I don’t think I realized how much the last two years would wreck my idea of what youth ministry is and isn’t.
The thoughts actually started during a college ministry internship in Brazil, 2001. I conveniently protected the different ideas of youth ministry that I saw and expereinced away with my philosophy of ministry paper from my senior year in college. I think it’s all in my attic somewhere.
But some thoughts beg for more attention than one semester in college. Tenacious ideas, the kind with spirit, tend to be more pesky and relentless coming back to us like boomerangs, pinging us again and again if needed. I was in need of multiple boomerangs if that tells you anything.
This idea emerged that youth ministry happens in your every day life shared together. It couldn’t be quieted even from the attic of my most protected thoughts and it came to the surface in my first book, one that I wrote in 2007 then virtually forgot about until last night. Two years ago I think God said, I want you to see something I’ve been showing you for a long time but you’re so stubborn to see it and believe it.
Two years ago the ideas broke ground again in Costa Rica, intensified in Indonesia, became increasingly demanding of my attention in Japan, and then solidified as truth in this most recent season where I have had to rebuild everything I know about my life in ministry. I’m still in process but one thing has become astonishingly pellucid.
About five months ago the church my husband and I attended and served at since 2007 made the decision to dissolve the worship serve that we had led for years. Before the final service, hundreds of people including our pastor, encouraged us to start a church community with those from our service. It wasn’t something we had planned on doing. But throughout the process there was clarity that taking that step was the right one for us and our family.
So, with little lead time, and a great leader, my husband Coy, SOMOS Church was born.
For the first two months I told people, “we don’t have a youth ministry.”
Everything was so overwhelming. Everything was so new. There were countless decisions, meetings, discussions. I am still in shock that it all happened so quickly. This is why I couldn’t imagine starting up a youth program in the middle of it all. It was during this exact season when everything I’ve learned and all that I think God has been trying to teach me boomeranged back to upset the youth ministry equilibrium I had grown so comfortable in.
I think I was in Sri Lanka–working with the Justice Movement–an extension of our global Church that helps young people help others. It has been a huge and beautiful undertaking. And there is still so much work to do. Why God chose to use this so-busy-and-complex-I’m-not-sure-if-we-will-be-able-to-manage-it-all season to speak to me is a mystery to me–I almost think I needed the chaos to be able to find the simple truth.
I think I was watching a group of youth without a church in Sri Lanka, being church together.
I think I was experiencing community with strangers in a van for 8 hours on a journey into a village when Jesus whispered it to me–again.
“You have a youth ministry.”
“Brooklyn, you have a youth ministry.”
“Every person who lives has a youth ministry.”
The difference between those who have one and those who don’t is whether or not they choose it.
You see, there are tens of THOUSANDS of teenagers in my community. This is our youth ministry. I am so proud of all the work youth groups do all over the world. I love the fun. I see the intentionality and even the many miracles that happen within the structure of guided time together. But, there is a ministry outside of the walls of the church where teenagers live, where we find our best opportunity to love and walk with kids in their needs.
For me, to say, “I don’t have a youth ministry” was ludicrous. It was a way out when I didn’t know the way in. It was an excuse because we weren’t going to have all the of hype anymore. But thank God the hype died long enough for me to see it. The hype is just the vitamin. Your relationships are the meal.
That day I decided I was going to come out. I would never again say those words “we don’t have a youth ministry” because we always do. SOMOS church would not wait for a building or a program or even a youth pastor to begin youth ministry. But we would find out where teenagers are growing up and pay attention to them there.
The first thing I did was set up a goFundme page to ask friends if they could help me raise $40 bucks for pizza (which you can still give to if you’re into sharing pizza love) and invited teenagers I knew to have pizza with me and some other leaders who want to be active in youth ministry. We exchanged numbers and we will probably have pizza again soon. That’s it. We don’t have a building. We don’t have a budget. We don’t have a boy or a girl who is called the official “youth pastor” but we have a youth ministry.
I hope this is the heart of every person who feels called to love teenagers:
Love the kid in front of you.
Even when it’s hard. Even when you have to go out of your way to find out what’s up in their world. Even if you don’t have a budget or a “thing” to draw them to. Find one to love and let that be the youth ministry you’ve always dreamed of. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
Because that kid, that person who was lucky enough to be loved by you, will thank you someday–for not waiting for things to be perfect–but saying yes to whatever is happening now.
IG @somosyouth & @somoschurch