Benjamin Kerns: Create Bigger Onramps to Your Youth Ministry

Oh, How Nice It Would Feel to Drop the Hammer of Truth!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had high schoolers lay into me about how youth group doesn’t do it for them anymore, or about how they need something with more depth. Sometimes I lie awake at night, imagining all the ways I would love to give it right back to them; to actually be a straight shooter and tell them how it really is. But just when I’m about to explode and completely blow away some unsuspecting, verbally processing mid-adolescent, God gives me a gracious reminder of my unique role and purpose in the body of Christ.

I recently had lunch with a former student who was the thorn in my side during her time in my student ministry. Everything I did wasn’t good enough, every lesson wasn’t deep enough, and every other adult in her life was smarter and wiser then I ever could be. Now, while most of my students probably already believe this, this young woman decided to make it very clear to me how dissatisfied she was with my leadership of our group.

I distinctly remember a conversation we had at the end of her sophomore year, when she tried to let me down easy that she would no longer be joining us for Sunday school because it was baby food, and she would be going to big church instead. She then proceeded to invite any other students who wanted real spiritual food to join her.

Their Self-Righteous and Rebellion Is Right and Normal:

Part of the developmental process of adolescence is defining their own faith by separating themselves from the faith of their families, and sometimes even their church, or me. While I totally get that students need to stretch their wings and learn to fly spiritually, it still crushes my spirit. I know I should be mature enough to handle the ridicule of my faith, my job and my calling by someone who wasn’t even born when I started doing student ministry. And I should be gracious enough to absorb the observation of the shallowness of my faith and lack of biblical depth, even though I aced seminary and they are getting a D in Algebra. But I am not. At least not at first.

It would be great if the job of the youth worker was to take these teachable moments and drive home the truth of the situation with a sledgehammer; to clarify their hypocrisy, fickleness and self-righteousness, combined with self-absorption. But I firmly believe that being the arbiters of truth is not our calling; rather we are to be fountains of grace.

Jesus Christ was the perfect completion and balance of truth and grace. Many times we lie to ourselves and think that we can be balanced in doling out these attributes as well. But I have found that in student ministry, grace is far more what is needed than truth. For a teenager, the emotion surrounding an idea or place carries much more weight than logical truth. And because of this, it is imperative for youth workers to graciously walk through the emotional ups and downs in the faith development of students rather than lay down the law and hold their feet to the fire. I wrote more about this here:

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Source: Church Leaders