My first foray into adding life skills into our youth ministry happened at a previous church I served. The town was rural, impoverished, and I had moved there through my masters program from one of the largest cities in the United States. I was out of my element in a very real way.
Everything was out of control. Respect was non-existent, education was lacking, and food was hit or miss at home.
A few months in, after banging my head against the wall, it occurred to me that I couldn’t really teach anyone about Jesus without meeting their very basic needs. Spoiler: Jesus did the same thing! (Matthew 15:29-39) So, we began to make changes. Food became central to our ministry when I realized that several of our students went home to empty cupboards every night. If you asked to take home food, you took it home no questions asked.
Most of the students in our town graduated high school and began to work. College was often too expensive. So, we worked to find ways in which to teach them marketable skills. We spent mission trips learning construction. We built habitat houses and learned how to use power tools. We worked on our people skills by volunteering in the community. We got active in the schools. I spent time with my seniors teaching them how to fill out a FAFSA often because they were the first to go to college. We fed one of the football teams before games. We taught and participated in activism in our community and in others. We also learned what it meant to be warriors of social justice issues.
There are those that might criticize these skills as things that should be taught at home. What happens when home cannot offer these skills? Where are our students supposed to learn them?
When I read through the gospels, I see Jesus continually teaching the folks who surrounded him life skills.
7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” – Luke 14:7-14
I don’t think Jesus inherently had a problem with the seating at the table. But if he’s going to have a teachable moment, why not have one for everyone in the room? And why not teach them a life skill that has the power to make those around them feel more loved and welcome.
I challenge you; find unique ways to incorporate life skills into your group for the sake of loving each other, loving your church, and loving your community.
Tori Mick is the Director of Youth Ministries for Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, LA. She earned her M.A. in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary and The Center for Youth Ministry Training. She is passionate about youth, worship, social justice, and issues of race. When she’s not hanging out with her students, you can find her hanging out with her sweet dog Roscoe, traveling, trying new food, or reading a great book. You can connect with Tori on INSTAGRAM, TWITTER or her BLOG.