5 Turning Points For Youth Workers In The Second Half of 2020

Jeff Harding
August 26th, 2020

I went over several dramatic examples and cliché platitudes in my head while wondering how to introduce this article. But I think you get it – 2020 has been a roller coaster of epic proportions that no one could have predicted. And we’re only halfway through it. 

God is still moving.

Our positions and relationships were already established when these events began, and our spiritual leadership combined with transparent authenticity is what the Spirit is utilizing to show students that broken and suffering leaders often make the best ones.  

Here are 5 turning points for youth workers for the second half of 2020.

Entering the World of Pandemic Ministry

Social distancing, gallons of sanitizer, masks, and enough Zoom calls for several lifetimes. COVID-19 certainly threw youth ministry (and practically everything in the world) for a monster loop.

The social isolation factor alone has made this the most difficult period of ministry I’ve ever endured. That might sound dramatic…but think about it. Conflict and struggle while building relationships and teaching students to follow Jesus are totally normal. This season of ministry is not only abnormal – it’s unnatural. We were designed for interpersonal relationships and authentic offline community. 

That being said, God gave us technological resources and creativity for meeting while being cautious. I know we all thought this would be over by now, but we are called to endure for the sake of God’s will. I press on with you!

Racism, Prejudice, and Justice

When we saw Christian Cooper become the target of a false, racially charged assault accusation, George Floyd die a slow agonizing death by asphyxiation, and several other incidents, conversations and protests regarding racism and police brutality skyrocketed. 

As youth workers, we have to respond when students ask hard questions about these issues. How do we recognize racist rhetoric? What are my own prejudices? How do we respond to police officers who violate protocol severely enough to kill someone for a petty crime? How does our faith influence our perspective on all of this?

Genesis 1:27 and Philippians 4:8 create a proper starting place for addressing those questions. Answers will vary, which is normal, but the conversations are necessary. Unfortunately, having those conversations leads to the next turning point, which is drenched in polarization.

Loving Others Now Qualifies You as a (Political Term of Choice)

The Bride of Christ is called to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, defend the causes of the weak and oppressed, and to put aside our rights for the good of others. Period. If someone read those Scripture passages, and then took a quick scroll of many Christian comments regarding COVID safety on Facebook or Twitter, they would be incredibly confused. 

And for that, we should be embarrassed.

The word now in the turning point title is a bit misleading, as the assignment of ideological labels is nothing new. One of the few benefits afforded by my otherwise dormant degree in political science is the discernment to recognize that large amounts of people who use political terms (i.e. cultural Marxist, fascist, socialist) actually don’t know what they mean. Our students are viewing and sometimes engaging in these online arguments filled with carelessly used terminology that links many honest care initiatives (even by churches) to “agendas” and outlandish conspiracies

Students in the midst of this aggressive twist in cultural tide reminds youth workers that conversations about love, mercy, and justice need to start with Scripture and the example given by our Savior. There is a place for political discussion, but we need to help students distinguish between living based on worldly party platforms and living to follow Jesus between them.

Isolation Reveals our Priorities and Idols

It’s often said that adversity reveals character. Similarly, we all began to realize what really matters to us when our normal routines were disrupted, and our activity options grew sparse. Accordingly, many students look to exhaust their entertainment options before logging on for small groups or other church programming. 

Youth workers currently have the rare opportunity to experience the same limiting factors as their students in perpetuity, unlike thinking back to when we were in school and offering advice rooted in the way things were at that time. Are we prioritizing our time with the Lord? Are we encouraging them in the right methods? Are we honest about our own idolatry?

God Uses Suffering to Help Us Grow

I’ll let James do the heavy lifting here.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

This rampant pandemic resulting in death, unemployment, and social isolation, mixed with the weight of tragic murders, calls for justice, and trying to love others amidst unfair characterizations has created an atmosphere that can only be weathered with hope in Christ. 

Let us lean in together as we stand on that hope. 

Jeff Harding

Jeff is a 17-year youth ministry veteran. He’s a Phoenix native, ASU Sun Devil, Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, and Chipotle fanatic. He currently serves as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries, as well as the youth minister at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, TX. You can also hear him on his weekly podcast, Youth Ministry Maverick, at youthministrymaverick.com or wherever you stream podcasts.

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