For months I have been receiving phone calls, emails, and texts from people inquiring about what youth ministry might look like in the upcoming fall season. They’re asking important questions about what we can do with the teens in our midst while still living within the reality of the pandemic. Perhaps you have been wondering about this as well.
Many of us are hoping that we will return to the “old normal” very soon. In many ways, I wish for that too. But friends, the landscape has changed. All indicators show that what was once normal will not be our reality ever again.
So maybe it is here that we can speak the oft-used 2020 word “pivot” and shift our stance from mourning to dancing. If we look at youth ministry from a cup-half-full perspective, it almost feels like we have been given the gift of a mulligan. A what??
For those not familiar with the term, a mulligan is defined by Wikipedia as “a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder. Its best-known meaning is in golf, whereby a player is informally allowed to replay a stroke, even though this is against the formal rules of golf.”
In other words, it’s the moment in golf when you just shanked your worst shot of the day and someone says, “Take a mulligan.” It’s a do-over, a bit of grace extended to you by the other players. As a below-average golfer myself, I am always happy to take a mulligan.
To be clear, I’m not saying that we who serve in ministry with children, youth and emerging adults require a mulligan because the things we have been doing are bad or a blunder. Rather, the circumstances of 2020 have gifted us with an opportunity to learn from what we have done and apply those key takeaways as we set up for our “next shot.”
The COVID pandemic has given us the unexpected gift of time to reflect on what we’re doing and why. As I do this, my own experiences and wonderings have led me to some observations.
Although Zoom and similar platforms were a game-saver for group gatherings, it left some of our students and leaders even more lost due to video fatigue or “INFJ syndrome” (INFJ is a Myers Briggs personality type that can be described this way: “Even if you had plenty of friends, you never felt like you truly fit in. You can be incredibly shy, quiet, and withdrawn. You are an introvert and you like alone time, but you can’t be alone for too long. Eventually you need to reunite with your people. ‘Your people’ are a handful of good friends who truly get you.”)
Response: If your church is restarting youth ministry, consider creating opportunities for deeper one-to-one connections. Many of the youth leaders who lost connection with teens through video gained traction with those on the fringes with a simple phone call or text. This invites us to explore robust mentoring practices. Find ways to build on natural connections and gather group steam in smaller, more intimate settings.
A faith practice idea: I can envision powerful small groups (mini youth churches) emerging where prayer and mutual accountability becomes the community-building norm. For those coming through this Gen C (the “Covid generation”) moment, community and belonging (see the Building Blocks of Faith) will be a benchmark of our ministries.
Youth and churches love SERVE and serving, but the reality is, travel will be limited when it comes to service experiences. My sense is that won’t change much for the rest of 2020 and perhaps even for 2021.
Response: For those youth ministries who are restarting or using their mulligan, think missional and local. Work with the deacons and local shelters to learn how the youth small groups mentioned above can be the hands and feet of Christ in their neighbourhoods. This MUST be part of youth ministry moving forward if we want healthy youth/intergenerational ministry in our churches. (Youth Unlimited developed a resource called SERVE@home which helps grade 6-12 students, emerging adults, and leaders take on local mission practices.)
A faith practice idea: Using the eyes of Jesus, how can we model compassion and hospitality to our neighbours and communities? Pray for homes down your street. Shovel someone’s sidewalk just because you can. Smile and say hello to someone you don’t know when you’re out walking. Listen to the voices of those in your community who feel like they can’t breathe. Gen C will want to see faith in action, and that begins at home. So speak it, preach it, and live it.
Trauma, mental health issues, and pain will be a contextual norm, both for youth and for their leaders.
Response: Make sure each ministry leader has someone in their back pocket who can help. Each church should have a mental health toolkit and each ministry leader a spiritual advisor. Many ministry people are crashing or will crash soon. We need to incorporate times and places of soul care during this season so that leaders can lead from a place of good health.
A faith practice idea: Find time to rest. God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh. You cannot do more than God. Make sure each ministry person is given space for soul care throughout the year. Create space to rest in God’s unquenchable love for you daily. Syd Hielema and Ron deVries did this video on Soul Care. Let it help you develop faith practices of soul care. And seriously consider introducing soul care practices to the youth you lead.
We are entering new territory this fall. Our default in the past has been putting on the best events and offering top-notch programming. While important, we can never put programs over people, especially in the Covid reality in which we live for now. Invest in your youth and their leaders. Let them know their lives and world are of the utmost importance to God and therefore are of utmost importance to you.
Questions to Ponder:
How will you place people over programs this coming season?
What one new faith practice will you adopt this coming season?
How might you encourage soul care in your youth ministry?