Last night at New Vintage Church, we celebrated the graduation of our first two Seniors from High School. I was thinking as DJ Iverson stood there blessing them how underappreciated many Youth Ministers are, and of why I believe in Youth Ministry.
I never had a Youth Minister. I went to a smaller church that didn't have the money to hire anyone for Youth Ministry. I didn't come out scarred. I didn't end up in a Juvenile Detention Center. The church was my Youth Minister…and it went fine for a completely different set of reasons. However, I have been blessed to work with some outstanding Youth Ministers. Among them: Phil Baker, Tquan Moore, Brian Mashburn, Jason Herman, and, currently, DJ Iverson. I was also blessed by the ministries of area Youth Ministers growing up in SoCal during it's Youth Ministry "Golden Age." They adopted me into their ministries somewhat during and helped me see Youth Ministry at it's best. This too made me a believer in Youth Ministry heading into my own ministry years.
My own stint in Youth Ministry was limited to several summer internships and a year of interim work. I enjoyed having kids in those years who are burgeoning church leaders like Colin Packer, Darnell Briscoe, Paul Bost, Daniel Henegar and the friend he brought to a lot of YM stuff–DJ Iverson–who I now work alongside in ministry. My Youth Ministry years were short, but impactful for me. Most of my supposed "Youth Ministry" years were spent serving college students–many of whom were, you guessed it, often hugely shaped by their YM's.
I believe in Youth Ministry's capabilities. I believe in Youth Ministers. I've always had a good relationship with the Youth Ministers I've worked with and enjoyed their company. I also enjoy the different take they often have on church life as a whole. I know there are some really bad Youth Ministers out there. But, that can be said of those in all areas of ministry.
I don't believe it's the end-all-be-all, but I do believe Youth Ministry makes a huge difference in churches. If you want to have a healthy Youth Ministry, it starts there. It starts with believing it actually matters. Elders and Ministers often have an ambivalence toward Youth Ministry. Some view it as a sort of child care for older children. Others don't believe in it because they have been around really poor Youth Ministry most of their lives and believe that's par for the course. I believe, however, that Youth Ministry can make an enormous difference in the lives of teens and the life of the church as a whole. This blog series is devoted to that end.
Step One: Believe in it. If you don't, the church won't. If the church doesn't, the ministry will make a Youth Ministry agnostic of all. Youth Ministry at it's worst is really, really ugly. Sadly, many of these cases are the result of poor church leadership that accentuates the weaknesses of the YM and create drag on an already difficult ministry. If you don't believe in it, you'll underfund it, ignore it, be hypercritical of it. If you do believe in it, however, it can play a huge and positive role in the life of the church–and really change the lives of young people.
Question: Do you think church leaders who aren't in Youth Ministry believe in the importance of Youth Ministry? How about churches as a whole?