The Ministry of Presence
By Steven Case Posted on October 07 2009
It's 9:30 p.m. You've just finished a long day. Wednesdays are your busy days; you work all day and lead the youth Bible study at night. Now there are four guys in the youth room who all came together because one of them can drive.
One kid remembers that on Wednesdays you can get a Happy Meal for 99 cents at McDonalds. They all look at you, 'cause you have a job and therefore money. So you walk into McDonalds at 9:45 and plunk down ten bucks of your own cash and fill a table with burgers, fries, and cheap plastic toys. For the next hour you talk about anything. You talk about girls. You talk about parents. You talk about God. Mostly you just listen.
That, friend, is youth ministry. Friday night you sit in the third row of a high school auditorium. One of the girls from your confirmation class is on the stage. It's the world's worst production of The Music Man. She's dressed in a house frock at the back of the crowd scene and her big solo is coming up.
"…or a double boiler."
That's it. She's done. You'd sneak out, but she's going to look for you when the cast takes their bows at the end of the show. That, friend, is youth ministry.
You have a junior high boy whose coach might possibly let him play at the end of a game, but only if the team is sufficiently ahead…and only if the coach is in a good mood. You're in the stands drinking bad coffee and cheering every time his team gets the ball.
That, friend, is youth ministry.
If you have a parking policy for the youth group,
If you have a behavioral covenant covering public displays of affection and appropriate personal music system choices,
If you have any sort of introductory course that teens must attend before they can be a part of youth activities,
If you only play the top-ten hits from the "Christian" radio station at meetings…this is not ministry.
Fifty kids playing "shuffle your buns" isn't ministry. It's fun. It gets kids laughing together in the spirit of Christian fellowship, but can we really call it ministry?
Of course there are certain parts of our ministry that are just for show. We're stuck in places that measure our success by how many kids are in the church on Sunday night. Isn't it amazing how often the people who want to see more kids in the building are the same ones who complain when those kids make a mess?
So we plan the show; we stick eight or ten students outside to be greeters. We have special youth Sundays where dozens of young people can get up and sing, preach, and play the latest composition they learned for the band contest at school. We play loud and laughing games in the youth room because we know the head of the administrative board is going to walk by after her meeting.
The Real Deal
But youth ministry occurs when there's one last kid to be picked up and you have a chance to talk about life before mom shows up in her mini-van. Ministry occurs on the youth mission trip when Nintendo-boy sees kids his own age with all their worldly possessions in shoeboxes. Ministry occurs on the retreat when a kid comes up to you after the late night worship service and says "Can I talk to you about something?"
Youth ministry occurs in the one, the quiet, the small.
When you're a teenager and your entire life changes on a day to day basis and nothing in your life is a rock solid constant, it helps to know that someone is there.
Even if some kids never come to your office or participate in those Burger Barn conversations, a lot of troubles are bearable because they know that you're there for them now and will be there for them tomorrow.
You're present in their lives. Better than that, you're a presence in their lives.
And in being there you show them that God is present too—that they're never alone.