Resisting The Trend of Being RelevantPosted on March 19th, 2010.
Relevance it’s a hot word these days; we want our ministries to be relevant, and we want our teens to see us as relevant. But true relevance goes beyond playing guitar, wearing jeans with flip flops and growing a sweet goatee…of course your are a female youth leader then that would definitely not be relevant. Somewhere along the way we have lost the plot. Somewhere along the way relevance has been reduced to a materialistic value.
If we trust that youth ministry is about relationships rather than programming and processes, then we can turn away from forms of ministry that rely on mystical props, eye candy and exotic outings and trust more in the presence of God. If we believe that following after Christ is about engagement rather than escape, hopefully we can have confidence that the ordinary tasks within our ministries will be enough to convey the Gospel.
So what is relevant? And how do we remain relevant without falling into the trap of being trendy. The goal of being relevant isn’t that young people will become more spiritual—it’s that young people will become more open and available to the presence of Jesus and his ways of compassion and that would influence every part of their life.
So what do we do?
Respect – In order to be relevant to youth today we must put our preconceptions of them aside and accept them where they are despite all of their flaws and weaknesses, addictions and histories. In Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus sets an example for us as He sits with tax collectors, the scum of society at the time, and has dinner with them. When we go out to minister to youth today, not trying to change them, but instead trying to love them, our message becomes relevant to them because that love is what they ultimately need. How often do we make our message irrelevant because we cannot look past the way a kid looks or whom he or she hangs out with?
Be Authentic –Yeah I know another trendy word but part of respecting youth is understanding that they’re not stupid. In a vain attempt to fit in with youth, we as youth pastors have sometimes tried to be like the youth in every way, talking like them, looking like them, and even sometimes acting like them. If these things are not truly who we are, it is very obvious to any teen. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul talks about becoming all things to all people to save as many as possible. If you will look at that passage, though, you will find that in all of the things that he mentions he is in some way already like the people he is reaching. The point is this: God has given each of us gifts and abilities and experiences in our lives for a purpose. He also puts us in ministry situations where those things can be used for His glory. We don’t have to make up ways to be like these youth. We just have to find out what we already have that will strike a cord with them. We must be real ourselves if we expect them to believe that the message we bring to them is real.
Make a connection – An almost immeasurable factor in the relevance that you have with the students you minister to is the relationship that you have with each individual. Those relationships are hard to define sometimes because every relationship you have involves a different person with a different set of background experiences. That may sound obvious, but it is key. Relationships are not easily formed, especially in the beginning, but the more time you give to that relationship, the more fruit you will see from that relationship. When I look back at the people who decided I was worth putting time into, I don’t see people that I barely knew. I see people who let me into their lives.
Spend Quality Time – More and more today we have a generation of students who have greater responsibility than we, as an older generation, ever had at their age. They are starting to get jobs earlier and work more hours per week than we ever did. They have more homework and harder classes than we ever did because they’re growing up in a world that’s changing at an incredibly high speed. With this in mind, recreation is a key that will give your youth an opportunity to act their age. I am saying, very simply, play with your youth! Give them opportunities to relax and have a good time. Set aside time in your calendar for it. Depending on the background that you come from this may be a very difficult area to accept and grow in. This time of playing and recreation, outside of your regular Wednesday night or Sunday morning time, lets your youth see that you are more that just the “Man or Woman preaches or gives “the talk” at church.” You are a real person who enjoys life and the body that God has given you. This playtime is a great time to work on those relationships in an environment where both you and the students are relaxed and open.
Know Your Culture – Sometimes, in order to be relevant to a community, we have to step back and recognize patterns in that community. Take a look around your community and see where the youth are. Ask yourself, “Why do they go there and what do they do?” Find out what they gain from that event or that place, or at least what they hope to gain from it.
Build Community – Once you’ve done some looking, you then must determine your ministry response. “What can I do to meet that need?” You may be saying to yourself right now that, “This guy is off his rocker because all of the youth in my community are involved in things that go directly against the Word of God and there’s no way in the world I’m going to give them opportunity to do that in my church.” If that is so, we have to look deeper. If youth are going to parties to drink, obviously we don’t, then, throw a bigger party in the church parking lot with more beer than the others just to get them to church. No, whether they realize it or not those students are looking for a place where they can be with their friends and pursue meaningful relationships where they “fit in.” In your ministry, have you allotted time, not just on Wednesday and Sunday, but other times as well for students to just hang out and enjoy each other in a place where, as much as possible, they will be accepted and loved?
The last and most important key to Relevance is,
Jesus = relevance- We are, without a doubt, the most relevant people that our youth know, not because of who we are but because of the truth we hold. That truth answers their questions and gives light to the reasons why they do the things they do. That truth is that Jesus Christ died to forgive them of the sins that separate them from God. When we neglect to regularly deliver that truth, it doesn’t matter how relevant we are. We will be useless to them eternally. Jesus continually put that message into an understandable form for the people of His time, and we must do the same for the youth of our world today. As disenchanted as this generation of youth is, they will still listen to those who tell them the truth. When we deliver the truth of God, the Holy Spirit will work on their hearts.
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