Relational Student Ministry
By Dave Young
Greetings, My name is Dave Young. For those that don’t know me, run. For those that do, sorry for your luck. I am an adult volunteer for Student Ministries for Shiloh UMC (Cincinnati, Ohio), and have been now for over 6 years. Previous to that I was the leader of the Youth Group and grade 6-12 Sunday School at Eden Chapel UMC (Cincinnati, Ohio) for about 8 years. So now at Shiloh, I have lived through 2 great youth leaders and am now mentoring the next generation leader which arrived this past year. Now at the age of 62 (a young 62 I might add) some would say that I’m not really relevant for that grade 6-12 group and I would probably agree. I just have not gotten GOD to agree. Every time I say enough is enough, the HOLY SPIRIT says something to me, and I really hate hearing voices when I’m the only one in the room. That being said, WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES! At the end of the day, what do we accomplish, have we really saved anyone, have we made a difference. Have we changed lives? So at the end of the day if we are asking those questions, we are not in the right place in ministry.
When I was in youth group 45 years ago, we met for 2 hours on Sunday night in someone’s basement between September and May. Then in July we went for a one week camp somewhere. Camp back then was really just a vacation. That was the norm. At Eden Chapel when I was in charge we went year round and the youth loved it. So when I went to Shiloh and May came we were shutting down again and I said “what is up with this?” I was told this is what we have always done. After a little more discussion that first leader I was with said, Okay you want it, you lead it as a servant lead time and I obviously said COOL. So that year was kind of luke-warm for some thinking, we had 7-12 every Wednesday sometimes 15.
Year 2 came for that summertime and we kept going again, but now we were at 15 to 25 every Wednesday. Six years later, I see over 100 youth every week. Okay there is really a little explaining needed. About 10 years ago Shiloh spent money like a mega church and built a gymnasium with a stage and 6 basketball hoops, volleyball, a new education and youth wing, it’s all really cool. We also have a Middle School across the street. Shiloh partnered with this school and started a program called SURGE a modern update of a program that they had called Pizza and Prayer. SURGE at once a month would have about 150 youth between 2:15-4:15. So that coupled with Wednesday nights at about 20, we would see about 230 youth a month. Not a shabby number. We did that with one leader and 5 volunteers. Fast forward to today we see about 110 youth 2:15-4:15 every week with 25-30 staying all the way until 8 through Wednesday nights. Over 450 youth a month with one leader and 4 volunteers.
So what is changing for that SURGE? The honest truth is a real need by our youth to feel safe and connected. Safe, that’s the easy one. In a gym and youth room monitored by adults we can keep safety pretty much under control. Connected, now that can be the tough one for all of us. I don’t know about your group, but I do know about mine. Over 65% of our youth are single parented or no parented. Of that group, over 20% have been removed from their parents because of jail, drugs or alcohol, which means they are living with grandma/grandpa or in foster care or adopted. We live in a new era where the people raising the youth of today are still growing up themselves. So I guess that I have taken you the long way to get to the point of my writing this, BEING CONNECTED, isn’t that what we are all about. The only point for our existence is if we become RELATIONAL and CONNECT with our youth. So now connect, I don’t mean becoming friends with your youth. They have friends. They need accountable relationships, that kind of relationship where you hold them accountable for things they do and they can hold you accountable for things you do and say. We don’t get to tell them we are going to try to do something and not complete it or do it. Yeah I get it, 10 kids ask you to come to their graduations and they are not all at the same school. I get it, but I had a fabulous youth leader that was all about building team, and in teams you get relationship. With those team relationships you will get help covering all those graduations. I was telling my new lead pastor about commitments I go to for our youth, and his reply was “let me know I would love to go with you to some of their events”. Look around you, there is no reason to try to travel this road alone. Relationships are built on trust and time. This is one of my big sticking points, you know the average youth leader is around only about 2 years before they move on to the next opportunity. If our goal ultimately is to get our youth into a relationship with JESUS and to trust in him, well how well is that going to work if they can’t trust us to be there on the adventure with them. This is a great time to look at James 1:16-18. It reminds us that GOD “does not change like the shifting shadows”. Shifting Shadows is that not what we are becoming. To try and do real relational ministry and have a revolving door mentality never works. It takes normally 2+ years for the seeds you planted to take root and start to grow. We move on through a perceived promotion or lateral promotion and it is like taking a weed wacker to the plant, we just cut it off and assume it will grow back fine with the next leader. I am currently working with a number of youth dealing with major family issues, and even with my time investment in them and the comfort level in those relationships we still have communication disconnects. When our youth don’t believe that they have a stable relationship to go to, they will always go to the old standbys to not feel the pain overtaking them. That will always be some sort of addiction, whether sex, drugs, alcohol, behavior one of those will always shine brightly. As we close this, our main goal is to put one caring adult into the life of each of our student. Sometimes that adult is me, sometimes it’s not me, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to find out who that caring adult will be for that youth. Remember it takes a village and the fact that GOD has spent his whole known existence wanting to be in relationship with us. Should not we be using his model as the basis for our youth programs? We serve a GOD that is in it for the long haul, don’t you think we should be also.
Dave is a volunteer youth worker on the student ministry team of Shiloh UMC, in Cincinnati, Ohio. If youth are in the gym playing basketball, wondering into the after school program, or coming to youth group they will meet Dave. He is there learning the students names and stories. He is there to help each of them realize that God is already at work in their life. He is there developing relationships with all the students God brings his way. When Dave is not hanging out with students in the church or community he is rehabbing airplanes or spending time with his family and friends.