Why You Need a Window
During my first 10 years of youth ministry my office had no window.
Well, I suppose that is not totally true. My first office did have a window – one that opened to a small entry foyer, which people would pass by all week as they entered the church offices. At least twice a day someone would approach the window, slowly at first, and then knock. I knew that meant that they were about to say one of two things:
- something that they didn’t really need to tell me, and wouldn’t have said would it have required them to knock on my door, but they thought they’d share anyway, given the convenience of my window and all
- or some joke referencing a drive through window either at a bank or fast food restaurant, knowing full well that I was not going to give them food nor money. That was my window.
Don’t get me wrong…I was thankful to be employed at a church doing something that I was passionate about. For that matter, I was thankful to even have an office at all! Still though, I had no window. My office, in many ways, was like a mirror reflecting my approach to ministry at the time. To say that I was inward-focused (on the “church” kids), programatic, and even task-oriented-to-a-fault would have been an understatement at times. Philosophically I believed that outreach was essential to youth ministry, as well as to the church, but my calendar would not have backed my beliefs up.
About four or five years ago I was challenged by my senior pastor to engage more with the community.
As a result, I began to think a lot more about all of the students at the high school less than a mile down the road, and at the middle school not that much further away. I began to pray for them, for more opportunities to connect with them, for ways to serve them more, and for ways to show them the love of Christ. Through praying for the schools, students, leadership, and teachers I was prompted to do a number of things.
First off, I got an office with a window. No…seriously, I really did. It required some compromise, as it meant that I would be sharing an office, but I got an honest-to-goodness, sun-shining-in-from-outside-through-the-glass window. Now, every day I am able to look out into the community. I see the cars zipping by on their way to work, school, or the store. I see the neighbors walking, cycling, laughing, and conversing. I’m able to look toward the high school, and am reminded to continue to pray for the students, teachers, and leadership there. Honestly, my window is way more than a window. My window is a reminder of my passion for the unreached teens and adults alike in my community.
I also began to focus intentionally on connecting and collaborating with other youth groups and ministries in the community.
I had known for years that there was a thriving Young Life chapter at my local high school, but had never really thought to connect with them much in the past. So I did. I reached out to their leadership, had some conversations, and offered to help in any way that I could. “Anyway I could” was translated as “flipping pancakes once a month at 5:30 in the morning for Big Breakfast.” That was not exactly what I had in mind, but hey, I was connected. This began a great relationship and connection between my church, Young Life and the local school. Since Young Life already had a positive connection with the school, being a leader gained me new access and connections to teens that I’d never had before. In the past few years, I have become a Young Life volunteer leader, and even had the opportunity to disciple a young man who is now a local area director for Young Life. Now, Young Life is even holding their weekly breakfast and club at my church. It is amazing to consider this partnership, because now many high school students who would never consider going to “church” are going to Young Life club at a church, and are becoming comfortable with, and even excited about the location. I am incredibly thankful for the heart of Young Life, and their leaders, to see the furthest out teens drawn in to Christ. It is awesome that I get to be a part of that!
The final thing that I was prompted to do was to connect directly with the principal and superintendent.
This seemed kind of scary and intimidating to me. I needed a plan that would allow me to show them the love of Christ with no strings attached. So, I came up with a fun yet risky, and potentially long-term idea to propose. I emailed the superintendent, and set up a meeting.
When I sat outside the superintendent’s office that day a couple of years ago now, I can still remember how excited I was that I was not in my drive-through-window office and only considering the church kids. After a few minutes of waiting I was escorted by the superintendent’s assistant to his office. I explained to the superintendent who I was, and that I wanted to be a resource that he could use. I also shared with him that I had discovered that his school was the only local high school that did not offer a school sponsored after prom party, and that I wanted to offer one for him. I also told him that we would cover all of the costs.
I could tell you about the joy I had when the superintendent agreed to this proposal with excitement, and about how he connected me with a group of local business owners, teachers, and government officials to help make the after prom party possible. I could also tell you about the extreme challenges that first year trying to work with several school employees who wanted nothing to do with what we were offering, or for anything connected to a church for that matter. I could tell you how we only had 35 students come out the first year, but how we still celebrated the connections, relationships, and opportunity. I could tell you how we just finished our third after prom party (which is continuing to gain momentum), or how, as a result of doing this, I was invited to speak at a Safe Spring Conference to 300 local high school students this year, or about the great relationship I now have with many teachers, counselors, and students at the school, in addition to the superintendent himself.
Let it simply suffice for me to encourage you to get a window.
Whether it be literal glass, or metaphorical, get a window. Look into your community. Pray for your local high school. Connect with other ministries. Spread the love of Christ beyond the walls of your youth room or church. It certainly will take some time – months, and most likely even years. But it is so worth it!
Justin Fischer has served in youth ministry in upstate New York for over 12 years. He is a volunteer Young Life leader, and co-founder of Converge Youth, a collaborative youth ministry effort in his area. Justin is also an advocate for foster care and local adoption. He and his wife, Kristy, have 4 kids, 2 of whom are adopted.
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.