Does Your Youth Ministry Make A Lasting Impact On Those It Serves?
As we challenge our students to impact their community, especially in the are of service or volunteering, it’s easy to get a lot of “we should really do this” type of statements from them. “We should . . . . . . feed the homeless lunch” . . . pick up trash in the local park” . . . collect recyclables” . . . do canned food drives” Or students are part of a generation that seems to want to stand for something greater than themselves. They want to be a part of change. (The cool thing is that many of them are willing to actually do something about it.)
So many youth ministries have initiatives that keep students active in their local communities, and rightly so. These programs can be such an eye-opening experience for many teens who actually get to see firsthand how their efforts can do something. The question for us becomes, how to decide what programs or initiatives our ministries should be doing. And even more importantly, are they effective?
In our ministry, we have initiatives that offer some pretty easy ways for our students to plug in and help out: passing out food & blankets to the homeless in one of our local parks. Or serving at a rescue shelter in Los Angeles two to three times a year. We also have global projects that we have students & their families engage in together, which has a lot of rich rewards to it. I’m sure you have similar initiatives, as well. These options are great. They are useful and needed. Students see that in the areas where we serve there are always those in need of more help. And so I believe all of these examples are types of of initiatives that church should do.
Often, though, after we participate in one of these “easier” service initiatives, I’m left feeling like we should be doing way more. Or could potentially be more intentional in how we serve.
The last four years I've consistently been wrestling with some leadership decisions about where our ministry needs to put our voice, our energy, our money, & our attention. The motivating factor behind this tension is wanting to make sure we’re part of changing the future and not just helping the present. Some people may push back & say that the only way to change the future is to act in the present. Of course, I agree with the concept. But in our ministries, we often expend a lot of time and effort passing out food to the homeless, or boxing canned goods at a shelter. When we do this, we’re meeting an immediate need (which is important) but we may not often be radically changing the course of someone’s life.
We may be feeding them in the present, but what are we doing to affect their life’s trajectory so that their future looks completely opposite from their present?
To me, this radical transformation is the difference in meeting a need and being messengers of the Gospel. I’ve got a burden in me that the students I lead, and more importantly my own two kids, are actively a part of changing the life direction of others who really want & need it.
I wonder if the model of “serving” in our youth ministries needs to be altered so more students are helping peoples lives radically change instead of just helping them out for a day. Without a doubt this is a personal conviction, but I feel for too long too many ministries have taken to a “feel good” way of serving instead of a long-term approach to radical change. For our ministry, doing the more difficult work of life-on-life ministry is worth the larger & long-term life change in those we invest in. That's where I am. What about you?
What if your ministry shifted its focus from the easy to the longer lasting impact? What if instead of merely handing out food to a homeless man, your ministry actually helped him get back on his feet by doing the work to find him a place to live, a job, and/or treatment? What if your ministry’s missions trip wasn’t 1-2 a year but every 2-3 months to put as much energy & change into a setting as possible? What if your ministry fundraised for others (World Vision, A21 Campaign, etc) instead of their own summer camp? What if . . . What about you? What’s working in your ministry that others might learn from? What are some potential changes you could make?