After 13 years of youth ministry in my current church, I made a shift to a young adult discipleship position. I still have a vested interest in the success of our youth ministry because…
…I believe it grows disciples.
…I supervise the youth ministry staff.
…my daughter is a member of the youth group.
Things on the dad side are a little different. Time and space away from the youth ministry has given me an appreciation for the most important things from the parent side of life.
Weekly vs Large Event/Trip
As a youth pastor, I spent a large chunk of my ministry time planning for the “next” large event. As a dad, I desire something different. I want my daughter to engage in discipleship in the rhythms of her life with the people she knows in the places that she lives.
I have no doubt that my daughter will have the time of her life at Beach Camp. She will be challenged to grow in her faith and it will be a mountaintop experience that will shape her for years to come. We will budget as a family to make sure she can get there. However, I want my daughter to be just as cognizant of God’s presence at home, in the hallways of her school, and in her extra-curricular activities. I want our youth ministry to put the same kind of effort and resources into weekly ministry opportunities as they would into planning for mission trips or retreats.
Known and Nurtured
I want my child known and greeted by the adults working in the ministry. I want someone to lovingly ask, “How are you and Jesus?” and actually await an answer. I want others to pray for her and with her and over her. I want her surrounded by adults who share faith with joy, encounter doubt with hope, and model a life in Christ.
I want her arrival into ministry venues to be noticed and celebrated. I want the youth team to recognize the “big days” like the first day of school, when she gets her license, when she breaks up with a boyfriend, or when she is taking the ACT.
I want the ministry to “miss” her when she is absent. I want our mailbox filled with silly postcards asking for her return. I want her phone blowing up with texts by friends and leaders who recognize when she is absent and tell her she is missed.
I want her to have physical reminders of other’s care as well. Safe-Sanctuary-approved open-faced sandwich hugs are fine, but high fives, fist bumps, and head noggins are good too.
Not Perfect but Healthy Communication
My home is not perfect and I don’t expect our youth ministry to be either. We love each other of course, but we hit .300 a lot in my home. That is pretty good in baseball, but I would like us to do better as a family in things like communication, sharing schedules, and making meal times.
I want the youth ministry to communicate consistently as well. Communicate what?
I want to know the vision for the youth ministry and for my kid. I want to know big dates (camps, trips, and retreats), and I want to know small things (where to drop off canned goods for the food drive). I want to know the ways I can partner with the plans for the youth ministry. I just want to KNOW. I don’t care what avenue the communication comes as long as it is consistent, clear, and dates are confirmed.
I Want Her to be Disoriented
Jonah and the whale (I know it was a big fish) was a cute story in the children’s ministry, but my daughter is old enough to talk about Jonah being racist and wanting to see a whole city wiped off the map!
I want her to be disoriented in the context of the youth ministry community as she encounters scripture and wrestles with contemporary issues. The Word disorients and shapes. I want her in the Word. As a dad, I am not as concerned that she learns “principles for Christian living” as I am that she glimpses the heart of God and it causes her to reflect on her own.
It is a trapeze act to move from childlike faith to adult faith. I trust that she let’s go of the easy answers of childhood and gets “caught” by a loving community that is committed to honestly engaging the Word and peering through it to see Christ’s heart as well.
I Want Her to Know Who She Is
I’ve never seen a generation that is so intent on establishing identity. In a culture that features shifting sand and grasping for straws, I desire for my daughter to stand on solid ground. I need the help of the youth ministry to remind her who she is. So, every chance you get please remind her…
…that she is a child of God.
…that she is a disciple of Jesus.
…that she has gifts to use for the benefit of others.
…that she is living in the epic narrative of God and that her life has meaning and a purpose.
And lastly, I know you love her, but please let her know on occasion that you like her as well.
The good news for me is that we have this kind of youth ministry. As a Dad, I long for this kind of youth ministry for other parents as well.
Tony Akers has been in ministry to youth and families for three decades. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and is in his 15th year of ministry at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama where he supervises the youth ministry and serves as the Director of Disciple Life.