Getting to Know Your Context

Doing youth ministry well means that youth pastors and volunteers need to be aware of the context in which they are ministering. The best way to learn how to neighbor well within a specific context is from Christ who modeled incarnational ministry for us. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Christ came to dwell among us and showed us what the glory and grace of God looks like. When youth workers begin to share life with students, we need to learn to meet them in the context where they live so that we can speak truth and grace into their lives.

Learn to listen well.

Learning a new context involves hours of listening to the teens, church members, and families who have lived in the context. These families and church members make up the core of your church and part of the community outside of the church. Hearing their stories and passion for their neighborhood will help you to see life through their eyes and the lives of their friends and neighbors.

The beginning of neighboring is listening and learning what people will share with you about their lives in the community. The process of listening will take time but it is important to be present for others to share their heart.

Take time to study the history. 

Beyond listening, you may need to begin to ask questions that dig deeper to help you to get to know the community, congregation, and families that you will be neighboring with. You may want to ask the board for a brief history of the church, read news reports on the history of your community, and ask families questions about their background with the church or how they came to be Christians. As you listen, you will begin to ask questions that will lead to greater understanding of your students and the congregation. You may want to know more about the school system that you will be interacting with or the greatest needs in the community. These questions don’t need to be answered in a day, but digging deep into the heartbeat of the church and the community will help us to neighbor well with one another and find where our needs and passions meet up with what God is doing in the community.

Share of yourself and your resources.

If you are a pastor, you have time and possibly a budget to resource your students and congregation. If you are a volunteer, you may only have time. Regardless of your situation, we can all learn to humble ourselves and share our lives with one another. For some, this may look like sharing a home cooked meal and practicing hospitality to our neighbor. For others, it may look like spending a few hours at the local school to connect with your students and their friends or visiting a school production. There are limitless options to be present in your context of ministry and creativity is important.

Regardless of your ministry, you will have the choice to involve yourself in the community of your church and your students or to watch from the sidelines and spend your time explaining the Gospel of Christ without actively participating in living it out. This will be a turning point for your journey in neighboring well. God has created and known humanity since the beginning but we were not able to understand God without close proximity. In the same way, share of yourself so that others may see Christ modeled through you in an up close, tangible, and personal way.

Inspire others to follow.

The spreading of the Gospel didn’t end with Christ and we can’t realistically expect to neighbor well with every person in our community. Share with your students and other adult leaders your practice of neighboring well and digging deep into their community. Encourage them to seek their identity in Christ and then take these steps to engage with their friends at school or work, one another, and even family members. Christ’s disciples continued to go out and neighbor well in new communities, learning the customs and possible pitfalls of new cultures hearing the Gospel.

Neighboring well is an act of self-discipline in following Christ and a witness to all we come in contact with.

Encourage students and leaders to make neighboring well a part of their daily evangelism and devotional life to continue the work of the Great Commission.

Jen Willard