Goldilocks and Youth Ministry
A few years ago a little blonde girl transformed my perspective on youth ministry. As I was preparing for a message, I sat with my Bible on one side, and a copy of Goldilocks and the Three Bears on the other. At first I didn’t think twice about my son’s book sitting there, but then I began to consider the story. I was honestly a little shocked when I found that God had something for me to learn from this timeless fairy tale.
I began to think about the fact that that there are young people just like Goldilocks wandering through the woods of life—hungry and tired, looking for a place to be fed and find a little rest. All of a sudden, they stumble upon a house and slip in the door. But it’s not just any house—it’s a house of God. It’s the house where you do youth ministry. So the question is, if they dare enter, what do they find?
As the story goes, Goldilocks walks in and discovers three bowls of porridge. This is good news for a hungry girl, but watch what she does: She tastes all three, but doesn’t eat all three. The first bowl is just too hot; you wouldn’t want her to get burned, right? She tastes it and promptly pushes the bowl away. The second bowl is way too cold. I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to eat the food cold, but it’s just not that appealing and so again, she pushes it away. It’s not until she gets to the third bowl of porridge, which is just the right temperature, that she finally eats and is filled.
With a full stomach, Goldilocks wanders through the house and we see the same progression of events as she tries to find a little rest. There are three chairs and three beds. Again, though she tries all three, only one of the chairs will work for the young girl. The others are either too fast or too slow; they just don’t work for her. She discovers three beds and yet again, after lying in all three, only one bed will provide the rest that she needs. The others are either too hard or too soft.
Preparing your “house” for Goldilocks
I’m assuming by now you are drawing the parallels with me. Every week there are strangers slipping the doors of our house, and just like Goldilocks, they are hungry. Sadly, many of them walk out the doors just as hungry as they entered. In order to really feed these hungry teens, it’s really as simple as knowing how to prepare the porridge. Three bowls all contained the same ingredients. The only difference was how they were prepared. Wherever you do ministry, your people are hungry for the same thing that my people are hungry for here in NYC—the Gospel. The question becomes, “how do they like it?,” or better yet, “how do they best digest it?” Our job is to know the answer to this!
I have a lot of leaders ask me, “But how do you know?” My answer: ASK! At Youth Explosion Ministries we live by this. More than once a month we conduct focus groups. We gather a small but diverse group of young people that attend and ask them the important questions: What are we doing right or wrong? What message do you most remember, and why? What are the things we have done in service that have most impacted you, and what are the things that have turned you off?
It’s in the context of these focus groups that I learn what will best reach the teens in our ministry. As I spend time with them I simultaneously learn how they speak and how they hear. It’s integral in our approach to a contextual youth ministry to know not only what God wants to say to these young people, but also what they want to hear (and how they need to hear it). I begin to understand what foods they will push away or be burned by versus what food they will consume and digest. I’ve got to know what speed they’re moving at, so the chair they sit in doesn’t rock them too fast and scare them away, or move too slowly and bore them before they really get comfortable. And while I am careful not to offer them a bed that is too hard, I can never compromise by offering them a bed or a Gospel that is too soft because even if it gets them to sleep I know they’ll wake up tomorrow in pain.
A happy ending?
As I began to research this old fairy tale I was appalled when I found out how the original story ended. Believe it or not, in the original version of this children’s story, the three bears killed Goldilocks when they found her in their house! Now, obviously a brilliant editor realized that this probably wasn’t the best ending for a book being read to toddlers, and somewhere along the line it was changed. But, I wonder how many of our stories really do end up that way. I mean, I wonder how many people have wandered into the house of God and ended up getting killed by the people who were inside the house. I wonder how many bears have been so frightened by the new Goldilocks in their house that they didn’t even perceive the deep hunger in her eyes, they didn’t even realize how tired and weary she was from wandering through the woods of life. I mean, really, what was a little girl even doing all by herself? Did anyone stop to consider?
Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of rewriting the end like a fairy tale. This ministry thing is not fictional. There are no edits. If we kill Goldilocks we don’t get to bring her back. And so, the story ends… “She screamed, ‘help!’ and ran away into the forest. And she never returned to the home.” I guess that’s better than the original ending, but still, it can’t be ours. When we hear a cry for help, I pray we run to guard every door and let her know she’s safe, because if we let Goldilocks back into the woods she may never return to the house again. You may only get once chance—so reheat the porridge, prepare the chair, turn over a mattress…whatever you’ve got to do. But please, just don’t let Goldilocks back into the woods alone.
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.