Buy the book: Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli
Unfortunately though it’s pissing down with rain outside and it’s only 8 degrees celcius…
No one expects us to be fully present to kids, least of all the church. We continually receive the message that parents, church board members, and pastors are happy as long as we produce as many programs in as few hours as possible.
I remember my first official youth ministry position, actually, this could be said for the first three churches that I “worked” for, my role was understood as to create and run a series of youth ministry activities, every friday there’d be an activity, every sunday a service and we might even squeeze ina study every now and then if we could find the time in what was a 10 – 15 hours a week role. I was great at creating new and interesting things to do, my imagination was always working on overdrive, from oversized church monopoly to make your own movie nights to car rallys and the messiest combination of games in the world I was great at it, infact I still get calls now from some of the people I used to run these things with for ideas, or instructions about that simulation game we ran back in 1994. Our youth groups fluctuated in numbers, as do all ministries but we were growing, some thought it was because of the wacky ideas we hd, but the reality was that each week I’d drive round to a number of the young people’s houses and catch up with them, the reality was that the programs, while fun were nt the primary reason for coming, it was to hang out with myself and the other couple of leaders who did it for the love of it, some of who still are in volunteer ministry in those churches working with young people because it’s their calling in life.
After a while I scored what was one of my favourite ministry placements of all time, high school chaplaincy, while the two years I spent in the school would also send me completely broke they also taught me a lot about being with young people, truley seeing them for how incredible they are and how much they have to teach me. In high school ministry I couldn’t rely on programs or events, (although the churches that I represented wanted lunchtime activities and Christian seminars) instead I had to sit alongside students, find new ways to interact and enter into conversation with them, I’d sit in detention, travel with the sporting teams, co-coach the all girls year 8-9 soccer team, I’d eat lunch with the students, join the school radio team, help out with band practices… High School chaplaincy was all about the art, the ministry of being, just being with the students, often I’d not have to say anything, just sit there and listen in on the stories that were being shared, while other times I was being asked for advice and would have to ask for the wisdom of those who were around us. A few years after finisheing at the school I found myself working in a petrol station not too far from the school, and it was amazing how many of the students who were kids back then and adults now would come in and enter into conversation with me.
After working in high school ministry I found it hard to enter back into the program based ministries of other churches, but by then I’d grown up a lot, I’d completed my theological studies, I’d thought alot about my ministry and where it would go, I’d read lots and been inspired by a large number of people, so much so that when I moved into the next church I worked at I entered it on the understanding that I was not going to be running a program based ministry, instead I was going to find ways in which God was already present and enter into a listening relationship with him, and with the young people of the church…
A contemplative approach to YM leads us from a position of worrying what activities we’re going to be running, what devotions need to be said to a space where we enter into honest, two way conversation with those who we’re in ministry with, it’s about changing our attitudes and learning how to just “be” with another…
Changing the way we relate to young people isn’t just a matter of developing new techniques or broadening our theology. It’s about a different attitude of the heart. It’s about being present to young people with a loving transparency.