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Beyond the “You” in Youth Ministry

In 2006, Time magazine highlighted the person of the year as “you”.  The caption read “Yes you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.” Today, much of the global culture encourages us to be even more introspective and more egocentric. The idea of looking out for number one, namely me, is almost a default. What is true of the culture also seeps into the church. I find the mindset of the individual to oftentimes be true of myself and people in the ministry as well.

For example: What is your picture of the phrase: “discipling a small group”? How about “leading people in worship”? I suspect like me you automatically thought of an individual doing this rather than a team.

But when we look at the examples of Jesus and his followers there is a great emphasis of “the other”. Ministry was done in teams.  Jesus was with the disciples, Paul was always bringing people along with him. This article is an attempt to be more like them and to go beyond the just “you” in ministry. For one, this article wasn’t written by just one individual. Secondly, we’ll take a look at one area assumed in ministry to be for the individual and that is in this verse:

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus said in Matthew 4:19.

What does it mean when Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men?” Well, He was saying that the disciples will be fishing people instead of fish (It’s not that hard to figure it out). But what was He referring to? What was in Jesus’ mind when saying this? Was He referring to the kind of fisherman who is an angler–with a fishing rod, reel and hook in his hands? Or was He referring to a group of fishermen who together cast a net and together pull the net from the sea? Was He referring to individual fishing or group fishing? It could be both. Consider then evangelism not just as an individual effort but as a community effort as well.

Jesus may want us to share the gospel not just in a personal way but also together reaching out the lost. We may find the time to personally share the gospel as an individual (we call it as personal evangelism) but what can we do to share the gospel as a community?

But before we come to answer that, let’s first ask, “Is our youth group the kind of a community where anyone could say, ‘This is the group that I want to belong with.’?”

We may be tempted to think that this happens by being on the cutting edge of technology, or through our all out effort to put up a good show when we do events and programs. Yes, youth are watching and observing, but they are most attracted when we show them the kind of culture that reflects the love and grace of God. Let’s be real, even for us, what makes our stay in this ministry meaningful is when we experience the touch of grace and see the care for one another.  We are attracted by the kind of community that reflects Jesus.

So I ask: “Would they see in our group that people are accepted for who they are and not threatened? Is our youth group the kind of community where people are blessed with each other? Where the love of Christ is shown and shared among each other?” If not, then there’s something wrong in our youth group. Let’s evaluate our youth group now: Is our youth group expressing the “one another”-ness that Jesus calls us to do?

Jesus calls us to love one another, honor one another, forgive one another, confess to one another so that we may be healed, bear one another, carry each other’s burdens, encourage one another, accept one another– and all of these are possible because of  what Christ has already accomplished on the cross.  Because of the cross we can forgive, we can love one another, we can bear with one another and all of these. If this is missing, then to develop this gospel culture that attracts people, let’s start it from ourselves, the people inside the group, before we reach out to those outside.

When practicing “one another”-ness is being developed and seen, we can now begin to answer the question, “What can our community of believers do to impact the community around us?”

Start in Prayer: Nothing helps us like starting together by bringing all our plans before God. For example, if you had in mind to reach out to a certain school, gather key people to be constantly in prayer. As we pray many things happen. As we pray God could start bringing the key people, as He did for Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1-3). As we pray God could make the vision clearer, as He did for Paul in his travels (Acts 16:6-10). Prayer opens the door to people believing. Prayer confirms decisions. Prayer most of all allows God, the perfect planner, into our plans.

Seek a Focus: Our efforts will produce better results if we become focused on a specific environment. Can you narrow down where you will be concentrated as a team? Consider a local campus, a territory youth consider their own (like skate parks, internet cafés or certain geographical areas) or even a sub-category of young people (like avid followers of fashion or athletes of a certain sport).  Also consider a specific time-frame. How long and with what regularity will you as a group do this? Rather than a one-time deal, think of everyone as a coordinated unit that seeks to draw people closer to Jesus, one step at a time. Picture again the mental image of fishermen not scaring fish but drawing them gently into a net.

Show Love: Important events will happen. There may come a point as we do these things that an opportunity will arise to do something ground-breaking. Or there may not. From what I’ve observed and experienced, significant events where we make a profound impact on people seem insignificant when they occur.  We only discover they were important in hindsight. The best way then to go about it, is to sow seeds of the love of Christ and show that we are Christians by the love we have for each other. Proclaiming Christ’s love can start well before we tell them about the Good News of Jesus Christ as savior. When we are a living testimony of the gospel, people stop and think because somehow they find us different. And then we are prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us.

A fellow minister spent time praying and befriending youth and teachers in a school here in the Philippines. Listening to their needs made him lead an operation to renovate the portion of the school that for years had become a dumping ground of garbage. This was accomplished with the help of the youth group, the local church, and a government unit working together. Where there used to be an eyesore is now a field amongst trees. Today that ministry continues to be a blessing to the school. The ministry team there freely shares the gospel to students, backed up by their example and also countless others that prove God’s love is not just thought but loving action as well.

So our prayer for you, as a leader of your ministry, as a shepherd of your youth group, is that you may exemplify the kind of community where the gospel of Jesus is the center of your youth group, where all of you together can make an impact as you reach out to others for Jesus Christ.

DJ Barrios and Alvan Tauli

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