Sunday mornings are full of youth activities at my church. The youth choir rehearses, then three different youth groups meet all at the same time. In between there’s half an hour of informal community time for all students, 6th-12th grade. That is a lot of activity for one morning.
And yet there are days like yesterday when I’m not part of any of it, when I spend a few cursory minutes greeting youth during that community time and nothing else. A year ago that would have really bothered me. I would have felt like I wasn’t doing my job. I’ve learned something about ministry with youth in this context over the last several months, though.
For one thing, I’m able to greet students because I have had experiences with them outside of the Sunday morning program, when, as yesterday, my time is divided among many other things. I’ve been to Montreat with some of them, to Detroit with others. I spent the past Friday night at a lock-in with some of them. We’ve been on retreats. The possibility of even a brief, familiar exchange on a busy morning is created days, even months before.
Days like yesterday are when the advance work of youth ministry pays off. I mean the advance work of ordering the bagels and making sure all the rooms were set up properly, photocopying curriculum and related resources, ordering leaders’ binders with the materials they need, and sending out the weekly e-newsletter with the day’s schedule. I also mean writing the curriculum. I also mean creating the year-long curriculum plan that it fits into. I also mean inviting those leaders to serve in the first place and investing some time (not enough) in getting to know them and encouraging them for their work.
Some contexts for youth ministry reward face-to-face relational work with a modicum of advance planning and preparation. My last context was more like that. I planned, but if I felt the plan needed changing I could do it on the fly. What mattered was all of the students’ interactions with one another and mine with them.
I’m learning that there are some contexts where in-the-office, administrative, reflective work of planning and writing and setting leaders up for a good experience pays off just as much as the relational work does in other places.