Ministry at its core is about relationships. Jesus Himself modeled this in His own ministry, spending time with people wherever He went, regardless of how tired He was. He spent time with those He knew, and those He didn’t. He spent time one on one, with small groups like His disciples, and crowds of people anxious to hear and see what this Jesus would do next. Because of the relationships Jesus built with people, He earned the right to be heard and listened to. As youth workers we have the most important message to convey- the Gospel of Jesus. We long to share that message and for it to change the lives of those who hear it. So how do we earn the right to be heard by students and families so we can share this Good News?
Relationships– It’s been said already, but relationships are the key. We build relationships by intentional time spent with others. We share our lives with others- our hopes, dreams, struggles, challenges, and questions. As youth workers we build relationships with students during our youth group time each week as well as retreats, mission trips, service projects, and other church events. Some of the deeper relationships we build happen in a mentoring relationships. Spending time with them one on one and really diving into their lives and walking with them on a consistent basis through the ups and downs of life. Other ways to build relationships is by taking students with you to the things you naturally do during your week- grocery shopping (you can have them push the cart), working out at the gym, or getting your oil changed. All these activities invite intentional time spent with students.
As we look to build relationships with families, we can also find ways to spend time with them as well. Invite families over to your house for dinner (order out if you can’t cook) or meet them at their favorite restaurant and offer to cover the meal. When you go to a student’s sporting or musical event, sit with the students’ family and use that time to be intentional with them- share how you see that student growing (parents need to hear those encouraging words). Host a Parent Night at the church where you can mingle and spend time with parents in small groups and one on one getting to know each other better. Plan a retreat or short trip for youth parents (camping, hiking, etc.) allowing you to deepen those relationships and get to know each other beyond your titles and roles and common relationship with the students.
Character – Building relationships can definitely help us earn relational equity with students and families alike. But as we build those relationships, what do they see in us as people and followers of Christ? We should strive to live authentic and transparent lives in front of our students and their families. They need to see our desire to follow the Lord as we pray, read Scripture, share our faith with others, and walk by faith. Sharing prayer requests with them for yourself and your family and friends and celebrating when those prayers are answered. They need to see that we are people of integrity and that our faith impacts the decisions and direction of our lives. That we are trustworthy, loyal, non-judgmental, and compassionate. That our heart breaks for those around us and our desire is to be a servant leader. When others truly see us and know that we are genuine people seeking after the Lord, that will help build that trust and relational equity with both students and their families.
Ownership – Being the youth worker comes with the understanding that we are the ones in charge of leading the ministry and helping give it purpose and direction. That being said, we can build relational equity with both students and families by bringing them alongside of us as we lead and giving them ownership in the ministry as well. For students, this often can happen in the context of student leadership teams. Having student leaders not only helps develop the students’ leadership gifts, but also gives them more buy in and ownership of the ministry. Give them real leadership and allow them to make real decisions. With parents, ask for feedback from them regarding the ministry and suggestions on how to deepen the impact of what you are doing. Ask them to volunteer and serve with you. Let the ministry be known in action and words that it is “our” ministry. Having a team approach to youth ministry goes a long way in building relational equity with students and families.