Monday, December 24, 2012

Keeping Youth Ministry Simple

"Most youth workers are able to spend, at most, maybe eight hours a week with their most committed students, tops (unless it happens to be a mission trip week or a retreat weekend). Figure two or three hours on Sunday (unless you're a parachurch youth worker), a couple more at some kind of midweek meeting or Bible study, and maybe another small slice of time at a church or school event.

"Each week has only 168 hours, which means we have access to our most committed Christian teenagers for, at most, 5% of their time during the few years they're with us.

"Annually, we have access to our devoted church kids for, oh, let's say 40-45 Sundays. And maybe they attend a similar number of youth meetings. That gives us a maximum of 80 to 90 shots at an extremely devout student's heart and mind each year. Eighty-five chances to speak into his life. Eighty-five opportunities to teach him about God.

"Now, let's say we have a highly involved kid for six years (seventh through twelfth grades). Add retreats and camps to the equation: then subtract absences due to illness, schedule conflicts, and family vacations. What you're left with is - at most - about 500 'official' chances to teach and train. And that's for the most committed students whose families don't relocate.

"That may sound like a lot of opportunities. But remember, we live in a big, ever-changing, messy, scary world filled with a myriad of mysteries, concerns, and questions. Time flies in the Information Age. New issues arise out of the blue. We can easily become reactive, following every new trend that emerges and becoming haphazard in what we teach.

"If I knew then what I know now, I'd have made the proactive, conscious decision to stick to a few basics. I'd have sat down in the first days of my tenure and come up with an irreducible minimum.

"What basic biblical truths do I want students to understand upon leaving the group? What essential spiritual disciplines do I want my youth to practice? What character qualities would I like to see growing in them?

"I'd sit down with my advisory team and my volunteer workers and list those things - the fundamental beliefs, nonnegotiable behaviors, and essential virtues. And that's where I'd camp. I'd hammer them over and over. I'd come at them from every possible angle. Again and again. Reminding, Restating. Rephrasing. Teaching and reteaching. I'd embrace a simplified curriculum of the basics.

"Once I had my list of essentials, I'd get out the calendar and start scheduling exactly how and when we 'd go about creatively emphasizing each of them. A planned series here. A scheduled message there. I'd avoid the common 'hot topic du jour' approach, and I'd be more intentional, more systematic, more disciplined, more focused. I'd opt for the important over the weird, the essentials over the tangents. I'd 'preach (and teach) the Word' (2 Timothy 4:2)."

(Excerpt from Woods, Len & Veerman, Dave If I Knew Then What I Know Now, pp. 82-82)

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