This week I am honored to be part of a team of people who are wrestling with how to provide healthy youth ministry for the long haul within our denomination. Through brainstorming we came up with many great ideas to do this; being resourced, being connected, doing shared ministry, planning camps and retreats together, and eating together. But the more we have talked and shared our ideas as to what the magic bullet might be for long term, healthy ministry, the more I have realized what might be the greatest of needs, at least my greatest need, to be known.
I Need to be Known: I didn't realize this was such an important need of mine until I recently went to the Orange Conference in Atlanta. This was the first time in my entire ministry career where I showed up at a conference not knowing a soul. When I arrived at the convention center, I had this strange emotion begin to bubble up within me. After my third lap around the conference center, I realized what I was feeling, I was experiencing loneliness. I had no where to go, no one to be with.
All of the great information and resources presented began to matter less and less in comparison to finding a place to belong and be known. It wasn't until that afternoon that I connected Matt McKee, who gave me my spacial badge, directions to "our" place, and a friendly greeting, that I finally arrived and was ready to go to work.
Now, we all get the importance of friendships and community. We all get that we thrive when there are people around us who actually "see" us. But when we show up in a new context and don't have those things, being known becomes of utmost importance. It is a funny phenomenon, that when you are not known, the status of who sees you or doesn't see you actually impacts how lonely you feel. Isn't it strange the way youth workers jockey for position after a seminar to meet someone "famous," and how surprising and life giving it is when that person remembers our name later.
It Matters Who Knows Us: In our brokenness we seek to have that void filled with other people, people of influence, people of status, and people of power. This is so dumb, because having those people know our names does not change one thing about ourselves or our situation. The truth is that we are already fully known. We are fully known by our creator, who fashioned us together in our mother's womb, who has marked out all of our days, and who knows our words before we even speak them. We are not only known on a data sheet, but in the context of warm relationship, by a God who has more thoughts about us personally then the sands on the beach.
It is from a place of being known and accepted fully by God that we can then be settled in our spirits and available to be accepted and known by others. As youth workers, we do this all the time with our students. We introduce ourselves to them, we remember their names, and we follow up on conversions we have had. We celebrate successes and mourn losses alongside them. We share life and experiences together, we walk towards Christ together. And it is often the students who feel most "seen" by their youth workers and volunteers who feel the most connected to the church and to their faith.
But students are not the only people with this need. As much as I get that God loves me and knows me, I still need to be known. As a team of youth workers who strive to connect other youth workers, we are committed to making sure isolated and lonely youth workers don't stay that way. We want to run after them, like we would our students, so they can be known, so they can be connected, and so they can be resourced. And when this happens, the entire fellowship of youth workers are blessed to have another voice at the table, another angle to see the world, and another package of talents to be used for the Kingdom of God.
May We Know Each Other: If you are a youth worker who is connected and known, please use your place of influence and security to look towards the fringes of your community, your cluster, your context and see who is out there isolated and lost. Run after them, invite them into relationship, and see them, so they will be known.
If you are a youth worker on the fringes, isolated and alone, we are looking for you. You might want to consider putting yourself out there a little bit and jump into an area network, denominational cluster, online forum, something. I would love to help you process ways to find community and connection. You deserved to be seen and affirmed for the tireless and thankless work of pouring your life into sometimes fickle, and always amazing students.
I would love to know what your denomination or network is up to; what works, what doesn't. And if you are part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, know that we are fully going after it. This is our new statement that we are trying to live into:
"Youth Ministry Network promotes healthy Youth Ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church by helping Youth Workers to be known, connected, and resourced."
Man, I need to be known. Don't you? Don't they? May we be people who embody the love and grace of Jesus as we see people the way he does.
Photo taken from Creative Commons