Last week the GRR Minister’s Council held its Annual Conference. The theme was Ministering to Youth, and the guest speakers included Dr. Jerry Cain and Dr. Steve Gerali, both from Judson College. Jerry used education as a window to the sociologic distribution of group practices relevant to ministry. Steve spoke especially about youth ministries.
One of the most intriguing things about Steve’s presentation was that 95% of the content was not youth-specific, but was insightful for all kinds of church ministry. I share with you some of those observations.
First, effective ministry meets the holistic needs of the target audience. In particular, ministers need to pay attention to several things in designing programs, services, events, etc. These include:
Physical needs. In the case of youth ministry, one immediately thinks of high activity, and issues such as sexuality. But the same need is expressed across the age spectrum. For example, in a seniors group we might think of accessibility, programming appropriate for lower energy levels, and the unique health issues of aging.
Intellectual needs. Here the issue is not just to collect information, but to learn to think theologically and like a Christian. Again, there may be peculiar contents for each age group, but every one needs appropriate intellectual challenge.
Social needs. We are all social creatures by God’s design. Social settings provide a place for the formation of both individual and group identity, as well as fellowship. The social aspect is not just the “fun” things, but is a tangible expression of how we are interconnected as human beings. It combats the inclination to “lone ranger-ism.”
Emotional needs. Ministry programming needs to give appropriate emotional outlets, and teach how to be emotionally healthy as a Christian. The specific emotional needs of a teen-ager (dating, acceptance, etc.) might be difference from a middle-ager (e.g., stress of job loss), but emotional needs do not diminish with age.
Spiritual needs. This is faith formation, or the discipleship journey. Younger folks may be struggling with the intellectual challenges of faith, and how to set a course for the next 80 years. Older folks may be struggling with the disappointments of things not accomplished, or the loss of friends and spouses. All are important components of faith formation.
1. Instruction: Knowing God
2. Fellowship: Knowing God’s People
3. Worship: Exalting Christ Personally and Corporately
4. Service: Practicing a Lifestyle of Purpose
5. Outreach: Telling Others About Christ
Each of these needs and components of faith formation need to be part of our thinking as we plan and resource ministry in our churches—regardless of the age group. My own experiences tended to be heavy on “instruction” (accumulating information) and “social” (doing fun things together), but very weak on the other aspects. Each situation may be different, so you need to honestly score yourself and your setting.
One last observation, Steve said that ministry is slow, methodical and constantly changing. That also is not unique to youth ministry. We need Pastors who “stick it out,” who are deliberate in their planning and execution, and who are not afraid of changing themselves and their approaches.
© American Baptist Churches
of the Great Rivers Region
Permission to copy for noncommercial use is granted