There are at least four levels to youth ministry in a congregation.
- The youth level. This is the most obvious and feels like the most urgent. The youth level is where all the interaction with students happens. In vans and Sunday School classrooms, in coffee shops and church basements, youth ministers talk with and listen to young people in ways that, we hope, mediate the acceptance, the call, and the love of God.
- The parent level. Relationships with parents are indispensable to strong youth ministries. Parents are partners who have a far greater influence on the faith and discipleship of young people than do youth ministers. Processes for listening to parents are critical tools for youth ministers to learn and to strengthen their work with students.
- The leader level. At this level, youth ministers tend to their own spiritual and professional development, but also do the work of inviting and nurturing leaders from the congregation to work with youth. Some of these leaders are parents, many are not. Congregations are full of talented women and men who have time and attention to share with students if only invited and given some simple tools.
- The congregational level. Youth Sundays, fundraisers, and adult education classes are just a few expressions of the fourth level of youth ministry. Here is where leaders invite students into grown up roles–as worship leaders and teachers, officers and ushers. Here, too, is where youth ministry leaders interpret adolescence as a gift to the church and adolescents as its bearers.
Youth ministry isn’t one thing. It’s at least four things.