By Ben Kerns
Every youth worker I know affirms the high value of relational ministry. We all know that programs aren’t what matter most to students, and play an even less important role in the spiritual formation of students. The most significant growth and depth almost always results when godly adults pour their lives into students. I bet most of us vocational youth workers got into this gig because we love students and we want them to grow closer to Christ, and couldn’t believe that there was a job that would pay us to do just that.
Soon into our tenure as youth workers, we realize that relational youth ministry is more of an etherial value than a practical reality. You see, we have two totally competing values at work in our lives. On one hand, we want to be connected to all of our students and to walk through life and faith with them. On the other, we want to grow our ministry so that as many students as possible can have the opportunity to come into relationship with God through Jesus and become a part of our youth group community.
Very soon, our jobs must change, from being the main person in relationship with our students to being the facilitator of relationships. I have found that it is almost impossible to be connected to more than 10 students at one time, and that is pushing it for me. If I want a student ministry larger than that, it would seem that I would have to sacrifice the relational piece. But this does not have to be the case. I just need more adults around to share the relational load.
In order for a larger number of students to be relationally connected to mature adults, I first need some mature adults and then must empower them to become the relational piece of our ministry. I have to die to my own ego at being the the most important adult in every student’s life, and to the guilt of not being able to track with all of the birthdays, sporting events, joys and sorrows that happen within the lives of those students. My job is to empower and equip our adult volunteers to be the front line of relationship with our students. I need to make sure that I have enough adults to properly care for the number of students I have or desire to have. And mostly I need to facilitate a program that easily allows for the fostering of these relationships.
Being able to connect with students and love them well is vital for all youth workers and volunteers. Being able to manage the logistical mayhem to keep the machine of student ministry rolling is something totally different. I have known many young youth workers who jump into the vocational world, only to become disillusioned with the politics, bureaucracy, and programatic challenges of facilitating student ministry.
It is the volunteer youth worker who actually does the real work of student ministry. They are the ones who have real jobs and are not paid to be Christians. They are normal people, just like the majority of students we work with. And this common ground allows for the fertile soil of deep relationship. If we are going to truly care for the spiritual needs of any student who is not like us, then we need to expand our volunteer base, to gather as many different people from as many different seasons of life, with as many different gifts and talents so as to connect with the widest possible amount of students.
I am so thankful for the great friends and partners in ministry that I have as my volunteers, who faithfully open up their lives, their homes, and their hearts to our students. I long for them to become more and more the relational hub for our students. If we want to reach as many students for Christ as possible, then we must have as many people relationally connected as possible. Love on those volunteers, get some more, and empower them to get out there and love on those kids!
After a career ending knee injury, I left competitive curling and have dedicated the last 15 years of my life to loving students. I enjoy partnering with other youth workers to help students come to know and follow Jesus. I am a network facilitator for the pacific southwest for the Evangelical Covenant Church and have been a resource for other youth workers for the past 7 years. I still bring pizza to any and every youth gathering. And now have to run 20 miles a week to burn off the pizza weight in order to keep the love alive with my wife. I love my kids, baseball, writing (blog: average youth ministry), and my iPhone, and don’t understand Twitter. For the past 7 years I have served at Marin Covenant Church as the Pastor to Children and Students. You can check follow my struggling Twitter account at www.twitter.com/averageym.