4 Ways to for Youth Workers to Rediscover the Missional Church

Carl Dodd
September 16th, 2020

“In working with young people, do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, as beautiful as that place may seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before”.

Donovan, V. “Christianity Rediscovered, An epistle from the Masai”. SCM Press 1982 page vii, second edition.

I love this quote from Vincent Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered. The book tells of Donovan’s realization that even though he thought he was on a mission to bring God to the Masai people, he realized that God was already there, at work. So, instead of telling the Masai about the Christian Message from his Western perspective, he instead embarked on a journey with them to try and discover who God was. This quote is from one of the Masai leaders and their approach to working with young people.

I believe we too can reflect on our missional effectiveness and even apply this wisdom when thinking about our own approach to connecting others with God, who is already at work in and around them.

I want to unpack 4 ways that we can look closer at our “missional effectiveness” and maybe even our “missional appropriateness.” Let’s consider some “what ifs!”


I personally grew up hearing the words, “children should be seen, and not heard.” Sadly, I have also seen this as an unwritten rule of churches when it comes to welcoming children and young people. The church may talk about a mission to youth, but this unwritten rule can be evidenced in comments like:

“We want to reach out to children and young people, but they need to stay in their own spaces.”

“We would love to have more young people…we need some new voices in our choir.”

“It’s great to see so many new young people, we have some work that needs doing around the church.”

“We need you to bring in more children and young people…wait, what do you mean you need more money in your budget?”

“I know 30 students came to know Jesus during the camp, but we need to talk about why you didn’t wash the van before you parked it.”

Ask your church the right questions.

Sit with your leadership and consider these questions:

  • Are we ready to change how we do things, so that we can be welcoming to others?
  • What things do we say or do that are weird to those outside of the church?
  • Are there things that we do that may even offend those people we are trying to reach?
  • Are we ready to resource the things that we are about to do, and keep investing so that our ministry is sustainable?
  • Who in our church family would be the natural missionaries to reach out to those in our community?
  • How are we going to deploy our budget to meet our mission?


Our missiological history is littered with stories of zeal without substance or sensitivity. Sadly we can recount stories of missionaries going into foreign countries and failing to tread carefully. I wish we had learned from our mistakes, but I too can recount personal experiences where I have failed to show the necessary respect to the cultures and contexts that I was stepping into…and I know that I am not the only one to make these sorts of mistakes.

Far too many missionaries go into the mission field without doing the necessary work to “learn the language.” This may not just be the verbal language, but also the unspoken cultural sensitivities. This is not only true of mission fields in other countries, but those in our own communities and maybe even in our own homes.

How many parents feel like they just don’t understand their own children? How many churches feel disconnected from the young people either within their walls, or beyond their walls? To be truly missional, we need to do the work to learn the language of our nearest mission fields.

The culture of church is becoming increasingly distant from the culture of the communities that surround these communities of faith. Our missional approach needs to recognize that, and be encouraged to explore how to communicate the Gospel message within a different context. We are again reminded that, “You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before”.

In our youth ministry, if we truly seek to be missional, then we need to study the context and cultures that we are stepping into. As churches we really need to do the work. We need to look beyond the generational caricatures of those we wish to serve and go deeper. We need to look beyond the quick wins of flashy events that will draw people in, and go deeper to find ways to communicate the hope of Christ that will nourish everyone that comes looking for hope and continue them on a journey of discipleship. 


Those students that we are trying to reach are watching us. I know that sounds sinister, but they are wanting to check out whether we are living out what we preach. When we speak of God’s love for all people, how are we reflecting that in how we live, talk and event post. We are the living example of what it looks like to know Jesus, so what are our students seeing when they not only look at us, but look at our churches?

We may say to students that they are welcome, but is this message reflected in how we set up our churches? Is it reflected in how we involve young people in our churches? We may talk of our self-image being rooted in God rather than the world, but we don’t live that out in our own lives. We need to be real, we need to be genuine, we need to be authentic.

Some examples may include:

  • Don’t just show interest in students that are easy wins, be willing to do the hard work with all of your students. Find ways to appropriately demonstrate that you and your church cares for them.
  • Show up for students when they need someone. They want to know that they can trust you. 
  • Be genuine with your students. Find appropriate times and means to express that we all continue to learn things about God and ask questions. Let them know this is ok, and find healthy ways to wrestle with their questions. Too many students feel like they need to have it all-together to be accepted by God and the church!

Our missional effectiveness can be impacted greatly if we are not living out the faith we speak of. Our students are watching us! 


We can get everything else right, but unless we are allowing our students to be the missionaries then we are creating short-term wins that will probably fall away once we lose focus, or there is a staffing change at the church.

The benefit of releasing your students as missionaries corrects all the problems named above! 

Students on a mission will ask the difficult questions. They will ask the difficult questions and they usually don’t settle for the status quo. If you do it right, they are not going to let the church be all talk and no action!

Students on a mission understand their own culture. As you release “student  missionaries,” they are going to communicate use methods and messages that their friends understand. Spend time listening to your students. Co-create a plan with them, and allow them to be your guide into a culture that may be foreign to you as an adult.

Students on a mission should be challenged to live a life of real discipleship and to be a living example of Jesus. Here is the thing, if our mission is all about numbers coming to faith at a camp, or an event, then we have missed the point. To release your students as missionaries, also means you need to equip them through a discipleship journey. After all, this is the example we see from Jesus in Mark 6:7-13 when Jesus sends out the Twelve. Prepare your students; pray with them, open up the Bible, give them the tools they need, and do your best to set them up for success.

Our churches often fail to be missional, because we are not releasing the missionaries that God puts in front of us, our students. We get so focused on creating the right event to invite people to, that we forget that a lot of missionary activity takes place outside of our church walls. In the same way that Donovan realized that God was already at work among the Masai people, we need to realize God is at work in the communities around us.

Perhaps the COVID crisis provides us to recognize that we have an ongoing opportunity to create a mission that is not bound by events. It can release a message of hope, a message of love, a message of care, and a message of healing by finding innovative and natural ways for our students to show Jesus to those around them, even if it is virtually.

You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before”

Carl Dodd

Carl Dodd has been ministering to children, youth and their families for 20 years. He has served in local, regional and national projects. He is currently Head of School at Eastside Academy in Seattle, a Christian High School working with at-risk students through counseling and recovery support. Carl also leads Youth Crisis First Responders (www.youthcrisis.org), equipping churches and ministries to respond to students experiencing times of crisis. Carl is married to Rachel and enjoys the outdoor life with their two girls in the lakes and forests of Washington.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.