Still Missing the Point

Youth workers desire growth in the lives of their teens. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be in youth ministry. Yet, how we tend to evaluate and plan for growth can be totally messed up.

I’ve read articles recently that provide some steps toward having a healthy, growing youth ministry. The place most authors begin is by having youth workers evaluate their group by trying to see it from the perspective of a teenager or a parent. Sadly, most youth workers have simply forgotten that they are not a teenager, and many are not parents much less parents of teens. How can a decent evaluation happen when we have no foundation by which to question?

As has been the case for too long, many youth workers are still trying to make things work on their own. In their conversations you hear things like, “I tried this event” or “I had this great idea” or “I’m reaching out.” If the focus is on what “I” (the youth worker) am doing with youth ministry, “I” am still missing the point.

We are called to serve; therefore, we need to spend more of our time listening than we do talking.

We serve teenagers.

We should listen to what teenagers are saying about the ministry and hear the struggles that they are personally having. We tend to hear statistics or trends on a national level but never even think that the statistics might be different in our local context. How can we know? We listen. God has given teens responsibility for living out their own faith, and many would love to rise to the challenge (1 Tim. 4). Our teens have awesome ideas for the direction of youth ministry and reaching out to the world with the love of Christ. You might not like the ideas, but you’d be surprised what happens if you’d be willing to try.

We serve parents.

No, they are NOT the enemy; they are God-ordained leaders (Deut. 6; Eph. 6). We can’t listen to teens to the exclusion of parents or give parents a lower place on our ministry goals. We must value the parents’ insights as much as the teens’. When we have 3-5 hours a week with teens, how can we begin to compete with the number of hours parents invest in their children? Our parents have struggles, and many are well aware of the problem their teens face. How can we know? We listen. When parents are involved in sharing and leading, you bring another sphere of influence to unity in Christ and strengthen the hope for growth in the hearts and lives of teenagers.

We serve God’s family.

It is so easy to isolate teenagers from the larger church community. We get used to it in children’s ministry and capitalize on it in youth ministry. When our teens graduate, why would they want to be part of a local church community? They have never been valued and connected within one
before. They have never interacted with the young or old as the body of Christ. Youth ministry serves as a passing phase rather than an enabling facet of the greater mission of God. God has adopted us into a family, and we need to understand that many in our church community have a desire to fulfill their responsibility to invest in teens (Titus 2). They can mentor in ways we couldn’t otherwise in a large group setting. They can provide time and energy for things we could or would never get to. They can provide a connection for our teens with the greater family of God. How can we know? We listen. We desperately need to move youth ministry from isolation to collaboration. We are to function as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4), and we can’t do that if we insist on amputation.

It bears repeating – We are called to serve; therefore, we need to spend more of our time listening than we do talking. Or as Proverbs 18:13 states, “He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.” As youth workers, we all desire growth in the lives of the teens under our care. But we have to listen to more than that little voice in our own heads. If we don’t, we will continue to be people who are missing the point.

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