This week I want to outline Principles #2 & #3 for a Philosphy of Sustainable Youthwork.
Although it may sound a little bit like #1 “Youthwork is Family Based” (from last week) the secondary characteristic of a Sustainable Model is that “Youthwork is Congregational”.
Youthwork belongs to God through the ministry of God’s whole Church. Youthwork is the responsibility of the entire Congregation. The Pastors and Staff participate in Youthwork, but the Congregation, as a whole needs to support the life and mission of Youth in the Church and in the Community.
According to the Gospel of John, God sent Jesus for everybody. That means all Youth. And of course it means all children and all adults. If Jesus is for everybody then there are really no limits to what a Congregation is called to do. The budget cannot limit the work of God, the amount of volunteers cannot limit the work of God, and the size of the facility cannot limit the work of God.
What does tend to limit God’s work with Youth is a mentality of scarcity. Unsustainable systems are fear based. Rather than work from an attitude of God’s abundance, limits are placed. Numbers are limited.
But when the entire Congregation takes seriously the call to Youthwork, they answer the call that first comes in the form of the baptismal liturgy we use in the UMC that allows the entire Congregation to declare before God and Community that they will raise the baptized child in the faith. A staff person cannot be hired to replace the work of the Congregation. As a matter of fact, Congregations hire paid Youthworkers to put everybody to work in the lives of Youth.
Youth have so much to offer the Church. And the Congregation has so much to offer Young People as they respond to God’s call on their lives. It is a rare exception when I meet an adult who cannot tell a story of a significant person who influenced them in positive life-sustaining ways during their teenage years. How will your congregation answer the call?
Principle #3: Youthwork is Relational
The primary goal of Youthwork is to help Youth and their Families live fully into the journey of Christian Discipleship. There is NO Discipleship without Relationship(s). To be a Disciple means to follow somebody. In the Christian context, we follow not just anybody we follow Jesus. And much like the early Disciples who walked alongside Jesus, we are also in relationship with each other.
When Jesus taught the Great Commandment, he laid out the rules: Love God, Love Self, and Love Others. We must be in relationship(s) to Love the way Jesus did.
How does this affect your vision for Youthwork? What if the most important thing we can do is establish healthy transformative relationships with Young People? This changes things! Often people tell me that they do not know enough about the Bible or Theology to help with Youth Group or to teach Sunday school. What if THE MOST important thing is NOT the lesson but the RELATIONSHIP?
When you read Scripture notice that Jesus preached short sermons, often only a sentence, yet entire chapters of the Gospels tell of his building relationships with Disciples. Eating with people. Wedding parties. Long hikes and boat rides.
“When people are overwhelmed with information and develop immunity to traditional forms of communication, they turn instead for advice and information to the people in their lives whom they respect, admire, and trust.” ~Malcolm Gladwell
I always tell people they need two things to do Youthwork and we can teach everything else. The First thing they need is to Love God. The Second thing they need is to Love Teenagers. If you are not sure that you need God in your life, come hang out with teenagers and you will learn to Love God in ways you never dreamed! If you are not so sure that you need teenagers in your life, put your heart and head into God’s hands for a season and trust.
We are ALL better together! ALL generations. YOU are a person of sacred worth that a Young Person can learn to respect, admire, and trust. So is every member of your congregation! Look for a Youth this week, this month, or this summer that you can build a relationship with because then you can also learn to respect, admire, and trust someone from the next generation. Will you and your congregation answer God’s Call?
Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison