No Perfect Age, No Secret Formulas in Youth Ministry
By Michelle Thomas-Bush and John Turnbull.
March 19, 2015—On Sunday nights at Myers Park Presbyterian in Charlotte, NC, youth and advisors gather for dinner before youth group, while younger children assemble for age-group programming.
Imagine this scene unfolding. Then listen in on a conversation between youth leadership team staff members Michelle Thomas-Bush and John Turnbull as they discuss the value of intergenerational relationships.
At one table, recent college graduate Hannah offers study tips to a few youth who are stressed out and worried about their grades. At another table, Tom, a parent, is talking about equal pay for women and the youth are getting passionate in their responses to the issues he is raising.
The room erupts with laughter as third-grader John wanders in and asks a group of middle school girls at one table if they have decided who they will be dancing with at the upcoming church dance. John’s face lights up as these “older women” take him seriously and ask him for his take on the options.
Angie and Dan, veteran leaders with more than 25 years of experience, listen to their dinner companions, several senior high students, recount their experiences of a recent mission trip to Cuba.
Exiting the serving line, one young man tests his Spanish language skills as he chats with Enrique about the recent diplomatic changes in Cuba. Enrique is a frequent mission trip chaperone and regular youth advisor recently retired from a career in international finance. At the rate they are talking, they may not make it to the table to eat before their food gets cold.
Michelle: I can feel the energy in the room as well as all the love that is shared in these relationships. There are many nights like these where I watch amazing church members support, guide, nurture, challenge, inspire and even provoke the young people of this church.
John: Many of our parents, including some of the Elders in the church (members of the body of leaders, or council), would suggest that the best youth advisors, Sunday School teachers, and mission trip chaperones are those that are closer to the age of the youth. Some adults would even suggest we keep the youth separate from younger children. Michelle, don’t you agree that our middle and high school youth need a diverse network of relationships among church members and friends of every age?
Michelle: I had not thought about children being in that mix, but it makes sense to have a broad group of people in your network of faith. There is no perfect age for the best youth worker or secret formula for training leaders. Youth ministry is incarnational and relational. Our role as leaders is to make the love of Christ transparent, and to be church alongside young people. It is about being family together within the life and ministry of the congregation and community beyond it.
John: In my faith network are Nate and Pua, who taught my high school Sunday School class. They were local college students at the time. Joe, Charlie and Frances are also in my faith family. They were members of the church I attended while growing up, yet I saw them as my friends, even thought they were older than my own parents – they had to be at least 70 then. To this day, they never fail to send me a birthday card or touch base with me when I am home. They share something in common – they took their baptismal vows seriously. They nurtured the youth of our church and walked alongside them on their journeys of faith. I am grateful to claim them as members of my faith family.
Michelle: It takes a variety of leaders to help our young people give expression to a deeper faith. Tom, an Ironman competitor, challenged the youth by incorporating a “Confidence during a Volcano” hike up a mountain in on the mission trip. That’s something that I’d never have thought about! Enrique recently invited the youth to join him at 6:00 A.M. for his Tai Chi prayer. I peeked out of the window, expecting to see at most three youth and was shocked to see the courtyard full! I was so grateful! These are exactly the type of developing relationships that Search Institute says need to form across generations.
John: When you think about that, chronological age seems much less important than the willingness to love, support, and be fully present and engaged with our young people. Volunteer youth leaders are a true gift. They respond to God’s call to accompany our young people along the ages and stages of faith development and to make the love of Christ apparent as these relationships grow. Thanks be to God!
Michelle Thomas-Bush and John Turnbull get to work, play, pray, laugh and learn with the youth from Myers Park Presbyterian Church, in Charlotte North Carolina. Michelle is the Associate Pastor of Youth and Their Families and John serves as the Director of Middle School Youth. Join them in conversation about youth ministry on the Facebook group Big Ideas in Youth Ministry.
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