Lyle Griner – my passion!
Kids are either leading or leaving.
(One of those often repeated, attention grabbing phrases packed with truth!)
I have been in youth ministry my whole life. I would love to think that I have effectively touched the lives of a boat load of kids. I think I have, but I honestly I have no idea how big that boat is. Here is what I do know: the kids you and I gather with can touch the lives of far more youth than you and I will ever have the chance to meet. More youth ministry is done by the kids I work for than by me. Youth are our front lines of ministry. Their ministry boat is bigger than mine.
I believe that kids are already doing ministry; we just forget to tell them that what they do counts. Their relationships, what they are most concerned about, are about God. Ministry is about caring, welcoming and affirming others every day, everywhere and in every relationship. Ministry is about loving, because Christ first loved us. Ministry is about doing likewise.
As church leaders, we all want our kids to become leaders, disciples, devoted followers of Christ, connected and active with the body of Christ. Instead, we are getting boats loaded with kids who are sailing away from the church. At least that is what study after study and our experience keeps telling us.
Why don’t kids lead?
Churches’ approach to youth has mostly been educational and motivational. Churches assume that kids need to be taught, changed, confirmed, formed, saved, ignited, reignited, radicalized, corrected, protected or, if nothing else, made to have enough fun on a bigger and better hayride in hopes church will seem cool enough that of course they will want to stick around. I get a mental picture of a kid whose head is opened at the top as the church pours in beliefs, mixed with something called good theology. Or, I get a picture of lawn mower pull cord wrapped around a kids heart as the church tugs away, trying to figure out how to start it. (While choking a lawn mower works, I do not recommend it for kids!) The hope is that if we educate and motivate enough, somehow youth will want be a part of the church, do ministry, be a leader, become disciples or at least sing in the choir and, of course, tithe!
Clarity! I am not against education or motivation, but I think we are educating and motivating with no idea of how we can offer a meaningful, purposeful, valued place in the church.
Reality! We are educating and training, with no plan for youth to use that training. Any corporation that gave employees a three or more year training program in which they all quit when they finished would be out of business. (Hmmm… sounds like the church!) Employees given purpose and meaning, who are valued, who hear the words, “We need you.” They tend to love their jobs. Youth who are give specific purposes, with real meaning, who are valued, who hear the words, “We need you,” are the ones who are leading the church and, I believe, will continue to lead the church in the future.
I was invited to speak recently at a local high school youth gathering. The description I was given suggested that the youth were “burned out on Church.” In other words, youth came with churches but most likely did not regularly participate. The hope was that by going to this gathering youth would be reinvigorated in their enthusiasm for their faith. I hope they were.
However! Beginning with the assumption that youth are burned out, empty or ignorant of faith has never worked for me.
New Assumption, New Plan
I began by saying youth are doing more ministry than I am. When I walk into a room of church kids, I assume we are partners in ministry. They are the most effective youth ministers of the church. Let’s treat them, equip them and give them experiences as if they are.
I like the mental picture of a kid walking with a friend and listening. The picture does not look complicated, nor seem very dramatic. It is, however, profound! It is a picture of a kid who cares, welcomes and affirms others every day, everywhere and in every relationship, loving because Christ first loved us. It is a picture of leadership that seldom gets called leadership. Let’s call it relational leadership, or even Good Samaritan leadership. I believe this is the front lines of ministry, being with people where they are.
Relationships are sought and valued by every youth. Youth care greatly for friends as they experience the stuff of life that happens: family break-ups, grief, getting caught up in substance use, abuse and we all know the list goes on and on. Youth want to help, know how to care. They have not always connected their faith with this care, but isn’t that what we are called to do as Christians? Love our neighbor as ourselves.
As partners in ministry, I begin with Peer Ministry Leadership, an experience and set of skills that enhance youth’s ability to be the best friend they can be. It is an education of the heart. It is the Good Samaritan story, but instead of preaching and teaching it, we put skills to it. It is the ministry mission trip that continues year round, every day, everywhere and in every relationship.
After Peer Ministry Leadership training, there is a whole set of wonderful outcomes, specific plans that will help your congregation give youth the relational, Good Samaritan caring, welcoming and affirming leadership that will give them purpose and meaning. If you are ready to create a congregation full of student leaders, then…
you can keep doing what you are doing, pretending results will be different
shoot me a quick email and start communicating about some options
invite one of our PML trainers to work with your congregation