What are your ministry priorities?
It is easy to think about student ministry priorities in terms of numbers, biblical knowledge, or behavior modification. Yes, spiritual formation is the goal, but often these priorities are the lens in which we evaluate this process.
In an era where our kids are fully post-modern, and increasingly post-Christian, there is a ministry priority that I think should out rank the first three as a tool for spiritual formation. And that is creating a unique culture.
Now every ministry has a culture, but I am talking about intentionally creating a culture that will, ever so briefly, reflect the best of the Kingdom of God.
Kenda Dean, a professor at Princeton, wrote in "The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry" about the need do create an eschatological community. In her article it was in reference to camp and the camp high experience. Part of why camp has such a huge impact is because students actually experience in the real world all the truths they have been taught throughout their ministry tenure.
As culture changes, it is imperative that we back up our teaching, our gathering of numbers, and our effort to curb certain destructive behaviors among our students, with the creation of an experience where students can actually feel the distinct difference that comes when a community of people who love Jesus do life together.
What does this culture look like:
Imagine having students come to your house for dinner. You naturally have a certain culture that distinguishes your family. When students come as a guest to your home, they live into your culture. They will take shoes off, wait for grace, and ask permission before they open the fridge to get something to drink. The topics of conversation will reflect your culture and what is determined as appropriate by you, not them. You have a culture and they are guests in it. If part of your culture is hospitality, generosity, and kindness, you will not be able to keep kids away. Students will gladly leave their phone at the door and engage in the dinner conversation because this total culture is so different from their real life.
At youth group we have the same opportunity. Youth group is our house and therefore we totally get to control the culture. We determine what is appropriate and not, we define how to behave and how to talk and how we are all going to interact. And if we add hospitality, generosity, and kindness you will not be able to keep kids away. Because at our best, what we do as youth workers is not reflect or even redeem, but to actually create culture.
Our students live in a Lord of the Flies world.
Our student ministry must not be Lord of the Flies with biblical content. By doing that we confuse students by trying to jive biblical truth and with the awful and destructive lifestyle that characterizes their culture. Instead, when we teach the biblical truths and students experience the eschatological realities of what life should look like when Christians live together in love and unity we are giving them something to anchor their biblical content to.
If you are not being proactive in your relentless pursuit to create culture then your ministry will continue to slip into the students natural Lord of the Flies world and inoculate them to the incredible spiritual realities we are trying to invite them into.
Be vigilant and make the hard calls and protect your culture at all cost!!