Friday, February 15, 2013

The Value of Relationships in Ministry

One of last year's Grass Lake volunteers developing relationships with the youth.
A wise man once told me (as his mentor told him) that youth ministry takes three keys: relationships, relationships, and relationships. Last night in my Practical Skills for Youth Ministry class, the professor shared the same three keys, and I wanted to share with everyone this week how that impacted me.

The first reason relationships are vital to youth ministry is because God set it out for us in His plan. Our God is a relational God. The Trinity is inherently relational, three persons, one substance, in eternal relationship with one another. Likewise, God created man to be in relationship with Him and with one another. Throughout history, He has sought out a personal relationship with mankind, beginning with Adam and continuing through the present, and when that relationship was broken at the rebellion of man recorded in Genesis 3, God provided a way for us to return to that relationship through Jesus. Following the restoration of that relationship, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in relationship in us, and we are told to share the Spirit with others by making other disciples. Members of the Church, also, are told to build relationships with other members, and to bring more people into the Church to grow and build more relationships

When a mentor or leader understands how to make a student feel safe and loved, the impact on that student’s life increases exponentially. In a congregation setting, this helps students who might not connect to other adults feel part of the congregation, and they develop a sense of ownership and belonging in the congregation. Building these relationships and interacting with youth in this way is not something time-specific or quantifiable—it should be a twenty-four/seven availability for students, and time spent seeking out students and actively developing the relationships should be the primary focus of all programming.
Establishing relationships with parents is equally as important as establishing relationships with students, as parents must have trust in those associating with their children in order to allow leaders to have time and interaction with their children. Also, when one can minister to parents, one can also minister to their children, as parents (or guardians, in many contemporary cases) are the single most important and constant influence on the development of faith for a child or adolescent. Establishing a partnership with parents of youth allows for a more complete and effective ministry which will last longer than simply developing relationships with youth.

In youth programming, the best way to incorporate one-on-one relationships is by establishing openness and trust through casual activities such as youth nights, retreats, and lock-ins. These events should, of course, be Christocentric, in order to establish Christ as the head of any relationship, but not intimidatingly so—not in a way that would drive students away. Once casual relationships have begun and students begin to trust their mentors and leaders within the youth ministry, deeper relationships can be developed through more spiritually intense Bible studies, personal interaction and conversation, and small group meetings, which also focus on Christ and continue the development of Christocentric relationships with the students.

Within a congregational setting, youth and adolescents often feel as if they are left out. Without having a sense of ownership, they feel too old for children’s ministry and too young for adult ministry, and the youth group often feels completely separated from the church itself. However, when students develop personal relationships with older leadership within the church and develop a sense of meaning and purpose within the church, they can begin to feel as though their participation in the church matters—as it does. Developing relationships with the youth is vital to helping them establish their sense of purpose and become an inherent and vital part of the congregation, and more importantly, part of the Bride of Christ.

 Have a great weekend!

God's blessings,

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