I recently wrote a post about how spiritual formation leads teenagers to caring about Christ causes. The things that matter to God, should matter to us.

I suggested that if we want kids to care about the things Jesus cares about, then we should do our best to give them environments and relationships that reveal who Jesus is more often. Here’s the post about how faith in God flows outward through serving/ personal ministry and some steps you can take to begin to think about how kids are developed spiritually in your context. (Here are the notes I presented at NYWC this year as well.)

At the same time, we sometimes see in youth ministry that meeting God, hearing from God, and experiencing God can begin and continue when youth begin to serve others–even before that day when the realization is made that they are created, loved, forgiven, and blessed as God’s beloved kids.

Recently, I had the privilege of hearing one of my favorite authors do a reading from her most recent publication. When given a chance, we should always find space to sit with someone who humors their own mistakes and addictions, someone who spends their time to doing something that doesn’t come easily, someone who is honest about the peaks and valleys of staying with something even when you don’t feel with it. We need these hospitable spaces of honesty to keep going. Do you have people like this in your life?

My friends and I would tell you that there are days when we feel far from God and far from getting things right. We wrestle with ideas and wonder if how we are serving is how we could be serving best. There are days when we don’t feel like we are rescuers at all but we stay in places where rescuing things happen because we believe that the loving others part of the Great Commandment is just as important as the loving God part.  We take turns getting it right and take turns helping each other. Basically, we take turns serving and we take turns learning. Serve. Learn. Serve. Grow. Help. Form. Serve. Wonder. Give. Celebrate. Learn. Serve. Mourn. Lift. Lean. Serve. Fly. Re imagine. Risk. Serve….

It’s in our movement forward, into doing something that matters that we find a flickers of hope born in messy places and we begin to see our Source, and we are made new in them.

This is how we are,  a boomerang of growth and regression, of reaching out and drawing in, yet sometimes we expect teenagers to grow in a straight line.

We default at times to a pattern of teaching: Meet Jesus. Accept his love and forgiveness. Grow as a follower. Reflect our relationship. Serve others.

I recommend giving them space to grow like we do. Sometimes meeting Jesus happens after we meet a person who needs the love of Jesus. Sometimes we find Jesus in our own needs and look for him there. I’m suggesting that we keep both ideas in focus.

Serving others can be a two way highway of grace–it’s a wide path for us to share and experience the living God.

But it isn’t always a straight path.

straight road

Christian spiritual formation and serving others in ways that push against injustice are not like those straight and fast roads.

They are more like fires in us, lit by wood stacked up. Some wood fuels our faith and others fuels our work. Some of it may be wet and harder to light at the moment, other pieces are ready to ignite and can cause a reaction in all of the rest.

wood blocsk

Our work is in stoking the fires in the places of potential.

In my experience, serving others stokes fires.

How do you turn up serving in your youth ministry?

How do you connect teenagers to things that could stoke the fires of their forming faith and passions?

How do you lead them to the places where they can develop a heart for the poor?

  • Take and inventory of your youth programs, what you are currently doing, and ask, “Is this event, program, study, thing…giving teenagers space to do something? If we are praying and we are not acting, then I’m not sure if we are praying as we should.

It is the compassionate prayer that calls for compassionate action. The disciple is called to follow the Lord not only into the desert and onto the mountain to pray but also into the valley of tears, where help is needed, and onto the cross, where humanity is in agony. Prayer and action can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive. …If prayer leads us into a deeper unity with the compassionate Christ, it will always give rise to concrete acts of service.” – Henri Nouwen, Compassion

  • Sticky note your future plans on a wall and ask, “Where are we making space for prayerful action?” Teenagers may lead the prayer but they may not. Let your prayer life lead the plans you make to serve others. As teenagers learn to serve they will learn to pray.
  • Make space for a conversation with your team, friends, and church leaders about your desires to serve others as an act of spiritual formation.

Align the dreams of your team with the dreams of your God. God will show you who to serve and how to act. When you make this a priority you will find that your hope for the future will guide how you act now. Teenagers will see Jesus when they see Jesus in the faces of those in need. Teenagers will see Jesus when they seek Him and in seeing Him they will begin to serve and act.

If you are looking for a hands on experience that you can begin today, please check out the 30 Hour Famine on our new website and be looking for new resources you can use to incorporate compassionate living in every day youth ministry.

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Spiritual formation is ongoing, it’s a journey inward and a journey outward that happens at the same time. I feel like keeping this in view is the secret to WHOLE youth ministry.

Wholeness is real. Wholeness is radical. Whole is something every youth ministry can be.


*Photos by our traveler friend Jay Mantri

Palm Trees - Brooklyn Lindsey - Lakeland, FL - Speaking

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