I can’t even begin to tell you how big of a Pharisee I used to be. I was the worst when students missed youth group. To me, youth group was the center of the universe, and if a teen missed it, he or she risked missing out on heaven. I hated anything that competed with Wednesday nights. Wednesday was the epicenter of all things spiritual, because I was speaking. And don’t get me started on that great spawn of Satan: sports.
These days, I cringe when I think about my former attitude toward those who missed youth group. Age and time has softened me. I still think youth group is important, but I now know it’s not as important as the students are. I’ve learned to have more grace for busy students and the challenges they face.
I serve students who participate in softball, choir, and FFA. They can’t always be at youth group—it’s just a fact. The way I react to their absence will either keep them connected—even if it’s a loose connection—or my judgmental response will drive them further away. If we want to stay connect with missing, busy, and AWOL students, we have to have to start seeing them differently.
They’re not rejecting God.
Busy students aren’t rejecting God—they’re just too busy to show up to youth group from time to time.Youth Group is not the epicenter of their faith—Christ is. Click To Tweet
Youth group is where students grow, but if they don’t show up, that doesn’t mean they’re not growing.
They’re the church.
We could call busy students the lost sheep, the lost coin, or the lost kid, but are they? I see every one of my students as an important part of the church. If they’ve accepted Christ, then they’re part of God’s family. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). That’s true whether or not they’re present. They need us to remind them of that.
They’re worth our time.
How can we do a better job of connecting with busy students? What are we willing to do that conveys to our busy students how much we value them? Here are some ideas:
- Go to where they are: If they’re at the ball field, that’s where you need to go.
- Make it happen: Turn you schedule upside down for early morning breakfasts and midnight dinners at Waffle House in order to connect to kids who want to connect.
- Use social media to send video messages to students: Walk around at youth group, and take a video of students saying how much they miss the absent student.
- Make a home visit: Gather some kids, and visit busy students at home.
- Cancel youth group: If your group is small enough, cancel youth group for one night and go watch the busy student’s game or play.
- Be flexible: Create impromptu small groups that have no start or finish dates. Gather whenever the busy student is available for prayer, reading Scripture, sharing Communion, and maybe sharing a meal.
Our efforts to reach busy students won’t go unnoticed by hardworking parents who are just trying to make sure their kids get scholarships or who want them to have that high school experience. Our efforts to connect with busy students could result in deeper discussions with parents who wish their lives weren’t so busy and who wish they had more time to attend church and be in community with other believers.
When we reach out to busy students, it’s no different than when a loving God visits busy youth pastors and offers us the grace we desperately need.
PAUL TURNER is a long-time youth worker, speaker, and blogger of all things youth ministry. He’s the youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Assembly in Birmingham, AL and writes regularly at THEDISCIPLEPROJECT.NET.