3 Things Youth Ministry is NOT!
If you want a Big Mac, it's probably bad to roll into a Burger King. If you want new tires for your car, it's probably a bad idea to go to Publix. It's easy to find what you want when you can eliminate places you know it won't be. We can often define things not by what the item or thing is, but also what they lack.
What is youth ministry? You could answer this question in many ways. Youth ministry is a place for games, it is a place to feel like you belong, or it's a place to invest in the next generation. Perhaps your answer is yes to all three of these. Perhaps the best way to define what youth ministry is would be to look at our ministries. We could write out an entire novel on what youth ministry is, but our team got together to define youth ministry by what it is not. What three things did we choose? I'm glad you asked!
1. Youth Ministry is NOT a Glorified Daycare
Do you ever feel like your ministry is just a holding place for students? Your students arrive, spend time with you, and then leave at the end of programming. If the building is full, it can feel like we are doing good youth ministry, but we have to remember proper ministry isn't just having a room of people. You are charged with discipling students, not just feeding them and providing food.
Good daycare has clean facilities, makes sure your children's needs are met, and is open for questions when you want to ask. This can often sound like many of our youth groups, and some youth ministries would prefer you don't ask any questions. One of the easiest ways to take your youth ministry beyond a glorified daycare is to start partnering with your parents. You are not the only person responsible for the spiritual development of your students. When we can work in harmony with the responsible parties who spend more time with your students each day, we begin to see powerful change.
Don't create walls for your parents, but open the doors and invite them to participate in your ministry. When engaged, your parents will not only bring more students, but they also help your ministry grow by volunteering. We are charged with discipling the students, not just keeping them alive. We must make sure we understand the time they spend in our ministry is important, and it shows trust from the parent to grant us that time. Youth ministries partnering with the families of students will never become glorified daycare.
2. Youth Ministry is NOT Watered-Down Church
"You'll understand this when you're older." There are few feelings as demoralizing or unsettling as someone making a judgment call on your ability to process something. I would never want someone to withhold the full truth from me for fear I would be unable to understand it. This belief is likely held by most of you, but if we are not careful, we can allow our ministries to do exactly this. There is a big difference between contextualizing a message and watering it down.
I'm not saying your message should be irrelevant to students, but I believe we can often litter a sermon with illustrations and other things to help a message "connect better." Our calling is to deliver the full truth of the Word of God, and proper teaching allows us to expect more from our students. Often, the seven-second attention span is thrown out regarding current students, which puts worry into many communicators' minds.
There are ways to counteract this without sacrificing the integrity of your message. Another benefit of this mentality is the options it brings to the larger church. So often, we can fear to have students in the room of our main worship gatherings because they won't be "ready" to hear the full messages brought to the adults. It's incredibly easy to fall into the trap of getting older; they will understand this. Student ministry should be about investing in the future of our students in their current status. Let me unpack that for a moment. We understand students are going to grow and mature over time, so we are tasked to meet them where they are at currently in terms of maturity and delivery. However, we should not overlook them because of their current age and maturity. When you are willing to challenge your students, expect big things from them, and believe they deserve the full truth, you will not have a watered-down youth ministry.
3. Youth Ministry is NOT About You
I’ve witnessed multiple youth ministries crumble because of this point alone. The youth ministry crumbled after the youth leader left because the entire ministry was built around them, or the ministry crumbled while they were there because it was built entirely around them. This is an important point to remember, God could accomplish everything He wants to without using any of us. When we enter into ministry, we can believe we are the critical piece, but Christ will always serve as the essential part of ministry.
Is it important for us to be faithful in our ministry and passionate in our pursuit of the next generation? Undoubtedly!! Your ministry is not for you to feel good about yourself; it is a vessel in which God will invest. If you often feel like the red carpet should be rolled out when you enter the room, your youth ministry might be about you. It's an easy trap to fall into because we all want to feel cool. When we feel "cool," it feels as if we are liked, and there are few people in life who would choose not to be liked.
I’m going to ask a question only you can answer. Why did you enter youth ministry? Your answer can determine a large portion of what your ministry will look like. There are youth leaders who live out their high school dreams through their ministry, and these ministries often focus solely on the leader. I’m not trying to say you are a terrible person if that’s you right now. There is time to change and allow your ministry to take a turn in the right direction. It's a humbling thought when we remember the important point from earlier. God doesn't need me to do the work of this ministry, but He chooses to partner with me of all people. When we remember this, we'll ensure our youth ministry is not about us.
We hold a number of values here at YM360, but two of them, in particular, are we serve relationally and crush hassles. We love working alongside each of you to help your youth ministry thrive and become what God is calling it to be. If there are hassles in your way, issues that have come up, then we would love to help you any way we can. We are here for you, and we are never going to turn our back on you…even if one of these things would describe your current ministry. We are praying for you daily, and let us know what we can do to assist! Thank you for reading!