By Josh Ross, the co-author of the recently released book Bringing Heaven to Earth
I’m a preacher. I’m not a youth minister. But I’m around them all the time, and I love them! We have two youth ministers on our staff, and I travel to speak at a few youth events every year, which means I plan with youth ministers, bounce ideas off of them, think big picture along with them, and often see them in their element.
Youth Ministers have a special place in my heart, because I know the impact my youth minister had on me.
Here’s reality, it is mid-May, which means summer is around the corner, and youth ministers are about to enter into a grind. Work Camp, church camp, mission trip, and a number of events fill the calendar. There are few days that don’t have something already written into them.
So, here are a few words to youth ministers, and a few words to churches about them.
TO YOUTH MINISTERS:
1) Trust your disciplines. In seasons of busyness, disciplines can easily fade and shrink, yet your heart can’t afford for you to lose connection with the God who is forming both your heart and the hearts of those you serve. Before the summer hits, form a covenant. It needs to be realistic. Remember, that the first thing Jesus asks of disciples in Mark 3 is “to be with me.”
2) The goal is long-term development. Your students are going to have some amazing encounters with God this summer, yet keep in mind, that the goal is not for your students to fall in love with church camp, mission trips, or other events; the overall goal is for their affections to grow for Jesus. When August hits, students need to be prepared to live for God in cafeterias in November. They don’t need to leave the summer in anticipation of what they can do again next June.
3) Tend to your own. For those with families, take seriously the needs of your spouse and children. They do not deserve the leftovers. Write them into your calendars. Call it an appointment if you have to. Your family is your first church. They are your first ministry.
4) Model presence. We are living in possibly the most distracted culture that has ever existed in the history of the world. Students need someone who will model the willingness to be fully present. Commit to communicate and connect with people with your hands free from phones, and with your eyes focused on the one in front of you. Remember that as distracted as God could be, we have His undivided attention. Let’s imitate Him.
To the church, here are a few words to you in preparation for this summer:
1) Exceed at encouragement. Your youth ministers need to know that you are in their corner. Drop them emails, texts messages, handwritten notes, and words of encouragement. Let them know you believe in them. You may never know how far a simple word of blessing can go to strengthen an entire group.
2) Lavish youth minister families with kindness and generosity. If there are trips that leave a spouse and children at home, don’t assume that they will be ok. Check on them. Take them food. Invite them over. Watch the children so the stay-at-home-parent can go to the store or get a cup of coffee alone.
3) Cheer on discipleship. Remember, that the direct object of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is to make disciples. It is not to make converts; but life-long disciples, and the entire church plays a role in this. When teenagers come back from trips energized for God, fan the flame. Applaud the work of God. Whether we realize it or not, the church plays a huge role in how teenagers transition from a summer into a more regular rhythm. Get courageous, and ask teenagers what songs and worship experiences shaped and formed them throughout the summer and have the guts to implement some of the things you hear.
4) Give space to hear the work of God. God is not an event-driven God, but He sure does use events as a catalyst for development. The Bible is thick (especially the Psalms) with commands to declare the works of the Lord. We cannot afford to speak of God in only past tense language nor future tense language. We need to give space for the language that declares the work of God in the now!
Anticipate great things this summer. I’m rooting for you all!