Wednesday, September 10, 2008

3 C's of Youth Ministry


3 C's of Youth Ministry

I have been in quite a few conversations about the emerging generation of young people, their needs and concerns and the challenges that they face. Most of the conversation has been how do adult workers relate and assist the youth and young adults at meeting those challenges. No matter what the challenge, a vital interpersonal relationship with each young person is essential. There are three key elements to forming such a relationship, they are caring, consistency and credibility.

The first element to a faithful and productive ministry relationship is caring. This may seem obvious, but you have to actually care about each individual not just how many you can get to show up on Sunday or Wednesday evening. The difficulty with caring is that it takes time, and to be quite honest, it is easier to care about some youth than others. Caring is lived out by have an attitude of unconditional positive regard for each young person despite their present behavior, attitudes or activities. More than once I have heard well meaning youth workers remark that as soon as a certain young person got it together they would be able to be in relationship with them. This type of attitude actually alienates rather than draws young people in. They have a very sensitive BS (“baloney sandwich” for those who are sensitive of language issues) meter and they do not like baloney. That also means they can tell when you pretend to care but really do not. Caring is a necessary and difficult first step.

The most effective way I have found to really begin caring for each young person individually is to spend time in prayer for them. When I was in a local church I used to have each youth write their name and contact information on an index card. I would have those cards at each youth meeting so that they could add prayer requests and concerns to the back of the card that they wanted me to pray over. This allowed a place for the shyer young people to be able to interact with me and let me know about issues in their life. I used these cards as prayer reminders, working my way through the box weekly. Additionally, I would write a short note letting the youth know that they had been prayed for and to let me know if I could do something more. This type of personal response goes well beyond the FACEBOOK message approach to youth ministry and makes it about caring relationships.

The second element is consistency. Our world is full of false promises, products and people who don’t keep their word and inconsistency. As a youth worker you must continue to show up. Again, this seems obvious, but event the obvious cannot be overemphasized enough. A mentor of mine who has gone on to become a United Methodist Bishop once told me that 90% of success and survival in ministry was just showing up. You keep coming back, day after day, week after week, month after month. You build a reputation of reliability. Being consistent will overcome lack of “coolness,” little experience, and the occasional misstep. Think of how many young people have parents who are absent and friends who trade up at the first opportunity, to have somebody in their life that is consistently in their life’s corner, cheering for them, is an amazing asset. Research reveals over and over again that adolescents crave real, accountable and functional adult relationships. Be that person by being consistently present for them.

The final element of a real relationship with young people is credibility. Youth and young adults want a relationship with somebody they can believe in. It is not that you won’t ever “let them down” but when you do, you own up to it and live authentically with them. This requires a commitment to community and authenticity, to being real 24/7. It means that if you say that family time is important, you model it by setting aside time to spend with your family. If you say that worship is vital, you model it by being a full participant in worship, even when it is not the worship style you would have chosen. The key thing to remember about credibility is that it can take years to build and moments to lose. As leaders with young people we must be ever vigilant to maintain our credibility rather than take short cuts. Having a level of credibility will allow them to share their hurts and victories with you and trust you with the important decisions and challenges they face.

Certainly caring, consistency, and credibility are not all that is required of an affirming youth/youth worker relationship, but these three elements are the foundation upon which the relationship rests. These are not “three simple steps to amazing youth ministry,” they are hard work, demanding relationally and costly personally. They require us who value youth and young adults to live lives that are authentic and vulnerable. It also means we may not be the hippest youth worker on the block, but at the end of the day, I would rather be the most trusted than the coolest, trust lasts longer than trends.

I remain:

Consumed by the Call,
Marty Cauley

Gracious God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, help me to live a life of caring, consistency, and credibility in the name of the Savior who was and is always true, Jesus, I pray. Amen.
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