I didn’t attend church growing up. So I often retrace my faith journey to remind myself how I got here. As a teenager I was blessed to have friends invite me to a thriving youth ministry. And looking back it had all the right stuff: quality teaching on the Christian faith, emphasis on community service and justice, youth leadership, great music, funny skits, laugh out loud games, engaging trips, and even healthy small groups. Wow! No wonder it was successful.
But oddly enough, I don’t think any of that is why the ministry impacted me. I’m convinced that the reason this ministry was transformative for me and so many others was that we developed relationships with healthy, authentic, and faithful adults that cared about us right where we were. I can still remember the welcome I received first time I attended. It was a quick exchange with the adult leader, but the look in his eyes told me all I needed to know. I was loved and welcomed with no strings attached.
Over time I developed friendships with other adults in the ministry, and I soon began to notice something about them. They had love, joy, and peace in their lives in a way that I didn’t. And they seemed to be saying it was because of their Christian faith. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I wanted what they had. I wanted to love God and love others the way they did. I wanted to be alive with joy and purpose as they were. I still do. I’m still trying to be like Cheryl, Mike, Joe, Bruce, Steve, and Glen.
I think Youth Ministry’s “greatest hit” is when healthy, faithful adults build relationships with young people. For me that is the most vital component. And if it exists, any youth ministry can be transformative, no matter the size of the group, or the programming/curricula involved.
I love music, especially rock and roll. And not long ago I rediscovered the joy of vinyl records for listening to music. There is a long running debate over whether they sound better than their digital counterparts, but I find that listening to an album just helps me focus. There is something about physically taking the record out of its cover, putting it on the player, and gently placing the needle, that makes me feel more present to the music.
In the same time that we’ve gone from vinyl to digital in our culture, there has been a great deal of change in youth culture, the Church, and how we conceive of youth ministry. And it seems there is a lot of discussion around what it is, what we’re trying to accomplish, and how we should best go about ministering with young people.
I’m of the opinion that some of the things we used to do in youth ministry still “sound good,” especially if they help us to be present to those we are ministering with, to see Christ in them and allow them to see Christ in us. So I’m not suggesting we go back to the “vinyl years,” just hoping to share some youth ministry classics as we also explore the latest hits together.