The core business of youth ministry

The retail operator Blockbuster was once the giant among video stores, dwarfing a mail-order DVD service run by a company called Netflix. 

When the market changed one died and the other flourished. Why? Because one saw their core business as providing DVDs while the other saw their core business as entertainment.  

Now is a good time to remind ourselves that as youth leaders our core “business” is not to run programmes but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19,20). Programmes contribute to this end but they are not an end in themselves.   

We’ve experienced a change in society and who knows how long its implications will continue to reverberate through our churches. 

Instead of waiting for some return to normality, it’s worth reflecting on how we accomplish our core business of making disciples when face to face programming is impossible or at least limited. 

Church history demonstrates that the church has often flourished most when limitations were placed upon gathering but discipleship continued regardless (Acts 5).  

In such an environment, prayer for our young people becomes paramount. It’s one strategy that can invade any bubble. 

Our human tendency is to think of ourselves as responsible for effective discipleship whereas discipleship is ultimately the Spirit’s work which he invites us to share in. When we understand this, we pray for each young person, not because we should but because we must! (Colossians 1:9-11) 
A second paramount strategy is a focus on the individual. Programmes tend to reinforce the notion that someone is valuable because they are part of our group. 

Yet when we engage with young people individually we communicate that they are valuable in their own right (Luke 19:1-9). Many youth leaders are reporting a drop off in engagement via group Zoom meetings but a growing engagement via individual messaging through social media or texting. 

Finally, another paramount strategy is to wean young people off what can ultimately be an unhealthy reliance upon the youth group and its programming. Those young people who go on to mature faith usually do so because in these critical teen years they have developed a faith independent of their parents and peers. 

In this time of lockdown, we need to direct young people toward spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading and prayer. 

We need to teach them the power of silence and the experience of having Jesus reveal himself to them as they meditate on Scripture (John 5:39,40). 

We need to teach them to seek ways to live out their faith without always having a youth group gathering to lean on. 

And when lockdown is over we maintain these as paramount strategies in our core business.