A professor of mine used to ask, “What is the church and what on earth is it for?” For those of us working in church ministry, the way we answer this question ultimately shapes the way we structure and imagine ministry to function. Youth ministry is no exception and if we are honest with ourselves, our sense of success in this work is often shaped by the number of youth who attend any gathering we host. It feels good when they show up and it hurts when they don’t. And while presence matters—it sure is tough to do discipleship when no one shows up—it is too often treated as the end goal rather than the beginning of something. We acknowledge that teenagers are constantly being formed by the stories around them (i.e. social media, household dynamics, economic standings, etc.). These stories seek to tell them that they aren’t enough, that they don’t have enough, that brokenness is all there is. So when we think about ministry to this age group, presence matters, but only when we use this time as an opportunity to form them in a greater story. This is a story that imagines the world as God does, a place where nothing is missing and nothing is broken.
In the ancient tradition, rabbis would often describe Scripture as a gemstone, something that could be admired from many directions, each one yielding its own understanding. In our faith community, we use this to emphasize our need for one another, as we each bring a unique perspective to our reading. In particular, we emphasize our need for ministry that transcends generations, connecting our young and old around this shared story that cannot be fully seen by any one group of people. When this happens, there is a richness and a depth that emerges. I will never forget a moment where I saw this here at Skyview. Following our Easter service, we were celebrating with those who had chosen to be baptized. That year, one of our youth was in that group. In the foyer, I found myself in a conversation with him, along with two other men in our church who had been examples in his life for many years. They took that time to share with him their own baptism stories. There was something happening in that conversation that I could have never fabricated or predicted. It was in this moment that the story of hope, one that we embody each time someone among us is baptized, became more than an individual experience—it became shared. These moments yield fruit beyond any program or event that we could ever imagine.
I do not know your ministry context, but I do know this: your youth need to both see and hear this story lived out. They need to see it in the way you live your life, in the way your congregation lives, in the way your ministries are structured, in the way your budgets are allocated, in the way your visitors are welcomed, in the way the poor and hurting among you are cared for, and so much more. Give them opportunities to hear your own story but also the stories of those who have followed Jesus for decades. So, what is the church and what is it for? It is to be a place that tells a different kind of story, one that can form us to be a people of hope in a world that desperately needs it.