This weekend, Matt and I (along with 2 of our most beloved volunteers) are taking a small group of our juniors and seniors out to Lyle Lodge with a distinct aim: to help them leave youth ministry well.
That may sound odd, but I hope you’ll hear me out; two of the most crucial areas of growth for this ministry has been on transitioning kids into it well and transitioning them out well. The transition in well is one that is easily imagined, you want kids to step easily out of confirmation and into youth ministry, and we’ve made a lot of strides in making that a more cohesive system.
That second transition is harder, less obvious, sadder, and arguably much more important. How do we transition kids out of youth group and into self-directed and self-selected adult Christian discipleship? I’ve made this argument before, but if you have a youth ministry that produces young adults with fond memories of youth group, and no meaningful capacity or desire for continuing discipleship, then you have a failing youth ministry, no matter how many people come through it. Youth ministry isn’t about youth, it’s about people who God loves who happen to be at this moment teenagers, but won’t always be.
We are taking some time with a group of our oldest teenagers this weekend to focus on equipping them to continue to pursue faith on their own, and empowering them to make their own choices regarding their religious practice. We’ll spend some time with them and their bibles, encouraging them to take notes and ask questions, walking through different strategies of study, prayer, and devotional practice so they feel empowered to pursue spiritual disciplines, and really use a bible well, once the Justin building is a memory.
The Justin building is a place of love and belonging for many teenagers, but the fact is that they can’t stay forever. They have 6ish years here, and one of the greatest responsibilities we have to them is to equip and empower them to pursue Christ, not just during these 6 years, but the 60 after it.
Teenagers spend about 3 – 5 hours a week at youth programming, not including 4 different weeklong trips during the summer, and several weekend retreats during the school year. For most of our teenagers, this is the time in their life when they’ll spend the most time at church per week until they retire. We have a duty, while we have this time with them, not only to meet them where they are and help guide them through the tumultuous waters of adolescence, but to point them towards all the good that is yet to come, to how much more meaningful these church friendships will be if they stay friends into adulthood, to how much more they still have to learn about this God who loves them, and how much that love can transform them.
So this weekend, we’ll start talking about the “g-word” (graduation) and not about what schools they imagine they’ll go to, or what kind of careers they’ll work towards, but what kind of church they’re interested in getting plugged into within college, what they want to work toward in their discipleship, what callings God is placing on their life — not just in vocation, but in lifestyle, relationships, and church involvement — and what we can do to help them follow those calls.
There’s no need to shove teenagers out of the nest like we had no idea graduation was coming; we have a responsibility to do better in equipping teenagers so they recognize the end of this period of their life as what it is. It’s an end of one thing, sure, but the beginning of a much bigger and better adventure.
Every year I grieve saying goodbye to kids I love, but I consider it part of my calling to them to ground them in hope: the best is most certainly yet to come, and God will be with them, wherever they go.
Director of Youth Ministries