Theology of Presence
Good Youth Ministry is relational.
You probably know that. You’ve probably read books and articles about what it means to enter into the lives of your students, to be a presence in their lives, and to assist them in making connections to people who will help them navigate the turbulence of adolescence.
But why is good Youth Ministry relational?
We have statistics from groups like Barna that suggest that young people who continue to attend church are twice as likely to have a close relationship with an adult at the church than those who stop attending. And while correlation isn’t the same as causation, the data still suggests that for many teenagers who make the transition from the youth group into adult ministries at their church, the common denominator is relationships.
For many of us, that’s a good enough reason. Good youth ministry is relational because relational ministry works.
But why does it work? Theologically, why are relationships a significant part of ministry?
I know that the stereotype says that youth pastors aren’t theologians. That’s what senior pastors and academics are for right? We don’t do theology, we just do hanging out with teenagers and teach them how to love Jesus.
But we ought to do theology. Youth ministry is too important of a job to not engage with it theologically. I don’t think all youth ministers need to be fluent in Thomas Aquinas and youth groups don’t necessarily need to have small group discussions over Moltmann and Brueggemann, but youth pastors should be able to articulate how their ministry fits into the nature and the character of God.
[bctt tweet=”Good theology breeds good ministry.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Because good theology breeds good ministry. The more we understand the nature and character of God, the better able we are to connect our students to that God.
Which brings us back to the question – Theologically, why is good youth ministry relational?
And the answer is actually pretty simple: Good youth ministry is relational because God is relational. We become effective ministers of God by being present in the lives of our students because God is present in the lives of God’s people.
Throughout the entire narrative of Scripture, God is revealed to be a God of presence. In Genesis 3, when the Man and the Woman are eating fruit they’re not supposed to be eating, they’re discovered when God comes down to take an evening stroll in the Garden with them. The reason God knows they’ve sinned is because God has come to spend quality time among them. When God’s people are at their worst, God is a God of presence.
In the book of Exodus, when God delivers the Law to Moses and the Hebrews, God tells them about a tent they’re supposed to build, called the Tabernacle, that will be the presence of God among the people of God. And the beauty of the Tabernacle is in its mobility. In the Tabernacle, God travels with the Israelites wherever they go. No matter what hostile territory they are in, no matter what barren wilderness, God goes with the people of God. As the people of God move throughout the world they live in, God is a God of presence.
Through the prophet Isaiah, when the people of Judah are about to be attacked by their enemies, God offers a promise to Ahaz and the people of Judah that God will protect them from their enemies. As proof of that protection, he foretells the birth of a child who would be named Immanuel, which means “God With Us,” so that every time they see the child, they will remember that God is among them. When the people of God struggle for their very survival, God is a God of presence.
In the four Gospel narratives, we have the story of the God who became human in order to take on our struggles alongside us, who did not settle for calling out to us from afar, but who entered into our pain and our suffering alongside us. As the people of God experience salvation, God is a God of presence.
And in the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost, the apostles are gifted with the Holy Spirit who allows them to minister to people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God that was given to the early church and continues to be present in the lives of Christians today. As the people of God enter into the ministry of God in the world, God is a God of presence.
From “In the Beginning” until the last Amen, the Bible reveals God to be a relational God. A God whose method is not to administrate the people of God toward salvation, but instead is to enter into the lives of God’s people in order to draw them closer to God’s self. So if we want to participate in the ministry of God, we have to be willing to step into the lives of the people we minister with, the way God has done and continues to do with us.
Presence-centered youth ministry isn’t just statistically a good idea. It is participation in the very character and nature of God.
As pastors, we are the presence of God among our students. We enter into their lives and we connect other adults into their lives (after all, we aren’t superheroes that do everything by ourselves) because we are ministers of a God whose standard operating procedure is Presence. By practicing a presence-centered youth ministry, we will be better able to give our students a strong foundation of faith. And we may find our own relationships with God strengthened as a result.
Tyler Jarvis is the Youth and Family Minister at the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, Texas. He and his wife Andrea enjoy rock climbing, traveling, and working with teenagers. You can follow him on Twitter or read other articles he’s written at www.TylerJarvis.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.