Don’t Leave Youth Ministry to the Youth Minister
Conversations before and after services provide building blocks for church family relationships. Whether it’s exchanging a smile and warm greeting or asking for an update on a health issue, watching over a friend whose spouse is deployed, or meeting a new face for the first time, the opportunities connections are endless!
You probably have your own examples of relationship building in the nooks and crannies of your church time each week. But here’s a question to consider: Do your weekly community building efforts at church include the youth in your congregation?
Perhaps you instinctively assume that the youth pastor or Sunday school teacher engages young people more effectively than you might. Maybe you think young people don’t want to talk to adults anyway. Whatever the reasons, too often, in my experience, relational intentionality does not extend to the youth in our churches. Here are two reasons why involving young people is important and two practical tips for doing so.
Reasons to get involved
1. It is our duty as Christians.
Jesus summarized our main duties in two well-known commandments: to love God and to love people. As we read the Gospels, we see that when Jesus spoke of loving others, he was emphasizing loving the least of them. Love all people, but especially those who are marginalized or don’t have as much to give back to you. Moreover, in Matthew 19, Jesus gives special attention to children, opening his arms wide to entice them and scolding the disciples for chasing them away.
Too often, relational intentionality does not extend to the youth of our churches.
As disciples of Jesus, we imitate him by loving the young people in our churches. The more we learn about what they love, fear and experience, the more opportunities we have to encourage, pray and rejoice. Getting to know children and adolescents is often a lot of work with little relational return, but we walk in obedience to the commandments of God as we seek to selflessly know and love the young people around us.
2. It is our joy as church members.
If you are a member of a local church, you have most likely covenanted with a group of people to form a spiritual family, which involves accompanying parents as they raise their children in the Lord. My church covenant states, “We will strive to lead those in our care in the education and warning of the Lord, and to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
We should not assume that the Sunday School teacher or the youth pastor holds sole responsibility for teaching, learning about, and investing in the youth. Whether you remain in a congregation for months or decades, you have the opportunity to play a vital role in the lives of young people as they grow physically and, God willing, spiritually.
A multitude of research studies have noted the benefits of nonparental adults in the lives of children and adolescents. Think about the adults who had a significant influence on your life growing up. Whether teachers, pastors, coaches, or extended family members, these people have taken the time to get to know you and point out your potential and gifts.
I work as a teen counselor and regularly tell parents that I’m not saying anything magical, I’m just a different voice encouraging and saying the same things they’ve said to their kids over and over. There is nothing more spectacular than witnessing a life transformed by the power of the gospel, and as an adult in the church, you are ideally placed to play an active role in this process. for the young people in your congregation.
1. Get to know young people with the long term in mind.
Start by learning the names and ages of the young people in your congregation. Notice the young people who are alone and say hello, perhaps simply expressing their joy at having the opportunity to meet them.
Expect it to be awkward and don’t give up if the first interaction feels forced. Young people will rarely interact with developed social skills. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for most social interactions, isn’t fully formed until your mid-twenties. My 4 year old daughter looks forward to her playgroup more than Christmas, and yet when she greets her friends at the door, she often hides behind my leg, not even smiling. Parents have told me similar stories of their teenagers meeting with me for discipleship and guidance.
Patiently pursue youth with the long game in mind. God willing, you have years to watch the young people around you grow, so work to slowly earn their trust over time, regardless of the perceived results of a single conversation.
2. Ensure that young people feel valued as image bearers.
Young people have a sixth sense for spotting authenticity and attention. Seek to simply communicate your enthusiasm for what they are: image bearers created in the image of God. The young people in your congregation represent the next generation of followers of Christ who will proclaim the glorious message of the gospel throughout the world.
As an adult member of the church, you have been given the humble stewardship to shape how young people view the body of Christ.
As an adult member of the church, you have been given the humble stewardship to shape how young people view the body of Christ. Be slow to correct or comment on misbehavior and quick to hunt for grace in the lives of young people. Ask open-ended questions that begin with “Tell me about . . .” or “What is your favorite part of . . .?” Find out what excites them and how God has gifted them. As you get to know the young ones, let them be the experts and ask for their knowledge of everything from Pokemon and bracelet making to video games and TikTok.
And don’t just engage with kids who seem interested in spiritual matters, but also with those who seem to want to be somewhere other than church. Reach out to young people, remember the unique opportunity you have as an unparented adult, seeking to leave a wonderful aroma of church imprinted on their hearts and minds.
Just do it
As you consider engaging young people in your church, remember the phrase Nike popularized years ago: “Just do it.” Be aware of the young people around you and seek to grow by cultivating engagement skills. Don’t think too much or try too hard. Go see a group of young people and ask how their weeks have gone, without being offended if they look at you questioningly. Smile and tell the little girl sitting patiently while her mother talks that you are so encouraged by her self-control. Notice the boy sitting alone with no one to talk to and ask him what he is looking forward to in the coming week.
As Julie Lowe, counselor and author, writes, “Working with young people may seem like an innate gift from God, but it is truly an encouraged expertise and skill that grows as we commit to getting to know and love this community well.” . Don’t assume other people have it covered. Reach out to the youth in your church and pray for the Holy Spirit to use your care to soften hearts, speak the truth, and maybe even help someone understand the gospel for the first time.