Three Reasons to Collaborate with Other Youth Groups
A Presbyterian, Methodist, Nazarene, and Christian church pastor walk into a bar…
I’ve been trying to find the right punch line for this joke for the last three years—how long our collaborative community youth group, The Rock, has existed. So far, I’ve come up empty. There was a time in my life and ministry when collaborating with churches from different denominations was unthinkable. Fear played a role in my reluctance to associate with anyone other than Nazarenes. What if those other pastors try to push their (non-Nazarene) beliefs on our students? What if they define sin or holiness differently?
I’ve since repented of my Nazarene hubris and fear of other denominations. Both arrogance and fear are exhausting and not Christlike. Not only that, arrogance and fear can hinder us from fully participating in the work that God is already doing in our communities. We’re all on the same team, for crying out loud!
Collaborating with my colleagues from the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Christian churches in our small town has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my twenty-some-odd years of youth ministry. Not only have I gained three friends, but I’ve also learned a lot about our common faith.
Collaborating with my colleagues from the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Christian churches in our small town has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my twenty-some-odd years of youth ministry.Jason Buckwalter
I’m not suggesting that you merge your youth group with another church’s group; I am suggesting that there are plenty of reasons why you should explore collaborating with other youth groups in your town. Here are three of those reasons:
A Deeper Faith
I don’t know how many times I’ve sat with our students, listening to one of my colleagues teach at The Rock, and I’ve been forced to reconsider or consider, in a new way, some element of the biblical story or Christian faith. Mind you, I’m not talking about paradigm or faith tradition shifts but new and fresh ways of seeing things. At each of these times, my faith has grown, and consequently, my ability to minister to our students and their families has been strengthened.
…my faith has grown, and consequently, my ability to minister to our students and their families has been strengthened.Jason Buckwalter
No doubt, these epiphanies are driven by the different faith traditions from which my fellow pastors come as well as their genders. Two of the four leadership team members at The Rock are women, and we are richer for it. Our students’ faith is also enriched, as they listen to a diversity of voices, each calling them to a deeper belief and expression of faith.
Learning to Lead Like Jesus
I’m sure there are numerous books out there to guide us to lead like Jesus. As good as those books may be, experience is still the best teacher. I’ve come to understand leading like Jesus to mean seeking to walk in mutuality, respecting others, and keeping unity of movement and purpose. In short, leading like Jesus means self-emptying and a giving away of power. Nothing has tested those convictions like co-leading a ministry like The Rock. My vision and ideas for what youth ministry looks like have to be reined in so that my colleagues can have space to enrich our ministry with their wisdom and skill. On more than one occasion, I have had to remind myself, and more recently be reminded by my co-leaders, that my actions might seem selfish and have the potential to damage not just my colleagues but The Rock and our students, too.
Of course, leading like Jesus is easier when you are in a team of godly people who lead with grace and mercy. Not only am I a better Christian because of The Rock, but I am also a better pastor and leader.
A More Credible Christian Witness
In a world fractured and divided by so many issues and ideologies, cooperation and collaboration are scarce. Sadly, divisions abound within Christ’s church. As I mentioned above, arrogance and fear keep believers from loving each other well. Jesus told His disciples that people will know they were His followers by how they loved. If we’re honest, the church in North America needs to evaluate its lack of compassion on social media platforms. The way Christians engage in conversations on social media has laid bare for all to see what we’re really known for, and it does not help us in our endeavor to be credible witnesses to the gospel.
But collaborating with others, especially those who are different, communicates to our communities that we are more concerned with the greater good than our own petty kingdoms. If we take the long view, collaboration allows us to model for our students what Christlike living and leading (in the church and the community) looks like. As a species, we’re wired for imitation, and if, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can collaborate well, our students will grow their Christian imagination, enabling them to see the wonderful possibilities presented to us when diverse folks work together.
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