With the new rhythm of ‘social distancing’, when our congregations are no longer meeting, one can wonder what happens to youth services. What is the state of youth ministry in such an unusual season? I want to believe this season has presented us with time to think again, clearing our mind of clutter, rethinking about life in light of the gospel in this altered world. It would be very unfortunate for us to return after Covid-19 with no renewed mindsets and ministry priorities.
We can no longer talk of youth services as “lit” and other attractive and “fun” programs are all cut. What could be the fate of youth ministry as we know it? I don’t have answers to all questions but I’ve been thinking about this subject and wondering what the Bible says. It’s unfortunate that for some youth workers after this pandemic, they will have to begin fresh; their members might be gone or in some cases, numbers in youth ministries might increase as the youth search and seek for authenticity and meaning. There will be a seeking and searching youth out there.
Young people are now having several questions running in their minds. Having been taught to believe in themselves, be good boys and girls, draw a dream planner and to focus on positive thinking so that their lives will turn out good can now see it not adding up. Moralistic teachings are falling flat on their feet. Here we are with a self-centered generation well motivated for everything except Christ. Perhaps we now know how good plans and dreams are limited as human beings. We are all craving for freedom to reconnect; we miss working together, fellowship, and other gatherings. Praise God for technology that has enabled virtual connections in our present extremity.
Who is reaching to youths now?
Like the rest of the population, young people are faced with anxiety and fear. Talk of lost jobs and unclear future, the reality of death, loss of loved ones etc. Or think about the teenagers who thought it was fun at first when schools were being closed. They must be tired by now not excited by the stay at home orders. If recent happenings of hiring an ambulance are anything to go by, then it gives us a glimpse of the youth world. How best can we keep their hopes alive? How do we disciple these young people?
A call to shift youth ministry to Parents and Guardians
Biblically, God intends that parents and older believers take responsibility in encouraging young people and teaching them about God and the Christian faith. We can be quick to think about youth pastors and workers but the truth is, they spend a paltry 2-3 hours with our youth on Sundays. It is even harder to run a youth Bible study with a generation that has information overload. On the other hand, youths are looking for direction. How can they make sense of God in such difficult times? Why does God allow such to happen? What does his word say about such times as we are in?
And because the youth workers and pastors are not meeting with them, the bark now rests in the place that God has always intended from the word go. Our youth spend most of their time with parents. They see them talk, are first hand witnesses to their conduct, attitudes and convictions. Parents and older Christians are better placed to influence their children.
The unfortunate thing is that some of our young people have never had a chance of hearing this because of the busyness of their parents. “Sorry, I am too busy today” is a common answer for many. But here is a golden opportunity.
Question is, are we ready to take the challenge of discipling young people at home? Consider Deuteronomy 6:5-7, where God is instructing the nation of Israelite on how they ought to practice, and teach his laws to their children:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
We are spending more time at home with them. But this can also be extended not just to the teachings but also the living of parents and older Christians. We are spending more time together and with this comes the real us.
Have you noticed when you spend more time with someone you get to know where they stand and what they believe? Same thing, the youth are watching us and the best thing we can give them in addition to the teachings are our lives; our conduct in this time of lockdown.
How can we then make good use of this period and also bring a shift in the way we think about youth ministry in our churches? Here are some few thoughts.
Re-adjusting our focus
- Give them God and the Gospel
As we connect with these young people at this time, what sort of hope are we giving them as parents and youth workers? The hikes and bikes might be silent for now but what made the youth fellowship tick? It’s also obvious that many already have some wishful desire for a brighter future but the current situation clearly puts a mockery out of those desires. We need to give them something authentic and a steady anchor. Give them God and the gospel. This hope is something authentic and steadfast that goes far beyond their desires for success. Clearly, our idea of life success is cut. If anything, we are all in a state of uncertainty about tomorrow. But we know the one who is certain about our tomorrow and our forever. Let’s point them to the real deal.
- Evaluate Ministry priorities and change them post Covid-19
Let’s use this time to evaluate our ministries by seeking feedback and suggestions especially in the area of ministry substance. What dominated our ministry in the past, was it the gospel or activities? When activities begin to replace the Bible let’s be rebuked by the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 2:3-5 “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Let’s take time to do a deliberate evaluation and change our ministry focus once we return.
- Build youth ministry around parents in collaboration with youth workers
The role of parents is primary rather than peripheral part of discipleship to young people. Let’s start thinking of how best the larger church family can be equipped on discipleship at home. In addition to seminars, develop good Bible materials you could share with older people to use while having fellowship with youths at home. Follow up and get connected with parents just as you would do to the youths from now and afterward. Train parents on practical Christian living at home that is evangelistic and gospel centered. There is no way we are going to finish corruption and tribalism in our country and among our youths if what they hear from parents and older believers are corrupt and tribalistic talks on how they made a deal that clearly involves pilfering into public coffers or how such and such tribe is evil and inferior. They are listening and watching.
Finally, let’s all be encouraged at this time, for our God has not been taken by surprise. Maybe he wants to reorder our world, ministries and priorities. We can pray, “Lord please teach us during this season and help us to be teachable. Help us reorder our loves and ministry focus and help us to be faithful to the call to reach to our youths.” Amen.
Article by Kevin Odhiambo. Kevin is a staff of iServe Africa and serves as a regional staff based in the Coast region of Kenya.