Don’t Quit but knit the Experiences: Lessons for Youth Ministry

The few years I have worked alongside young people have been an opportunity to learn important lessons. My first year was difficult because of the direct impact most of the experiences had on me; failed programs, conflicting and stereotypical expectations, criticisms, the low value placed on youth ministry, etc.  But these experiences, knit together, provided me with the unique opportunity to understand the world of the youth and to develop a framework that would make my work effective.

I have experienced what it means to work with youth both within the church and outside the church.  One analogy that is fitting for my experience is to liken youth ministry to “running a marathon.” It is filled with long, tiring, complex, unique, humorous, joyful and painful experiences all mixed together to give a perfect blend. You can go from feeling like you are the most effective youth pastor one week to entertaining thoughts of running away the following week. You find yourself defending the youth in one instance and the next moment scolding them. I have noticed that many youth workers quit before long, feeling discouraged, joyless, and unsatisfied. I will not quit.  Instead, I try to watch against discouragement burning away my passion and love for the youth.

Every youth worker must listen to all the questions the youth are asking and try to answer all of them. Youths are asking questions that concern their faith; ‘How does our understanding of faith, as Christians, integrate into daily reflections and living?’ To effectively minister to the youths in this dispensation, we must incarnate the Christian faith; this is non-negotiable.  Young people need to know that the Christian faith is not illusionary but incarnational and can transform their everyday, ordinary lives. The church has allthe biblical text, which is active and sharper than a double-edged sword, to achieve this but the youth worker must make the text come alive.

My years of experience have enabled me to develop a framework to train youth workers to make the biblical text come alive.  I call this the character, competency, power, and influence framework. For example, the biblical stories of Joseph and Daniel show us how character and competency combine to confer power and enable an individual to come to a place where he/she can bring tremendous influence on individuals and nations.

Character is often emphasized at the detriment of competence, but character alone will not provide us with the right caliber of young people that will be able to constructively change the narrative of our dear nation. The different elements are interwoven. There must be a fusion of character and competence that will eventually confer power and influence to achieve the desired effect.

The character-competent framework can be achieved through the development of contextualized, biblically grounded manuals and related resources for the training of youth, enabling them to make the connection between their faith, their life, their vocations and the problems around them, teaching them to be instruments of large-scale transformation. As youths are wholly equipped through character and competency building, three suggestions will come handy in providing them with the space for the expression of power and influence: (1) Creating a space for youths to reflect and make informed, reasoned and coherent contributions to the development process at different levels. (2) Harvesting their voices and perspectives in public spaces and never relegating youth engagements to the walls of youth fellowships, neglecting the decay around them. (3) Deploying youth energies, competencies, and passions to raise a transformational counter-cultural generation that will become a movement to reckon with.