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— Keith Klingen (@KeithKlingen) April 18, 2013
I posted this quote on Twitter today that I read in a book called, Passing on the Faith. We live in a world where we compete for different concepts of how to do youth ministry. We go to meetings, gatherings, conventions, blogs, twitter, etc. looking for the newest, best way to attract teenagers to our ministries. We minister in a consumerized church where we wait for folks to come to us, operating in anÂ attractionalÂ model of church. I don’t want to debate the model of ministryÂ necessarilyÂ but want to share thoughts on what happens when these students or adults come to “us”.
I recently answered a question in a part of a job application process of why I left my last church. Here is my answer:
In my last ministry position, I left due to a difference of opinion in how to approach ministry to students and families. The leadership of the church had a desire for me to organize and run events to simply attract as many students as possible, and therefore have the opportunity to share the Gospel in that setting. My approach to ministry to students has never been about solely attracting students. I want to invest in studentsâ€™ lives, and connect them with adults who can and will do the same thing. I want to disciple teenagers and students to experience the fullness of God in their lives, and equip them with the tools, practices, and resources that they will need in order to maintain a strong relationship with Jesus throughout their lifetime. My philosophy of ministry was not the philosophy of the church at large, and not the pattern of how their youth ministry had been throughout its history.
I never knew what would be next for me as I went through that transition, and personally, am beginning to feel restless about not knowing “what’s next” after two plus years of taking that last step. When I read that quote in the book this morning though, I am reminded about my heart in ministry, and for what I believe that heart of the Father is for us leaders in ministry. We are called to make sure that no one is without family. Teenagers who come to our programs, events, outreaches, youth groups are all in need of a family. That family might consist entirely of individuals who are not blood related to them, it might be friends, mentors, youth group leaders, etc. but everyone deserves to have a family. I’ve found from my perspective, that when we focus entirely on attracting students, on attracting adults to our church, to our ministry, we lose sight of the adoptive redemption and grace of a loving God. Let us not forget, that we too are adopted by God, that He calls us His son and daughter.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.
– Romans 8:14-16
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Every once in a while God seems to have a way of reminding me of my former days in full-time youth ministry and the fruit that has seemed to come out of it. Today, out of nowhere, I got this TXT from a former student in the ministry:
Hey! I’ve been thinking a lot about youth groups lately and it made me realize you were the best youth pastor i have ever had! And I wanted to thank you for that! I loved how involved i was with student leadership and all that… And i especially loved how devoted you were to us. you and shannonÂ definitelyÂ made us welcome in your home and it was a blessing having you there for that time 🙂
Every once in a while God sends you these reminders to let you know that the time, energy, and emotions that you invest into the lives of students actually does make a difference. Sometimes you just need to wait a few years to hear the news! Either way – it’s an amazing thing to hear, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a blessing in the lives of teenagers, even if I were to never receive messages like this. To God be the glory, and I’m thankful that He’s allowed me to play a part towards that end.
Since moving to the Twin Cities, I have experienced something new that I have longed for, something that I have not had in a long time: someone that is for me.
Odd verbiage, right? There is a personal struggle that I’ve felt throughout life that if I wanted to accomplish something, or if I felt that the Lord had something in mind for me, that it was up to me to pave the way to make those things happen, or to see that they do anyways. What has been new since living here is a group of folks,Â colleaguesÂ mentors, that are for me. They are the ones who want to see me succeed. They are the ones who want to God open doors for me to be able to live out my full potential as a husband, as a son of God, as a youth worker and as a father. They are the one’s who seek to connect me with others so that I can network and build relationships and build a community in a new place where we don’t know many folks.
Beyond the connections, the networks, the fun, the benefits that I’ve experienced of having someone in my corner, of having folks speaking on my behalf to some extent, there is a greater reward that comes with it. Love & appreciation. While some of these new folks in my life have only known me for a brief time, may only know me just a little bit in comparison to those who have been a part of my life for 10-20years, they continue to shine the light of Christ in their desire to see the best for me, for my family, and for my ministry. Through these relationships, I have been encouraged in moments where I feel like giving up. Through these relationships I have have opportunities that I would have only ever dreamed of having – but they have helped make them a reality. Through these relationships, I have seen more of what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like than perhaps I have ever seen before.
I can’t help but reflect on my years in relationships with students, can’t help but to wonder about you in your relationships with students or volunteers – who are you for? Are you involved in the lives of others because you care about them, because it is your job – or are you diving into that next level of love for one another by being an advocate for them. Are you standing in their corner when no one else is? Are you talking about them with others, holding them in high regard? Are you being attentive to the ways in which God might whisper to you about someone under your care? I hope through my years in youth ministry that there have been students who have felt like Shannon and I are for them – that we have been advocates for them, that we are proponents of their well-being and things that they do.
I never asked these certain few folks in my life to be in my corner. I’ve never asked them to be for me. They just are. They do so almost without thinking. They don’t seem to be doing it as a task, as a burden, but out of a genuine spirit of love for another. May you experience the blessing of someone being for you, and may you be that blessing to someone else.