Building Bridges with Youth Ministry

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When I first started in Children’s Ministry I was fortunate enough to work for a small church that already had a strong bridge between Children’s & Youth* Ministries. My first formal experience in ministry taught me a way to do ministry that couldn’t function without the help of one another. Most events were dependent on youth volunteers. Children’s Worship depended on teens. And I saw those teens discover gifts they didn’t know they had while teaching children & becoming mentors. Immature teenagers grew up under the attentive concentration of little eyes & ears. I also learned that I needed to build relationships with teens as much as children. I found myself attending almost as many Youth Ministry events as I orchestrated for Children’s Ministry. (It didn’t hurt that the Youth Minister was really cute either**.)

The reality is it was a small church & I was single (until I eventually married the youth minister, and we didn’t have any of our own kids during that time…) so my availability to attend Youth events was extremely different than for those who have families or are at larger churches. But that season – as I began life in Children’s Ministry & work in the church – was a HUGE blessing to see how beautiful cross ministry can be when a church has bought into the benefit of building bridges. I have learned to insist on it in all scenarios even when the history of destroyed bridges dominates current models.

Because well-worn bridges have lasting, eternal impact.

If George Barna’s research is accurate:

“By age nine, most children have their spiritual moorings in place.”

And

“…more than 2 out of every 3 13-year-olds argue that they will not alter any of their core beliefs in the future…we find an astounding level of consistency between the religious beliefs of adults and children … [this] suggests that whatever beliefs a person embraces when he or she is young are not likely to change as the individual ages.”

Or more bluntly:

“…if people do not embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior before they reach their teenage years, the chance of their doing so at all is slim.”

Then the spiritual growth our children have undergone under our care up until the point where we pass off our sweet babies to Student Ministries is more important than we can possibly comprehend.

Passing Along a Solid Foundation
Recently, my uncle’s house burnt to the ground. My uncle asked my dad to be his co-general contractor for their new house. Before my dad was able to begin my uncle hired a recommended framer. This framer traveled around the country framing houses before he moved on to the next. When my dad was able to walk the framed skeleton it was immediately apparent that this “framer” didn’t really know what he was doing. The shoddy skeleton didn’t pass the county building code inspection. Further work could not be completed legally until the vast problems were repaired.

Everything we are doing for our children & families from the time a child is born until they graduate into Youth Ministry is of utmost importance. The foundations & skeleton walls we’ve built, the adults & teens whom have poured love into our kids, the encounters children have had with God, the opportunities for serving others in the name of Christ, the relationships we’ve built with families and the ways we’ve empowered them creates a solid frame work for Student Ministries to build on. One that will weather the storms of life to come.

If I haven’t laid a good foundation during the years God has given me, will Youth Ministry have anything solid to build onto? Or will they spend valuable years starting at square one?

Well-Worn Bridges
When Youth Ministry partners with Children’s Ministry, teenagers discover & develop gifts they never knew they had and build confidence along the way. Students are able to practice sharing their faith with an audience that is far less intimidating & judgmental than their peers. And we all know when you teach something you learn it better yourself. Their network of influential adults also grows as they encounter Children’s Ministry volunteers. In Along the Way, Ron Bruner & Dana Pemberton quote this Sticky Faith finding: “[Kara] Powell’s research found that the more students serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is that their faith will stick.”

The bridge to Children’s Ministry isn’t one-way; these bridges are always two-way. Children learn that they are a valuable part of the body of Christ. They find mentors and friends in teenagers. As they build relationships with teens it eases the transition for our children as they graduate into Youth Ministry. With a little creativity, there are also ample opportunities for children to support, serve & encourage the work teens are doing during their years in Youth Ministry.

Children’s Ministry is not an island unto itself. It’s a 2-way bridge. The path must be well-worn to have the strongest eternal impact.

Repairing Damaged Bridges
Let’s get real transparent with our ugly for a minute: Sometimes it’s really hard to always see Student Ministries get all the “credit”. Because kids turn 13 when they are in Student Ministries and often decide to make those faith decisions around that age. My orphan heart gets bruised because they get all the credit when we’ve laid the foundation; they get “all” of the glory and “all” of the work I’ve done goes unnoticed. Which of course is completely false but at times it’s the lies Satan convinces me are true.

The real truth is when I partner with Youth Ministry (or any other ministry that works with our kids) along the way it’s no longer about “them” vs “me.” I realize we are on the same team. We are all working towards the same end game. Everything is working to help children encounter God in deep & powerful ways even if it conflicts with something I’d like to plan.

Whatever has happened in the past – whatever inner-office relationships are strained – no matter how many times “it hasn’t worked in the past” don’t give up. Don’t settle. You are fighting for the spiritual growth of your kids. Satan succeeds when he pits us against each other & draws our attention away from our real responsibility. Stop fighting with those who are on your same team. Rather partner with other colleagues to fight the real enemy. Get around the same table and dialogue. Seek to understand before being understood. Acknowledge the past hurts with those “other” ministries & ministers, choose to forgive & love as Christ does and move forward. We might have different goals & strategies but you have far more in common than you have differences.

Pray. Pray big bold prayers for healing and rebuilding of bridges. Your prayers are inline with God’s will being done on earth as it is in Heaven, and He promises to make them reality. Find your similarities. Work together. Do everything you can to work together because well-worn bridges have lasting, eternal impact.

It Matters
The foundations we lay for our children matter. It matters how we partner with other ministries. It matters how we partner with families. It matters how we partner with God.

But it doesn’t matter what ministry a child is a part of when she chooses to make Jesus the Lord of her life – just that she does. And on that day we can all celebrate together.

Where do you need to make repairs in your bridges? Do you need to build a brand new bridge but you’re not sure where to start? Join the conversation on Thursday as one Youth Minister shares how she’s seen well-worn bridges make a difference.

 

*You will frequently see me switch between “Youth Ministry” & “Student Ministry” terminologies. It means the same thing: ministry dedicated to 6th-12th graders.

**He was so cute I decided to marry him later.

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