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The First Obstacle in Working with Young People is YOU
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:35-39).
The more I work with young people, the more I witness what does and doesn’t work. It's clear our perspective has a significant impact on the success of the interaction.
Youth workers, both professional and volunteer, tend to approach their “calling” with one of two widely divergent perspectives.
On one hand we find youth workers that feel as though they “must” work with young people. They engage with teeth gritted and resolve mustered… but their “will to work” far exceeds their “want to work.” They measure their success by how long they’ve been engaged with young people.
At the other end of the spectrum there are youth workers who are just looking to hang out, to be a part of something fresh and new, exciting, and entertaining. These workers measure their success by whether they are included and accepted.
Serve out of love
Both of these philosophies and motivations are flawed, and frankly, out of line with our biblical calling. Jesus elevates the command to “love our neighbor” to an unmistakable pinnacle. In doing so, he obliterates the notion that “teeth gritting” youth ministry has any part in his design.
God-honoring youth ministry starts with our own heart; transformed by the Spirit, engaged with the Word, and controlled by the love of Christ.
Jesus also had something to say about our ministry objective when we engage: “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). This involves far more than just hanging out.
Minister out of compassion, not a to-do list
The model of ministry engagement Jesus established was one birthed out of a deep sense of compassion. His heart was stirred before he spoke a word and before he lifted a hand. Jesus resisted the urge to just hang out, to just mingle with the right people. He felt a genuine urgency and pain over the condition and the direction of the individuals he engaged with, including young people.
Youth ministry is often too focused on programs, methodologies, and events. Consequently, we equip our youth ministry team to be great planners, organizers, communicators, or entertainers.
Check your motivation, check your heart
If we follow the model of Jesus, we must first pray for a heart of compassion and love when we work with young people. I’m convinced we pray for a lot of things when we engage with 13, 15, or 18-year-olds: safety, favor, salvation, transformation. But how much time do we spend praying for our own heart? For a perspective of true, Godly compassion—for authentic love. Frankly, we’re usually too busy, too focused on an activity, or too driven to just get through whatever we have in front of us.
God-honoring youth ministry starts with our own heart; transformed by the Spirit, engaged with the Word, and controlled by the love of Christ. If we start anywhere else we will miss what God has in mind for us, and his flock.