The last Sunday in August, at our Youth Parent Meeting, I talked through the operational focus for our ministry: framily and discipleship.
I articulated that what we want for teenagers coming out of the youth ministries isn’t that they had a really fun 6 years where they got to experience God in cool ways — what we want is for them to have begun to shape a life devoted to Christ and learned how to be in a Christian community that they can build that life with. To be frank, if your moments where you felt closest to God, and in the best Christian community, where when you were 16, then you have really been robbed. That’s not really good youth ministry, that’s a failure of youth ministry to launch you well (or a failure of the larger church to catch you when it did). As you continue to grow in mental and emotional maturity, the idea that your spiritual maturation should be arrested until you (perhaps) get married and have young children and return to the church is doing a disservice to you, and to the larger church community. Anyone who has entered adult social, professional, and personal life knows that, for all we complain about it, it is way better than high school (and don’t even get me started on middle school).
Shouldn’t that be true for our spiritual lives as well? And for those many of y’all reading for which that is true, that you have found meaningful spiritual growth into adulthood, shouldn’t that be the message we communicate to teenagers? That the best is yet to come?
So thus we return to the two-fold focus: framily and discipleship. Framily because the Christian life is best lived in community (which I talked about on the blog last week here) and discipleship because it is the model by which we can continue to shape our spiritual growth, and thankfully this is a church community that already has a framework in place by which to pursue that growth, and scaffold to use to build a Christian life: Healthy Plate Discipleship.
Two years ago, we launched the Healthy Plate Discipleship model here as a way of thinking about how to grow in relationship with Christ. You can read more about the program here, but in brief, the concept is that growing in discipleship isn’t just about bible studies or church attendance, it is about a well-rounded pursuit of those activities that help us grow in relationship with Christ. Those activities, based on Wesleyan theology, are to worship, learn, serve, give, pray and play.
Every activity this ministry, and every ministry the church does, can be categorized under one of those headers, and looking at what you participate in, and which parts of your plate are the most full, and which are the most empty, is an excellent way of evaluating where you can continue to grow!
Youth Ministries uses this model to organize and influence programming, and while we aren’t perfectly balanced (we lean more heavily play and serve than most ministries), we believe strongly that pursuing these activities can help our community continue to grow. We believe Healthy Plate Discipleship isn’t just a program planning tool though, we look at it as a way to begin to intentionally shape a Christian life. By exposing teenagers to all these ways to grow in discipleship together, and teaching them how to live into these activities (with contemplative prayer classes, opportunities to be silly and playful around each other, lessons on what sacraments mean, intentional exposure to a diversity of service opportunities) we can establish not just people who look back fondly on how much they loved youth group, but people who are building lives that are intentionally reflective of, and shaped by, their beliefs, who are pursuing a life-giving, purposeful relationship with Christ alongside a life-giving community.
And they just happened to have gotten to know each other in youth group. They just happened to have felt their call to service with the marginalized in high school. They just happened to have claimed their faith as their own for the first time in confirmation.
Good youth ministry doesn’t exist for its own sake. According to our youth ministries mission statement, our ministry exists to “welcome, empower, and serve all youth, and to equip them with the qualities that will lead them to go out and be God’s people in the world.”
So that’s what we’re about, however you want to say it: framily and discipleship, intentional Christian community and Healthy Plate Discipleship, or learning how to live a Christian life and finding the people you want to live it with. We hope as the school year kicks off, that you’ll join us, with your presence, with your prayers, and perhaps most importantly, by modeling to the teenagers around you just how good the Christian life can get.
Director of Youth Ministries