Guest Blogger: Dave Hinkley (Director of Children and Youth Ministry)
I don’t like to read youth ministry books. I love my work with young people at University Reformed Church, and I want to do it well, and I even hunger for the encouragement and sharpening of brethren who have faithfully done this work before me. But with very few exceptions what I have read of this rather large sub-genre has been discouraging. There is a lot of talk about best methods, a lot of talk about cool style, and lots more critique of those same methods and style. There is precious little about actually blowing on the embers of a young person’s faith. I’m thankful for (although I haven’t read yet) Brian Cosby’s Giving Up Gimmicks, I hope it’s the start of a trend.
Given the dearth of helpful resources, I thought it might be nice to compile a few observations from my own ministry that may be helpful to you in yours. I hope they are edifying.
1. Relationships matter much more than coolness.
I hope your church is past the myth that the best ministers are young and hip. The best ministers are those who love the gospel of grace and are eager for young people to love it, too. The ‘type’ of person who does that really doesn’t matter. My most effective volunteers have been old ladies, young moms and awkward post college sci-fi nerds. All cool in their own way no doubt, but none of them shop at Hot Topic. Young people’s hearts are spoken to through trust and not through coolness, so make trustworthiness your goal above “relevance”.
2. Gaining the trust of parents is one of the most important parts of the job.
This is for two very practical reasons: one, they aren’t going to send their kids to anything you do if they don’t trust you and two, the closer you can get to leading a ministry that is actually conducted by the parents for the kids and their friends, the better.
You may be a very godly and theological person, even very experienced in ministry, but if the parents in the congregation feel weird about you, your ministry to young people will never get off the ground. Don’t expect trust to just happen because of your qualifications, and don’t resent parents when they don’t give it. Just get to work earning it.
Good parents are very concerned with:
- The guarding of their children’s hearts,
- The faithfulness of what is being taught to their kids, and
- That their own authority and role in their child’s life is honored.
Do whatever you have to do to honor these concerns. Show deference to parents regarding what topics are discussed. Make opportunities beforehand to introduce parents to what will be covered in your Bible studies or talks. Think about the social climate of your group? Are kids mean to each other? How is that handled by the adults? Let the parents you work with know that you want to do whatever you can to help them foster faith in Christ in their children. (Emphasis on the words help them.)
3. Center your ministry on the word of God.
If we aren’t gathering these kids together to deepen their understanding of and trust in God’s word then we really shouldn’t bother. I’m not saying don’t do fun activities or fellowship in other ways; I am saying if your fellowship is not a means to greater discipleship to God and His Word, then you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t be afraid to go deep. With a little work on your part to translate, kids can understand pretty much any doctrine you want to talk about with them. What is more, they respond very well to being treated like they have a valued opinion on eternal matters. If you challenge kids to think deeply about the essential truths of our faith, they can and will grow.
Bottom line: if we are not presenting to them the glory and worthiness of Christ as He is presented to us in God’s inspired Word, we are wasting everyone’s time with mere activity. We want our kids to lift their eyes and hearts to Him in worship and experience the joy and freedom of the gospel. This isn’t going to happen if we spend an hour and 50 minutes seeing how many marshmallows can possibly go into their mouths and then 10 minutes on how God wants us to be good people.
4. Give more thought and attention to the above things than to your youth ministry model.
We waste a lot of time fretting over structure and procedure. The main problem with your youth ministry is not that it is not fun enough. Your church can have a valuable youth ministry to the 4 or 400 students you have if the ministry is about going deep into the word of God in the context of trust and relationships. Outreach-centered or family-centered, catechism class or youth group; be about getting at the gospel and the transforming Word of God, and love the kids God has put in your church.