There are so many cool and sexy sounding ministry philosophies out there. But the more I reflect on my ministry and what has been the most effective in helping kids get connected to the church and grow in their long term love for the church and for Jesus, I think I have come to the conclusion that the most effective ministry philosophy out there is the ministry of the Shrewd Manager.
Check out Luke 16:1-9. I get that I am taking this "a little" out of context, but what if I am not? :)
I have read this passage many times, and even studied it a few times, and even now, I have to confess that I have no idea what it means. But at the end of this parable, Jesus says this statement, that I think sums up youth ministry:
Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Youth workers are tasked by the church to build bridges with students, to build relationships and gain favor and influence. How do you gain influence with students? Buy spending time with them, by being generous with your time, but even more with being generous with your wallet.
Whenever you take a student out for lunch or a group of them out for ice cream or coffee, you have the opportunity to take the precious tithes of little old ladies, the wealth of the church, and leverage it to gain friends, to build relationship, to bridge build so that you have the opportunity to help kids know and love Jesus.
The best use of a church budget is money for contact ministry. I will advocate all day that the church uses its resources to help those who are called by the church to love and care for students have plenty of resources to build friendship with students. Contact ministry funding is better than fog machines, better than buying curriculum, and even better than buying marshmallows for a marshmallow fight at youth group. If I had to choose, that money should go to hanging with kids and buying marshmallows for them to just eat!
The truth is, that when the money is gone, and even when the youth worker is gone, all of that contact time, all of that time spent being with students, splurging on junk food, is over and they have moved on to college or your have moved on from that context, what do you have left?
According to Jesus, you will be welcomed into heavenly dwellings. (Again, no idea what that means)
But according to me, taking all this out of context, when you use church wealth to gain influence with students you have a real opportunity to help kids feel seen, loved and cared for by you and hopefully by the church. And that goodwill impacts students for the long haul!
Here are my 3 quick takeaways:
1) Advocate hard to grow your contact ministry budget. Move money from other areas in your ministry so you have more money to love on students with.
2) Recognize that this activity is designed to build more than a relationship, but to build goodwill and trust between you and the student, so that you can begin the process of sharing the love of God with them.
3) Don't be so short-sighted as to simply build your credibility and goodwill. Communicate clearly that it is because the church loves them so much that they have provided resources for someone like you to be their ambassador. This isn't a joke or something to take advantage of. Kids need to know the church, the old-fashioned, brick and mortar building, institutional church, loves the kids in your community and you get the high privilege of being their ambassador.
So, shake down some little old ladies, and leverage church wealth to build influence with kids. And my God's grace, he would use our efforts as we plant and water like crazy, to cause faith to grow and grab a hold of the hearts of our students!