Are We There Yet? Youth Ministry & God’s Relentless Grace
by Daniel Gee
Never a dull moment in youth ministry. And that’s not because those two juniors wrestling almost made me spill my drink over a freshmen who, on her phone, almost tripped over said juniors. Although, yes, stuff like that happens, too.
Contrary to all appearances, occurring beneath the surface of the Friday night mayhem are moments of great growth, maturing, and love. Our students are growing in their care for one another. They love to pray for one another. They are growing as worship leaders. They are learning the challenges of honoring God at their school. They are stretching themselves to reach out to those they don’t know. It is our joy and privilege as youth advisors to walk with these young men and women as they journey through these uniquely formative years of their lives.
Of course, beneath all this is more. We find immaturities. We find ourselves (my peers included) in a generation increasingly apathetic, thoroughly entitled, and with an impatience cultivated by constant phone usage. These immaturities even find their way into our students’ moments of growth. Showing love to a friend might be mixed with the selfish desire to be needed. A student worship leader, while on the outside appearing the paragon of holiness, is internally struggling in a war against temptations of pride, judging others, and the fear of man. Add hormones to this great human paradox of feeling both arrived and yet far off and, well, you pretty much get adolescence right?
I believe one of the fundamental premises of youth ministry is that there is more than meets the eye; God is not done with these young men and women. Amidst all the fun and joys of youth ministry, we are also confronted each week with our students’ immaturities, awkwardness, growing pains, and frustrations. Nonetheless, we see this in the context of a greater narrative, one that subsumes the present circumstance: these young men and women are in progress, and by God’s grace will be more than who they are now. We are able to take seriously our students’ immaturities, and yet also in the very same breath affirm that God is apprenticing a skillful artisan, training a courageous soldier, and nurturing a loving parent for beautiful and redeeming work in his Kingdom.
And in this do we not find the deepest truths of the Gospel we hold so dear? God is determined to bring redemption, through Jesus Christ, to the world, in spite of our sin. We can still hope when all is not as it should be. We can trust God to justify us and to sanctify us. We are called to both pursue tenacious discipleship and seek daily forgiveness. All the while God calls into being that which is not yet arrived.
Thus, as the youth are, so are you and me. Yet I sense us old(er) folk find it harder to acknowledge this in ourselves. We feel as if we are supposed to have it all together. Immaturities, ignorance, naivety are supposed to be long behind us. But if I’m going to be honest, I see in the youth my own immaturities and indeed my own being “not there yet.” The same temptation to be needed lurks in my mentoring, and the same pride is at my heels when I lead them in worship. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Rom. 5:20). In my time as a youth advisor, years very dear to me, I’ve seen that God is indeed rich in mercy and grace for our youth. Today, may we give thanks that so he is for us all.