Throughout my experience in youth ministry, I have always felt that the one thing God wanted me to do for others was the thing that was done for me: create a safe place for young people. For me, youth group started out rough. But thanks to my youth directors over the years (Rhonda Waters, Rob Morris, John Canupp, and Ken Hagler), I knew that group was the place to bring my problems, not hide my problems. *The picture below is from last night, when Ashley wrote “I Love My Youth” on the driveway after dinner and games with them last night. Kudos to a pregnant and tired youth director!!!!!!!!!!
In most social situations, we tend to put our best foot forward, keeping up appearances that things are fine, that we don’t have any real needs. But most of us are hurting, confused, and disoriented by life and our experiences. This is why creating a safe place for youth is so important.
My aim throughout the years has been to let youth be who they are and to celebrate that. It makes me laugh as I think about the different young kids that entered into the groups, raw and untamed. There were always categories, being that youth ministry is pretty predictable. There’s the smelly kid, the loud kid (that was me), the cool kid, the cute kid, the brainy kid, the sporty kid, the story-teller, the loner, the preppy kid, and the trendy kid (not to mention a few others). Typically, you’d have this make-up in some form or fashion.
The real joy, though, was to watch these kids lay down their “personas” and begin to let down their “armor,” their contrived idea of themselves. When this happened, kids began to develop a deeper understanding of both themselves and the world around them. In our time together doing youth ministry, Ashley introduced a vital piece of Biblical teaching that really began to connect kids from simply being good moral people to being good Christian Disciples. Philippians 2.1???5,
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
V.3 was always the most important piece because it pushed the youth to think beyond themselves and realize that this world is about so much more than themselves. When you develop an identity that is beyond yourself, you stop trying to uphold a created persona and you begin to take on the mind of Christ; a giving and self-less way of life, that brings glory to God by serving his creation.
I’m so thankful for my years in youth ministry, understanding now in Adult ministry that it isn’t much different. The personas are deeper, embedded and more solid than when they were young people, but that is when the power of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ shines in ways that gives credence and testimony to faith and the Church.
I want to encourage you: find a way to invest in young people’s lives. It may be through the Church, through mentoring at your local schools, or it may be investing the lives of your children or grandchildren like you haven’t in the past. Just remember this: now is the time to impress the things of God on their soft hearts. You know the trials and pains of adulthood. Do not let them harden their hearts to the grace that is made available to them now in Jesus Christ. Go love them! And God bless you!