Youth ministry that is transformational for life has to build a kingdom view of God’s church. The church is bigger than me and the way I do things. It’s bigger than our particular way, place, and group. What is God doing in His people throughout the world?
Too many times, youth ministry can become some kind of separate entity operating as an attractive sideshow of the church. “The young people want something different and don’t seem very interested in church, so let’s develop some attractive new ministry that’s geared just for them – and we can keep doing our own thing as well.” There’s less conflict that way, everyone seems to be getting something they want, and the messes are contained to their designated areas. But after 4-6 years of growing in this kind of bubble, students graduate with a set of expectations that they will place on the church outside their bubble. In the best cases, these expectations are healthy and will challenge the church to grow and stretch and re-engage discipleship muscles that may have had little recent exercise. But often, the expectations carry the weight of a self absorbed consumer mindset that is shocked when it doesn’t find the desired product.
I worked at a car lot for a few months right after graduating Bible college. Probably not the most natural career path, but it forced me out of my shell and kept food on the kitchen table (which was given to us by some very generous extended family for free). It’s a good thing the table was free because I was not a great car salesman. See, I had this idea that people would know what they wanted to drive when they came to the lot… or at least have a vague idea what they wanted. My first sale was easy. An elderly couple pulled in with an old Lincoln Town Car and wanted a less used Lincoln Town Car. We had one. They didn’t want to fight about a price… they must have felt sorry for me looking so young and uninitiated on my first day on the lot. The deal was done. But every other deal was a reflection of a larger reality in the car buying universe: the Sales Manager and the Dealership Owner thought that every car on the lot was gold plated and perfect for every Schmoe that walked on their pavement. Since I disagreed and wasn’t about to lie to convince a customer that “this car is what you really need” so I could make a few bucks… the arrangement was short-lived as I left to be a waiter at Perkins.
What? That’s not the normal career ladder?
As a waiter, usually my customers knew what they wanted to eat, but occasionally someone would ask to know what I liked on the menu. It was hard to share my favorites, because my favorites were all specially made variations that didn’t appear on the menu. (Servers, be good to your cooks and you’ll enjoy your lunch break so much more!) On other occasions, adult customers would want to order off the kids menu to get a better deal. They were asking for options that they could not order.
Have we set up our youth for a disillusioned exodus from the church by letting them think that the way we’ve done youth ministry with them is the way the whole church functions as well? Are we selling them vehicles that aren’t really what they need to go where God is calling them to go? Dangling menu items that the church won’t offer them in a couple years after they graduate? In short, are we teaching them that church is all about what they want?
I think the way out of this dilemma is to bring our students to see a bigger picture. Help them see the youth ministry as only a piece of what God is doing in the world around them. And even beyond that, to see the church they are a part of as a piece of His Kingdom, and recognize that throughout the world that kingdom functions in creative and unique ways to further the one mission for which that kingdom has been established.
Here are a few practical ideas for helping our students develop a kingdom view of God’s church: (Add to the list in the comments section.)
- Guest Speakers – Don’t let your voice be the only one heard. Bring in speakers with varied experiences to share.
- Video Teaching – You probably can’t bring Francis Chan to teach your youth service, but you can show the Basic Series, where he paints a great picture of the Kingdom.
- Mission Trips – Take students out of their nest to serve and to see what God is doing in other locations.
- Love Costs Every Thing – This film is an eye opening glimpse into the persecution of the church globally.
- Child Sponsorship – Encourage students to band together to sponsor children through Compassion and be a part of what God is doing in poorer places throughout the world.
- Connect Students with Adults Locally – All missions are local somewhere. What are your local missions in which your students and adults can partner?
What else would you add to the list?
Here are the links to the rest of the Foundations of Youth Ministry series. Check out the other posts and be sure to use the subscribe field at the top to get new content via e-mail: