Why congregations have to invest more than money in youth ministry

1. Youth groups are microcosms of churches, not outreach/mission work.

While a youth ministry can be a tool for outreach or ministry, reducing them to that expectation ignores that fact that youth are living, breathing members of the church, too. If you know the youth, you know a lot of the families, a lot of what they’re going through, and a lot of what you can do to help. This being said, if you don’t know the youth, you could be missing important opportunities to minister to families and the whole congregation.

2. Youth need a well-rounded theological and social experience.

If pastors don’t spend time with youth, they may be in a situation where they are getting watered-down theology (and pastors or parents don’t know it.)
I can’t even begin to imagine my youth experience without having our pastor and a wide variety of adults (not just parents or youth directors) involved.

3. Pastors words and actions affect youth, and youth cannot be fairly taken into account if they are not truly known.

Sometimes pastors publicly offer condolences to a youth for something the youth didn’t think was going to be or didn’t want to be public knowledge. Or they make sweeping statements about ‘young people today.’ I’m pretty positive that these things would happen much less often (and we would hurt less feelings) if pastors spent time in fellowship with youth, getting to know them the same way they do other congregants.

4. Youth need role models that are not necessarily authority figures.

Some really influential people in my life were adults who were not my parents, not my youth directors, not my pastors, or teachers…they were just people who decided I was important and took an interest in my spiritual formation. Because they were not in a position where they were telling me how to be, they actually had one of the greatest impacts on how I did turn out to be. This is why we need rock star adults.

5. The Church has misconceptions about what youth even is.

It is so easy to reduce a youth group to pizza-eating and superficial Jesus analogies. The best way to understand the importance of relationships in student ministry is to be a part of them yourself.

If all you have is sunshine….

“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” -John Wesley

Since I’ve been home for winter break, I’ve had to answer a few vital questions for family members, church members, former teachers, and every other person I’ve come in contact with. There are the innocuous and friendly ones like, “Got a boyfriend yet?” But then there is one question that is much harder to explain the answer to (because “Nope. Forever Alone” can be out of my mouth at lightening speeds by now.)

So…what are you studying?

I’m a preministerial student at Southwestern. This means that I have a rock solid idea of the fact that I am called to work in the church and spread God’s love and Word. Unfortunately, this calling doesn’t come with a degree plan.

So I’ve had a lot of fun answering this question. I haven’t decided yet. I try to avoid mentions of a possibly feminist studies major around the older crowd. I try to avoid telling anyone I’m considering sociology (because there are NOO jobs in THAT field anymore!) And I often begrudgingly tell people I’m considering a double-major in religion and political science (because those conflict each other inherently, apparently.)

Really, if I could study anything, I would major in Heart-Changing Studies with a minor is Radical-Mind-Opening.

When I (finally) complete my schooling, I want to do two things: Change the church’s idea about the world, and change the world’s idea of the church.

I have seen so much hurt. I’ve seen people torn apart by societal expectations, by their family, by the church.

I want to have a church that is a place of comfort that, as soon as you settle in. challenges you in a way that stretches your every brain muscle, your every heart string. That constant settling and overturning is what makes us grow into the people we never knew we could be. The people God knew we could be all along.

I want to build a community that starts building friendships as soon as you arrive, instead of ‘being friendly’ to those who come. I want to teach church people about how much beauty there is that they are missing by never leaving their wood-paneled sanctuary walls. I want to teach people that if they want to truly live a Christian life, they have to understand that they have to live. I want to show them that there is no one too dirty, too scary, too extreme to be a beloved and valued part of their community.

I want to tell people to try again. I want to say, “I am so sorry” for all the things that church people have said about them–to them. I want to show people that my God is not the God of internet memes and picket signs. My God is the God of trees taller than life and hearts larger than worlds. I want to hold their hands as they walk through stained glass doors for the first time in years. I want to give them the Message that other people wouldn’t feed them.

I recently told someone that my only talent was sunshine.

And this sounds sad and naive and odd.

But I think that it’s true.

Beyond that, though, I think it’s the only one I need.

I’m going to cause positive change in my community by preaching grace, speaking kindness, showing love–and doing all these things with the unbridled enthusiasm that is inside me. And I hope that my change will cause lavender-scented traces of this enthusiasm to reach people all over.

We live in a world where bipartisanship invades not only congressional halls, but Facebook feeds and dinner tables. The outrageous animosity that surrounds debates on the fiscal cliff, prayer in schools, gun control, marriage equality, women’s health issues, and any other issue we could possibility fit into 140 characters or less, is something that terrifies older generations, but feels normal to my own.

Our normal is over a decade of war and not being able to waste thirty seconds on learning another person’s opinion. Our normal is tall buildings and short-order kitchens. Our normal is spouting of ancient inclusive language from the Bible, the Constitution, the speeches of Civil Rights activists to protect exclusive institutions of marriage, religion, and the political sphere. Our normal is stubborn and fragile–broken and unchanging.

When I’m through with school, I want to work to create a new normal. That is why I’m going into ministry. Because if all you have is sunshine, you must be the one to light the way.

Hearts broken wide open

40 chapters of tragedy bombards Job.

Then out of the whirlwind, the Lord spoke.

We are too often waiting without listening. Our words crumble in the air-completely insufficient, but God’s message for us heals all hearts, covers all sins, and sprinkles new life into our bones.

We pray for God to light the hands He’d have us hold.

Bring me to Your bridges; take me to Your trolls; let me love Your lonely.

We have found the lonely. The are grieving. They are frightened. They are broken. They are violent. They are empty.

God has shown us His lost; we have seen His lonely.

Let us inform them that they are also His beloved.

Let us transform them into His loyal.

We have found the lonely. The Lord has lit these trembling hands with the intensity of gunshots and wailing families.

Now it is up to us to hold them.