When I first started out as a youth pastor I tried every different format and methodology in an attempt to figure out what our group of students needed most. It took some time, but my staff and I finally figured out what worked for us. We had an incredible ministry going. We were attracting all these kids from deeply wounded and broken families in one of the more disparate parts of our area. We poured all our time and energy into this specific group of students. Everything we did or planned as aimed at them.
Then they graduated.
We kept on ministering to students, but we did it the only way we had known how. The problem was, we no longer had the same type of students attending. I remember holding a youth staff meeting one Sunday after church, and we were all discouraged. It felt as though everything we were trying just wasn’t connecting. We didn’t understand. It had worked for years. Why was it different now?
Then it clicked.
We started talking about the students who were coming now compared to before. We realized that they weren’t from the same backgrounds. They weren’t as old. They were more Biblically literate. Most of them had actually grown up in the church. It was an entirely different type of student group who needed an entirely new type of student ministry.
The old way wasn’t working anymore. It was done.
The longer you’re in youth ministry, the more you’ll find that you can’t (and shouldn’t) do things the same all the time. Youth culture changes at a lightning pace. I remember finally mastering MySpace only for a student to tell me how behind the times I was. It was all about Facebook. Youth culture is constantly on the move. It’s never stagnant, so we better not be.
My family always went to Disneyland for our family vacations. It didn’t matter how many times we had been there, my excitement level was always off the charts when we would arrive. My parents didn’t share the same drive. They were always a few steps behind me. It wasn’t that they weren’t excited or interested. They simply had a hard time catching up with my enthusiasm. I recall one specific trip where my level was turned up to 11. I anxiously moved my way through the turnstiles, under the train overpass and onto Main Street, U.S.A. I could see the castle in all its glory, and thinking my parents were right behind me, I took off. It wasn’t until I hit Adventureland that I finally looked back, and when I did I noticed something odd. My parents weren’t behind me. They couldn’t keep up. I immediately felt lost and alone. As excited as I was to keep going, I wanted (and needed) my parents to be by my side.
That story reminds me of youth ministry.
Students are pumped and excited for life, and they’re ready to explore. As leaders, we are there to walk alongside them as they journey. However, they sometimes move at a speed that we can’t keep up with. They change so fast and frequently that we end up getting separated. When that happens, I think students can end up feeling lost. They really do want us by their side. They don’t mean to leave us behind. The current of culture is simply moving so swiftly, it just sort of happens.
This isn’t just about technology and social media either. Culture is constantly shifting in a multitude of ways. I mean, think about some of the things that used to be a major part of culture like…
- W.W.J.D? bracelets or…
- boy bands or…
- bleached hair or…
- hackey sacks or…
- “Whazzzuuuuuuuup!?! or…
- cable tv or…
- the ice bucket challenge.
The current students you have in your ministry will, in many ways, be completely different students next year, next month, or even next week. The pace at which things are changing can seem overwhelming at times, but what if it’s not? What if it’s actually an opportunity for us as leaders to example the one thing that doesn’t change?
The love of Christ is the same today, tomorrow, and the next.
It’s the only thing we can truly count on in this life to be here and to be relevant to our lives no matter how old we get. We need to live this out for students as we journey alongside them.
Ecclesiastes 3 talks about the reality that life is moving. Culture is shifting. Things that are important today won’t be important tomorrow. I believe our world and culture are not things to be feared. They’re to be celebrated and enjoyed. This passage makes it clear that God makes “everything beautiful for its own time.” There is beauty and life in our world. Where culture becomes a problem is when we place our eternal hope in it, as if it can save us from ourselves. However much Kanye West believes he’s our savior, he’s not (thank God). Only Christ gives us the hope of eternity. As human beings, though, we have a difficult time seeing that. We get so invested in “the now” that we forget that it will pass. This passage tells us “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
Students need leaders who will walk alongside them in whatever part of culture they find themselves in. Sometimes they may not even know they need you until they finally look back and realize they’re lost.
As leaders to this generation, we must be willing to go on a journey that might take us to places we don’t think are right or comfortable. We must go there because that’s where our students are. We must be willing to shift our practices and methods to meet students in the midst of their culture. Jesus did that all the time. He met people where they were at.
Sometimes that means letting go of the way you’ve always done things. Our job isn’t to hold youth group, especially if you’re only doing it because that’s the way it’s always been done.
[bctt tweet=”Our job is to exemplify the never-changing love of Christ to an ever-changing world.” username=”ys_scoop”]
RYAN SCHMALL is the Student Ministries Pastor at Redding First Church of the Nazarene in Northern California. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on TWITTER or read his blog over atIAMRYANSCHMALL.TUMBLR.COM.
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.