In 1 Corinthians 1:1, Paul said (and I paraphrase) without love it’s all just bells and whistles. What did he mean?
- Love is the antidote to unruly or apathetic teens, because it is patient.
- Love is the antidote to not having the budget other churches do, or to harmful numerical comparisons because it does not envy or operate out of pride.
- Love lets us keep our heads in the chaos and endure when our students' choices let us down, because it keeps our focus on the individual without keeping any kind of score.
- Love says “I trust you. I hope the best for you. I will stick with you.”
In teenager world (and adult life too), there isn’t a program, strategy, curriculum, game, building, or personality type that has a deeper, more sustained impact than knowing you are loved. Those things are, in Paul’s words again, “nothing” without love.
And here’s my conviction: if you are consistently demonstrating a 1 Corinthians 13 love, the rest of it is just icing on the cake.
What do you think?