All Shapes and Sizes: What Does Youth Ministry Look Like?
It’s important to understand that there’s no set formula for youth ministry and how it operates.
It comes in many variations and looks different for every ministry. It comes in all shapes and sizes.
Church folks are typically very concerned about youth (and children) so I don’t want you to get stuck in old definitions and ways of thinking about Youth Ministry.
You may think or feel that you’re not doing enough to engage and serve the youth in your own ministry.
However, it’s more likely that you just don’t see all the ways you actually do!
Take a look at this…
Which of these are examples of churches engaging in Youth Ministry?
- 6 middle schoolers gather on Sunday morning at 9:30 for Sunday School
- 75 middle and high school youth meet on Sunday night for Youth Group
- 12 high school youth depart the church parking lot at 6:00 a.m. one Sunday a month to travel to an inner-city church to serve breakfast to homeless folks
- 4 youth sing in the adult choir during worship
- 21 middle school youth go camping with their adult Confirmation Covenant Partners
- 45 high school youth belong to a Facebook group begun by their youth minister
- 1 high school youth attends monthly Session meetings as a Ruling Elder
- 5 middle school youth participate in the Haiti mission trip with 17 adults from their church
- 2 middle school youth and their respective parents volunteer in the church nursery
All of the above, of course!
Youth Ministry takes many forms. In my 32 years of doing youth ministry, I have seen all of the above in action.
We can sometimes get stuck by limiting our ideas of what youth ministry does and doesn’t look like.
Instead of limiting our understanding, I invite us to expand our understanding of youth ministry that comes in all shapes and sizes.
Perhaps the following questions can help:
- What gifts do our young people bring to our church family?
- Where can we more fully engage young people in the life of the church?
- In what ways can we empower young people to live out their faith in the community and world?
- In what ways are our young people already involved in mission, study, worship, and fellowship?
It might also be helpful to examine our language around youth ministry.
There was a time when the staff role was one of Minister to Youth.
But, while indeed we sometimes minister to youth, more times than not, we are in ministry alongside them.
A few years ago, I was working with high school youth to develop the Youth Sunday worship services which they help create and lead, including preaching.
The only thing that was predetermined was the lectionary text, which I would incorporate into a Bible study that would help the youth develop the theme for Youth Sunday.
One of the High School Sunday School Teachers approached me beforehand to ask what the theme was going to be.
I told them I didn’t know but that we would engage the scripture and see where the Holy Spirit led the teenagers.
The teacher couldn’t believe I didn’t know where it would end up!
It took convincing to assure him that I truly didn’t know.
I studied the text and brought a lesson plan and some insight into the room.
But I also made room for a “word from the Lord” (to quote Samuel).
I offered general correctives to get us back on track if the conversation detoured, but inevitably the youth and adults would share insights about the text.
We all became teachers and learners in a community of respect that was guided by the Holy Spirit.
Put another way, we were in ministry alongside one another.
Join us as we explore this approach in ways to undergird, enrich and expand our many ways of being in ministry alongside young people in The Center for Lifelong Learning’s Contemporary Readings in Christian Education: Youth and Youth Ministry March 4-29, 2019.
For information and to register for this course, click HERE.
Anna Brown (DEdMin ’10) is a ruling elder and Certified Christian Educator in the PC(USA) who has served in educational ministry with 4 local churches over the course of 32 years. Most recently she served at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian in Duluth, GA for 19 years. All of those 32 years included youth ministry in some form or fashion! Anna is adjunct distance faculty for McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta; her course load includes a youth ministry class. Beginning in 2015, Anna, along with her husband and black lab, responded affirmatively to a call into the ministry of hospitality; they moved to Bar Harbor, Maine where they own and operate the Coach Stop Inn Bed and Breakfast.