There is nothing more frustrating than going to a restaurant to have a nice meal only to find the table is not level. Every time someone touches the table, it wobbles. I spend most of my evening with my foot on one of the legs to make sure it quits wobbling. Unfortunately, I find myself more focused on that than enjoying the dining experience. Youth ministry, like a table, is about proper balance. If youth ministry is unbalanced, it can create unintended results: specifically, missed opportunities for discipleship. This is the second part of four posts on spiritual truths that need to be foundational for our ministry.
If our youth ministry is going to produce disciples, then we need to practice discipleship by sharing the gospel through loving action outside the walls of the church. Most youth ministers know that if we are to reach students that we have to go where they are. As a result, we will attend events, show up at school lunches, or maybe even coach or chaplain a team, club, or student organization. It works. Students come to our ministries. We are living out the first step in the discipleship process by reaching students in their culture. But what happens when these students start participating in our culture?
Well, it shows in our calendar. Most of the scheduled events are for the students themselves within the context of the youth ministry and focused on keeping the students coming. Even church culture defines “Christian success” as coming to church and tithing. Jesus called out the Pharisees for this attitude, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23, ESV)
While our actions of reaching students on their turf to bring them in are necessary, we often fail in an important area of Christian teaching: leading students to reach their friends on their turf. Yes, we provide times of worship, Bible study, and fellowship, but that is not enough. We also need to spend our time and resources equipping students to show the love of Christ to others. We need to teach our students the practices of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
More than a Mission Trip
Yes, we should go on mission trips. They are good “incubators” for exposing students to justice, mercy, and faithfulness. It provides a controlled environment for us to guide them through practical faith experiences.
However, our students need real-world experiences, too. Something that becomes a part of their DNA. Find long-term commitments for your students to participate in. For example, the church I serve in partners monthly with a local foster care ministry. These students are building a long-term relationship with this ministry. It becomes more than a “Check the box. I’ve done my good deed.” We are helping students see long-term benefits of commitment as they are enacting change in their hometown.
If you are on social media at all, you have seen the cultural climate in regards to social injustice. How can we move students away from a vitriol attitude like what we see on social media towards a compassionate heart that moves towards solutions? We do so by letting our students see the reality of injustice, become sympathetic toward the situation, and then allow them to provide solutions to help those in need.
More than a Program
One of the words for faithfulness in the Old Testament is hesed. It has the idea of loyalty, love, and kindness. We see it in the interaction of characters such as Ruth to Naomi and David with Jonathan. The sacrifice and commitment in those relationships show a level of depth many of us never experience. In the shallowness of social media relationships, students do not understand the benefits of intimacy. Intimacy is more than physical touch with a romantic partner. It is hesed. One can only achieve faithfulness through sacrificing on behalf of another, recognizing the importance of the other, and working to reconcile differences even to the point of admitting we are wrong and sorry. Jesus said to “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24, ESV)
As Christians, we look different than the world when we treat each other with respect and dignity. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV) This is a soft skill our ministries can teach by doing. We can live out hesed in our interactions with students. We can model it in public with our spouses. We can expect it in our youth ministry culture, and we can help students practice it.
Every person should practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness. The world would be a much better place if we did. However, don’t forget that true understanding of justice, mercy, and faithfulness begins at the cross. A believer will have a greater depth of understanding of these through the loving actions of God. His love should motivate us toward action. By doing so, we train students to impact the world for Jesus Christ, not just in what they know about the Bible. but in how they live it out.