Holistic Youth Ministry is Possible
I’m a volunteer youth worker at Harbor Mid-City, a church plant in San Diego. And as I’ve written about here on the blog before (and here) our desire is to figure out how to not just teach good news, but be good news among. We labeled our ministry as holistic without having a firm definition of what we meant by that. Here’s an update of where we are at.
Context is everything.
When I talk about being good news more than teaching good news it tends to elicit an eye roll. “Oh, just another liberal church idea.” or “You must be in some emergent church thing.” Actually, our church doesn’t fit the definition of either one of those things. We’re just a congregation who loves Jesus enough to try to address the hard problems facing our community. We believe the promises of Jesus are literally true! We live and work among the urban working-class poor of Mid-city San Diego. Our community has about 60 language groups and is a mix of long-time residents, immigrants, and an exploding refugee population. In our community, our students are raised amidst poverty, a broken foster-care system, abuse/neglect of all varieties, underfunded schools, and a whole lot more– while at the same time dealing with the common issues of adolescence. (Dating drama, keeping grades up, etching out an identity, thinking about college, etc.) Our students fight the gravitational pull towards cyclical poverty that their parents feel entrapped by.
Over the past months, as we’ve created this new ministry, we’ve adopted the name I.O.B.
This stands for Inward, [We want to be a safe place to explore a life with Jesus] Outward, [We want to express the Gospel in our lives] and Beyond. [We want a life in Christ to begin here and extend beyond the walls of our ministry.] As we meet weekly, a common theme among the leaders and the students is that we desperately need Jesus’ promises to be true!
Here’s what is working for us right now. Since we’re new and everything is an experiment, this will likely change. But right now our ministry looks like this:
- Regular weekly meeting- Stability and structure to our Tuesday night is really important.
- Trust- The first 6 months has been all about earning the trust of our students. You can imagine that they are weary of becoming someone’s project. But as we’ve demonstrated over and over again that we love them, they are beginning to share more of their lives with us.
- Safety- Each week we remind them that I.O.B. is a safe place to explore Jesus. That means that we respect their doubts and questions.
- Content- For our leadership team, we wrestled with teaching content. Our inclination is to teach but our students are a little resistant to learn from us. We have faith that as we establish safety and trust, that our students will hunger for the Word of God more.
- Practical- Each week we provide dinner because we know students aren’t getting to go home from school before coming. We offer rides from school to I.O.B., and we provide an hour before dinner of silent study time.
- In-home– Recently, we did a retreat with our students. This was 3 intense days where we got away, grew as a group, and bounded as a bunch of people trying to figure out what a walk with Jesus looks like. As awesome as the trip was for the students, I think the thing our leaders took away the most was that we needed to figure out how to share our lives and families with the students in our ministry.
- Small- We decided from the beginning that it’d be better to have 8-10 teenagers whose lives truly get changed than try for 150 and just run a fun program. The smallness of the thing is keeping relationships intimate and we are seeing that in order to grow it we’re going to need to replicate it rather than get bigger. We recently had 19 kids show up, that might be more than we can handle right now!
- Leadership- I’m not going to lie. I was completely resistant to hiring a full time youth worker! But now that Kathy has established herself as a constant presence in our teens lives, I can’t imagine we’d get as far as fast as we have with this baby ministry.
The further I get into volunteering with this ministry the more convinced I become that we are onto something. This isn’t just a ministry-style that would work in an urban contexts. This is a ministry-style of meeting tangible needs that would work.
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.