This Friday across America, most communities will be hosting a high school football game and a significant portion of the youth in that community will be in attendance. But how many youth workers will be there?
Before school a group of students will stand next to cars near the high school, smoking, talking, and trying to psyche each other up to endure the teachers’ glares for the day. They may even share a story or two about how a cop followed them around the night before. How many of these students are known by name and preferences by a local youth worker?
Ten families just moved into the town from Honduras, fresh to America (and legally so) so that ‘dad’ can get a better paying job. Spanish is the parents’ sole language and the kids will have to work on English to do well at school without being ‘tracked’ to a remdial program. Their fear, though bright in their native tongue, is that they’ll miss out on the same learning opportunities that the English kids get because they’re new to America. And their parents didn’t go to high school with many of the teachers like the other kids’ parent did. What churches have welcomed these families and offered programs to help them adjust? How do youth workers respond when they see these students?
We in youth ministry say we are on the front-lines (when compared to senior pastors for instance), but are we really? What defines frontlines? That we come alongside hurting teens after a program at our church? When I look around a community, I see the frontlines as where most of the youth would be hanging out (i.e. football games), where teens that society has let fall through the cracks would be (i.e. the scene of smokers), and the changing world in which we live (i.e. immigration).
If we want to make a difference with the youth of America, we can’t solely rely on a ‘come and see’ concert/sermon in our church buildings. We will reach a smaller and smaller portion of our communities. And basically just the youth of parents in our churches, if they don’t leave to take their kids to another church down the street.
We say we’re on the front lines… but are we really. Do we even know where the front-lines are?
This year would be a great year to renew within you that passion to make a difference with youth. The last thing most of us want to become was a program manager, yet many of our jobs have morphed into just that. Hey, less and less of your teens are into the music like they were about 10 years ago any way. They want something more experiential and participatory than to watch a guy playing an acoustic guitar getting on them because they aren’t acting like they’re into ‘worship’ (which is defined as a particular form of music delivered in a particular style). They want teaching that is meaningful, that does something more than just make them feel like they aren’t doing enough for God.
Here’s what you can do this week:
- Go to two sporting events at your local high school and meet as many students as you can – for no purpose other than to get to know them. If you have students from your youth group there, that will help you.
- Find where the ‘outsiders’ in your town hang out and see if you know any of the students in that group. If so, talk with him/her about what would be something you could do for them. I’ve had success bringing in a stack of pizzas as just a gift (it was a Friday evening though, not before school) and I once hosted a cookout with all-you-can-eat burgers. For free. Free food works!
- Locate the cultural groups in your community that are largely ignored and under-served. What tutoring would they need? Do they need help securing medical help (knowing who will help them for real without just trying to get insurance money or treat them roughly)? David Livermore and I provide a list of great ideas in our book, What Can We Do?: Practical Ways Your Youth Ministry Can Have a Global Conscience.
- You need to know that America’s ethnicity is going to change drastically over the coming years. Youth ministry will have to change with it, get over some as-yet-unrecognized prejudices in our thinking and teaching, or we’ll be ministering to a smaller and smaller percentage of the population … and become irrelevant in the process.
Hey, if you’ve been at your place of ministry for a while, this new venture just might put the wind in your sails again! There’s no need to go elsewhere for missions… it’s right in your community!
I gave three ideas that I’ve done in youth ministry. What are some other ‘frontlines’ ministries you’ve done or seen in action?