I’ve been in youth ministry long enough to know that eventually, students in my ministry will face crises.
Knowing this, I’ve taken steps to equip adult leaders to minister to students in crises. That way, when crises happen, we’re prepared. Having seen the benefits of this, I recently began to wonder: Why shouldn’t I also equip student leaders for crises ministry?
Unable to come up with any compelling reasons not to prepare student leaders for crises ministry, this year, I’ve taken time to deliberately train them to respond to the various types of crises they and their friends are most likely to face.
To do this, each week during our student leadership team meeting, we cover content from Marv Penner’s Help! My Kids Are Hurting: A Survival Guide to Working with Students in Pain. To be clear, my student leaders aren’t reading this book. Instead, I’m taking the content and modifying it into a discussion format to use each week with them.
As part of this, we recently discussed how important it is to listen to hurting friends. We talked about why listening is important, what it communicates, and how to actively listen to friends. Our conversation was good and extraordinarily practical.
A week later, one of my student leaders shared how immediately after talking about the importance of listening, she received a call from one of her friends asking if she had time to talk. She then put into practice the very things we’d just discussed in our leadership team meeting. In so doing, she powerfully ministered to her friend.
As I listened to this student leader share her story, I was both excited and dumbfounded. Excited because truly, this was a God-moment, for her and her friend. Dumfounded because while I expected God to use the skills we’d been discussing in leadership within my youth ministry, I honestly never dreamed he’d use them make a difference in the lives of students outside our ministry.
Who am I to attempt to limit God’s work in the world?
Hearing this student leader’s story reminded me that as youth workers, we never know how God will use the skills or ideas we practice with our students. Rather than attempt to control such things, our job is to be faithful to the ministry God has given us. Part of that ministry is, as Paul suggests in Ephesians 4:12, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
As it turns out, some of our best ministry isn’t done by us. Instead, some of our best ministry happens when we equip teens for the work of ministry and then unleash them to actually do God’s work in the world – in whatever context they might find themselves in.
Jen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She’s the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She blogs at ymjen.com