by Amanda Waterson
Youth ministry is one ministry where you don’t always see immediate fruit
This can be disillusioning and disheartening, but we want to encourage you because there is light at the end of the tunnel- even if the tunnel is very, very, VERY long.
One of the toughest parts of youth ministry is to pour your love, life and wallet into a young person, only to have them walk away from you and other positive influences based around faith…..and then welcome the next young person in with open arms, ready to love again. It’s always good to remember that we are children of God and our identity is in Him, not our statistics. Christ is in us and that is what matters – regardless of how many are at youth, how they behave when they get there, how many times your leaders let you down, and how many complain and walk away – it doesn’t change the fact that you are a son of the Most High God and your identity is in that – circumstances don’t change truth.
But, to encourage you, we are sharing the stories of some young adults from our youth group from years ago – from more than 10 years ago for most of them. Some of these young people, could have been easily written off, but now, a decade later, they are bearing much fruit. May their stories encourage you and inspire you to love your youth relentlessly and passionately. May they give you keys and strategies to help with your own youth ministry.
JESS- THE GOOD LITTLE CHURCH GIRL
Jess has always been a delight. When she enters a room – even as a young child, she lights the room up and changes the atmosphere. We first met Jess when she was very young in a small country town where we hosted an outreach event. We were so excited to hear that Jess’ family were relocating to our church in Maryborough. They were a solid Christian family and salt of the earth.
When Jess was old enough, she joined our youth group. She was a delightful young teen from a wonderful family. She was such a delight.
Graham and I have wrestled over the years wonderingf how much energy to spend on the Christian kids who you know will go on for God, versus the problematic kids who have a high chance of walking away. If you made a pie graph, and mapped the amount of time in any given week you spend on these guys, what is the optimum percentage to spend on the ‘Jesses’ in your group – compared to the problematic kids?
I have heard the culture of youth groups described as a ‘ZOO’ (where most of the youth are problematic and hurting which gives the youth program a culture similar to that of a zoo) and ‘STERILE’ (where most of the youth are from Church families which can give the culture a ‘sterile’ feel). The amount of energy you can spend on kids like Jess can be dependent on whether or not you have a youth group with a ‘zoo culture’ or a ‘sterile culture.’
In a ‘Zoo environment,’ the ‘Jesses’ can be overlooked and forgotten about. Leaders can be so busy dealing with issues, deescalating youth (and sometimes leaders) and putting out spot fires, that the ‘good, church kids’ are forgotten. In the ‘Sterile environment,’ the kids like Jess can almost be elevated and held in high regard which can create other issues. So, what is the balance?
We haven’t worked it out perfectly yet, but we figure just love kids where they are at and be sure not to neglect anyone. Kids like Jess need as much love as the others in your group – just a different type of love. Jess traveled with us on our mission trips for many years and was a real asset. She was often given responsibilities on these trips because of her trustworthy character and heart that overflowed with love. It was so important to make sure we laughed with her and had good times with her also. Kids like Jess can have their emotional tank drained without leaders even noticing – and these are the ones you need to keep an eye out for and take out for Maccas runs and do some special things with. This was relatively easy for us because Jess was good friends with our foster daughter so we often included her in extra-curricular activities.
It was especially important with kids like Jess to assure them that their story counts. Graham and I have never preferred the ‘spectacular testimonies’ over the ‘I grew up in a Christian home’ testimonies. We want our youth to provide great Christian homes for their children so why would we shy away from sharing these testimonies?
Jess went on to study and landed a job as a Chaplain in Bundaberg. She married an awesome paramedic and together, they are the youth pastors in a large church in Bundy. Not only do they run a fabulous youth group, but Jess’ husband, Phil, mentors other youth leaders in regional Queensland. Together, they host training weekends for youth ministries and speak into the lives of other youth leaders at these events. Graham and I haven’t missed one of their training weekends yet – we are the ones in the front row beaming with pride and cheering them on every second of the weekend. Could it be that all the encouragement and love we gave Jess gave her a model from which to work from as she encourages youth leaders around the state? We don’t know, but we like to think we were a small part of Jess’ journey.
They now have a beautiful baby, Joy. Jess is a wonderful full-time mum and part time youth pastor. Phil has retired as a paramedic and runs his own coffee business, while still running the youth in Bundy and mentoring youth leaders around the state. I am sure that Jess, more than anyone knows how to encourage youth leaders and pastors because she herself was once encouraged and she had a model to build from.