Essential Youth Ministry: Relational Transformation

Essential Youth Ministry: Relational Transformation

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A prominent athlete recently coined the slogan “Know your why”.  In other words, the purpose behind our actions is a significant factor in determining our success or failure. As a “veteran” in student ministry, I often get asked, “Why are you still doing this?” It’s a great question and one I find myself asking as I wrap up my first year in a new church. 

Each year I review programming events and transformation in our student ministry over the past academic year. This year has probably been my most challenging yet. You wouldn’t guess it on the surface.  From the outside everything looked great.   

But there are the other things underneath our healthy attendance and mission participation that have rocked the boat. About a month after I arrived, I learned one of our seniors was diagnosed with cancer and aggressive treatment was needed. A month after that, a seventh grade girl in our student ministry was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma that began in her knee and spread into her lungs. The treatment plan for her is grueling, so far filled with emotional ups and downs with a long road in front of her.  We’ve had students bring their brokenness into our weekly meetings (by confessing or even just carrying it with them brazenly). I have had multiple volunteers whose parents have passed or facing significant health/end of life issues.

And now, this week, our local public middle schools were rocked with the news that multiple students are being investigated in a sexual assault case. Yes I said middle school, and we are in a great “safe” affluent neighborhood.  Those are the things I can write about, and it’s enough for me to make this point:  the core of youth ministry must be relationships.

During this difficult year we’ve witnessed and cheered as students have rallied around their peers with cancer. We’ve seen transformation happen as small group leaders kept asking in many different ways “How is it with your soul?” We’ve seen leaders smile on Sunday nights with their students and get in the mix. We’ve shed tears in my living room was we prayed and acknowledged that there are not enough of us right now.

The wins this year weren’t on the heels of a dynamic worship set, or a great message.  Almost all of the significant ministry took place in the context of adult church members investing relationally in students and student ministry staff investing in volunteers. It was awesome! And we need more of this. A lot more.

Its in moments like this that I take heart in our Wesley roots, where we are encourages to be about relationships that create space for Christ to work in our students, to ask them how it is with their soul. It’s clear to me that this works. Its also clear to me that our churches aren’t where we need to be in valuing this aspect of ministry.

The hard, slow and beautiful work of transformation happens not by expanding our programs but sharing our ministry, investing in others (lay and staff) and creating healthy environments that cultivate relationships where the ministry of belonging, heart healing and the renewing of young minds can happen.  

Relationships are our “why.” There is nothing need more than to awaken our students to the power of Christian community and the transformation it brings.    Before you go, one question: Do your actions as a leader in student ministry reflect your why?


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