I recently went to a National Day of Prayer gathering in my community and there were three other youth ministers present from churches in my community. One of these peers walked from student to student, talking very briefly with them, and began pitching his upcoming summer camp, handing out flyers and the whole bit. It seemed like he only showed up to partially pray, but mostly to further his ministry’s event.
I’m all for evangelism, and I love summer camp, but it felt like the wrong venue.
I realized that youth ministers (myself included) have a tendency to focus so much on the EVENT that we forget about PEOPLE. If we aren’t careful, we can fall into a sort of evangelical-pharisaical ministry practice, focusing more on “doing” and less on simply “being” with God’s people.
Jesus always focused on the person in a relational sense, and then ministry could flow from that. Flipped the other way, it can quickly become about ego, numbers, and “salvations”. I’m all about seeing students get saved, but I want to do it God’s way, not in a way that has me charging ahead without listening to the Spirit’s guidance.
Ministry is about relationships: our relationship with students, (more importantly) our volunteers relationship with students, and everyone’s relationship with God. If we forget that and focus only on events and flash, our ministries can have the outward appearance of “health” when in reality they will have no longevity, and the discipleship we worked so hard for in the live of teenagers will not carry over into their young adult years.
Its a lot harder to slow down and seek relationships with students over event planning. It takes time, patience, risk (especially if you’re an introvert) and so much more. But it is what God is calling us to do.
God sought us out first for a relationship with us (1 John 4), shouldn’t we seek to do the same with students?
Clark Chilton is a student ministries pastor in the trenches of youth ministry in North Carolina.