Redeeming the Time in Youth Ministry

So much of Christian ministry is about stewardship.

The stewardship of gifts.

The stewardship of relationships.

The stewardship of bodies.

The stewardship of time.

All of life is a gift from God and all of life should be returned to God as an act of worship.

Of course, some of these areas are easier to dedicate to God than others. But perhaps no part of human existence is more precious today, particularly in the lives of young people, than time. Time as a concept is absolutely horrifying. Like Jason Voorhees shambling after his next victim, time marches on with a steadfast, unrelenting gait. There is a permanence to the passage of time; every second that passes is one we’ll never get back. Surely, this is why John Wesley insisted that Methodists practice good stewardship not only of our souls and bodies, but also of our time. Of Ephesians 5:16, he writes,

“See that ye walk circumspectly,” says the Apostle in the preceding verse, “not as fools, but as wise men, redeeming the time;” saving all the time you can for the best purposes; buying up every fleeting moment out of the hands of sin and Satan, out of the hands of sloth, ease, pleasure, worldly business; the more diligently, because the present “are evil days,” days of the grossest ignorance, immorality, and profaneness” (Sermon, #93).

For some people, Wesley took his stewardship of time a little too seriously. He was a meticulous note taker and journaled the events of his daily life in excruciating detail. He even dedicated a sermon to the practice of redeeming the time from the “dull, stupid state” of sleep. Now I’m not suggesting that you preach to your students about the perils of sleep, but I wonder if Wesley’s intentionality in the use of his time could teach us something about the way we structure our time in youth ministry, particularly in the way we plan events.

Sometimes we can read Wesley and think that the proper stewardship of time means doing more things – more service projects, more bible studies, more outreach events. However, Wesley’s approach to redeeming the time is actually about doing ministry wholistically, not simply doing more ministry.  In his sermon, “The Good Steward,” Wesley writes, “If [someone] accounts of himself as a steward of the manifold gifts of God, let him see that all his thoughts, and words, and works be agreeable to the post God has assigned him.” Christian stewardship then is not primarily about you being involved in more ministry, it’s about more of you being involved in ministry. Redeeming the time is about directing every thought, word, and work to the glory of God.

This not only has implications for our own personal piety, but I believe it has huge implications for how we plan and implement ministry opportunities for our students. At my church, I work with our family ministry staff to plan and implement wholistic ministry opportunities. Below is an example of things we consider when we seek to redeem the time in our ministries.

Say that we’re going to make food packs for families in need during the thanksgiving holiday. In the past, we would (arbitrarily) choose a day and time, gather together, make the packs, and then head on home to catch the end of the football game. We’d schedule someone to deliver the meals and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Sounds like a great service project, right?

But did we make the most of the event? Did we mine it for all of its formative power? Did we redeem the time?

What if instead of simply scheduling the event and inviting students the week before, we spent the weeks leading up to the event doing an in-depth bible study about the theological role of food in the Christian faith? We could explore biblical passages that focus on Jesus as the “Bread of Life” and reflect on our experiences of Holy Communion during worship. We could do some research about food scarcity in our community and even have someone from the community  talk to us about the reality of hunger in our area. We could encourage students and families to participate in a fast in preparation for the event. And what if the food packing event was not just a youth event, but something that involved the entire congregation? Not only could students serve but they could also make new relationships with other adults in their church. And why should we schedule other people to deliver the food that we helped package? What if in the days following the event we hand-delivered the meals to those in need? Students could see the fruits of their work and begin to make connections with real people in their community.

So as you can see there are two ways that we could plan a “food pack” event. One is relatively simple, does some modest good in the community, and gives us enough warm fuzzies to sustain us until our next event. The other, while still really only being a single event, takes full advantage of the formational power of the ministry opportunity and rounds out the experience by addressing four main areas of Christian formational practice: discipleship, fellowship, worship, and mission. Of course, the latter takes considerably more forethought and planning, another area of ‘redeeming the time’ that youth workers should cultivate. But if youth workers will commit to this way of creative planning, they will begin to redeem the time in their youth ministry and work to form fully-developed disciples of Jesus Christ.

What are the main obstacles to redeeming the time in your youth ministry?

How can you take full advantage of the formational power of your ministry opportunities?

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