What Relational Youth Ministry is Not
Out of the gate, Root poses a challenging question to those of us working with teenagers, What is the point of our relationship with kids? If that doesn’t cause you to stop dead in your tracks and seriously… contemplatively evaluate and think, something might seriously be wrong with you. How often do we, in youth ministry, actually stop and consider the depth of the question? Likely not often enough, I’d gather (I personally haven’t).
Root begins to unpack in this chapter the idea that our relationships with teens through the avenue of youth ministry are much more about arriving them at a destination, rather than coming along side and entering into the whole of their life. He mentions how often times the aim of youth work is to influence teens towards our goals for them, saying, “they were unable to be influenced toward the ends I desired for them (emphasis added).
Too often I think this is the reality however. We as youth workers have a set of desired outcomes for most of the youth we minister to, and if challenged we could spout off reason after reason in support of our desired outcomes. Each and every outcome would have it’s best face forward and we’d be able to defend well our aims. But where is there the space necessary for God’s desired outcomes for the youth we minister too? How often do I consider what God would have for the youth I come into contact with? Sure, my desires for them are God-influenced, but are they God’s alone?
The idea of being relational in youth ministry is nothing new. I’d guess that most all of us who are in youth ministry has “to be relational” as a top goal of ours. Yet, as Root points out, though we might call our youth ministry “relational,” it fails to be so if we have another end in mind for our relationship than being with and for each other.
Thus we’re thrust back to the opening question, what is the point of our relationships with youth? I’ll admit that as I read I became more and more convicted at how easily it is to dismiss relationships within the context of youth ministry. Root speaks to this very fact indicating that if the desired goals (that I set up) are not being achieved it’s all too easy to dismiss the relationship and walk away. Quite frankly, youth ministry structure makes this easy, as there is always another class of youth coming up the ranks to replace those that have left or graduated out of the program. And so we needn’t struggle too long or hard to mature a fledgling relationship, another can soon replace it.
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding myself deeply disturbed, thinking about how I’ve no doubt been guilty of this sort of relational abuse throughout my time in youth ministry. At the end of the day, those of us in youth ministry need to be okay with the fact, that if we are to really be relational with teens, we are going to get dirty. The truth of the matter is, any good relationship that’s worth having is messy.
I pray I become more and more the sort of person that values the mess as opposed to pulls away from it, and in doing so I can become the sort of person that helps to reveal Jesus to the youth he’s granted me relational access to.