Over the past year, church lay and staff leaders have been working on a process called Focus First. Focus First is a visioning process meant to identify key strategic priorities for the next several years for the church. You can read more about it here.
The process culminated in a 2-day leadership summit earlier this month. In a last-minute surge of energy, Youth Ministries wound up on the list for strategic priorities going into the next few years. A sentiment bubbled up at the summit that the Youth Ministries doesn’t always get the attention or support from the larger church that its big (or little?) sister, Children’s Ministries, does, and that our church owes it to our teenagers to try to do things differently and start investing more seriously in them.
As a result, over these past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet with all kinds of staff and lay leaders and have delighted in getting to better know people outside of Youth Ministries. As this process continues, I am looking forward to meeting with plenty of other leaders in Youth and other ministries about ways that we can cross fifth more easily — from both sides of the street.
That being said, change is never the easiest path forward, and I know there have already been people in the Justin nervous about this peaked interest in doing ministry with teenagers. There are a lot of people who love this ministry and who love what it’s meant to them and to their families, and are committed to protecting everything that has made it special to them. Being a leader in the Youth Ministries has given me a chance to witness teenagers rise up to challenges, weather great tragedy, hear calls to ministry, and change the world around them. The teenagers of this church feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, shelter the homeless, fight injustice, and care for each other. I am immensely proud of them. They have a sacred and beloved community that serves, prays, and plays together, and let me be perfectly clear: they are enough. The 100ish teenagers that call the Justin home are claiming their faith and their community and being God’s people in the world already.
It is because they are enough, because of what they can bring to the rest of the church, we should invest in better integrating the youth with other ministries. Teenagers don’t need to be better connected with the rest of the church because it looks better, but because it is better. Youth Ministries deserves support because teenagers are fundamentally part of the body of Christ, and they have gifts and talents and prophetic words to speak into who we are as a church and who we are called to be.
Over the next months an Innovation Team, made up of leaders from both sides of the street, will be meeting to talk about ways the church can help build a stronger ministry to its youngest members and to close the gap between the Youth Ministries and the larger church body, and this deserves to be met not with suspicion, but celebration.
I’m not sure what the future looks like yet, I don’t walk into the process with an agenda and list of requirements in hand. I have some ideas: What would it look like for teenagers to be involved in mentoring relationships with other adults? What if some of our youth looking for a more mature Bible study could hop in with adults? What if teenagers had opportunities to serve with other ministries? But the most important conviction I bring to the process is that I deeply care for this ministry and the youth in it, and truly believe that this whole church would be made better by knowing its teenagers better. Yes, this is about Youth Ministries, but this is also about us as a church and who we are called to be.
To those leaders who have stepped forward since the summit, with emails, calls, and ideas about Youth Ministries — I offer an invitation. Every Sunday morning, from 9:30 – 10:30 am, and Sunday evening from 5:30 – 7:30 pm, the Justin will be unlocked, teenagers will be here, and you are welcome. Shoot me an email (email@example.com) and let me know you’re coming.
I am excited about what lies ahead for all of us, and I hope you’ll take up my invitation. There may very well be pizza and a dodgeball with your name on it.