Having done a dumb thing or three in Youth Ministry over the years has led me to consider 3 Simple Ways NOT to start Youth Group in the fall. Maybe you’ve been there, maybe you just did this, or maybe you are about to do this and I can save you a future confessional moment.
#1 “Don’t tell anybody what is happening.”
Now you think I jest but I don’t. After 25 years in Youth Ministry I still am surprised when a parent or youth or a church leader says to me in about the middle of October “I didn’t know you were having Youth Group meetings On Sundays but I found out when…..”
I have learned that I can never say enough times from the pulpit, or in the bulletin, or in the newsletter, or in the Friday e-mail update, or in the Facebook Fan Page announcement, or at staff meeting, or in my Tweet, or in my mass text message that we will have Youth Group THIS WEEK and all Youth are invited and then rinse and repeat it all again next week and the week after until summer arrives.
I used to think one announcement in August meant everybody just knew what was happening maybe even for the whole year if I was just clever enough. That is incorrect.
#2 “I’ve been praying about this and The Lord has really led me to want to just focus on worship this year.”
Well now, focus on worship (and I mean worship of the God of Jesus Christ which historically does not involve a stage) is a good thing. It is even a very good thing. But in a healthy happy wholesome Youth Group it is NOT the ONLY thing. I used to say it wasn’t even developmentally appropriate for Youth but I am about sure it is not developmentally appropriate for middle-aged adults either!
For Youth (and adults) to fully develop in their faith journeys there are some other vital components such as service/mission, evangelism, conversion, education, fellowship, practical theology moments, and of course my personal favorite- kickball. That may sound silly but just try and only do one thing for the next semester and let me know how that resume polishing is going about this time next year. By the way, I don’t mean to just pick on worship; substitute “fellowship & fun” and a Youth Group will lose its purpose, identity, and momentum just as quickly.
#3 “I’ll let the Youth lead when they are ready and they just are not ready yet.”
Youth-led Youth Ministry is Youth Ministry. Adult-led youth ministry is something else. It might sometimes be beneficial but it is not the goal for long. Youth grow in faith more when they have a chance to actively engage rather than passively receive.
It doesn’t matter how good I am at giving a Youth-talk, it matters how many Youth I have helped to give their own talk, or empowered to lead the Sunday school lesson, or plan the retreat, or lead the small group discussion, or talk to the trustees about those new sofas we’ve been needing. Youth are ready when we ask them to lead, we have to ask and ask and ask and ask sometimes.
These 3 things came to the top of my thinking this year as I have helped to re-launch a traditional UMYF program on a weekly basis in a church where I am doing some interim work. I feel like I need a t-shirt that says “It is SOOOOOO not about me!” but then maybe what I need most is for you to help remind me it is about Youth, and God, and community, and faith, and Jesus, and the Church, and families, and the Holy Spirit.
Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison