Where I'm Coming From
I grew up in the church and have never NOT known a time when I wasn’t aware of God. I started my relationship with him in middle school at a church camp and was an active member of our youth group. But when I got to high school, I found a group of friends who kept inviting me to this thing called Young Life. When I finally got to go my junior year I loved it, but I grasped that Club wasn’t meant for me…I already knew Jesus. Even if I wasn’t the target, my leaders loved me and discipled me. In fact by that time, Campaigners was teaching me more about how to grow as a Christian than my youth group was.
So I’m a church kid and I’m a Young Life kid. When I got to college, I started volunteering with Young Life and found a lot of college-aged “YL kids” who wanted YL to be their community of faith. Despite our Area director’s exhortations to be plugged into a church, I knew a lot of YL college leaders who used their Club, Campaigners meeting, or monthly leader meeting as their “church.” I love Young Life and what it accomplishes, but I always recognized that it could not replace the church. That’s one of the main reasons why, when I felt called into the ministry, I chose to serve in a church rather than go on Young Life staff. Now, as a youth pastor, I’m very thankful for the training I received from YL. In fact, I even train my youth workers now with many of the same emphases, tools, and tips I learned way back at YL Leader Training at UT Austin. And I am thankful beyond words for the efforts of you, our local area Young Life leaders, in reaching all kinds of kids I might never have a chance to interact with. Thank you for loving Jesus by loving high schoolers!
I've been considering my response to the question, "How might YL partner with the local church better and how can the local church better partner with local YL." Having walked on both sides of the fence here (church and para-church), I recognize there are many ways we can work together better, but here are just a few ideas:
How Does YL Partner With The Local Church
Make Sure You Are Involved In A Local Church.
Your relationship with Jesus is the most important thing and God has given us the church (a community of fellow believers) as one way we keep that relationship healthy. Are you corporately worshipping God? Are you under good, solid teaching from Scripture? Are you contributing your gifts and talents in that local body of Jesus? Do you have fellowship, accountability, and challenge? Are you submitting to pastoral authority? Are you being obedient to Jesus’ commands to love other believers, to support the other believers with your resources? All Christians ought to be a part of a local church, even if the church is often behind the times and slow as molasses to respond to new ways of doing ministry.
Get To Know Your Local Church’s Youth Pastor
You two are on the same team with the same goal. You might find that developing a friendship with the local youth pastor is mutually beneficial. They might be able to use your experience and expertise in training their youth workers, or maybe they could pick your brain on programs they are working on. Maybe you can help them get into the schools their youth are a part of. They might be able to give you a safe place to vent or ask questions; they’ll be able to connect your kids to another church in their network. The sky is the limit here in how you can creatively benefit one another.
Connect Your YL Kids To A Local Church (probably yours)
If one of your kids starts a relationship with Jesus, try to connect them with a local church. I don’t say this because I want the numbers, I say this because it’s healthier for the new Christian - you won’t always be there for them and as they get older, they’ll need to know how to be a part of a church. The best bet is to try and connect them at your local church since you know the youth pastor and you’re there, worshipping and involved, on a regular basis. If they just can’t seem to fit, ask around and visit some churches with them, but get them connected in some way. You aren’t just passing them off though; continue your discipleship with them.
How Does The Local Church Partner With Young Life
Get To Know The YL Leaders In Your Church And The Schools Your Youth Attend
Youth pastors are busy, sure, but no more busy than anyone else. We need to know those who are serving Jesus outside of the walls of the church building. More than that, we need to know those who are discipling the youth in our community. They need help and support just like we do; if you know them, you’ll be able to better know how to support them. Maybe they need prayer, maybe they need a church home, maybe they need a friend who understands why they spend all their free time with kids half their age. You won’t know until you know them.
Create A Safe Environment For The Kids Who Aren’t Like The Rest Of The Youth Group
Many YL leaders want to connect their kids to a church, but their kids don’t necessarily fit the "traditional church kid mold." They need to know that if they bring a new believer to the church, that they’ll be accepted as they are, even if they don’t speak the Christian jargon, dress “properly” or act “properly.” They’re new believers who are going to be discovering how to follow Jesus. They need a safe environment to grow in, one where they can belong. They’re going to conform more and more to the image of Jesus even if it doesn’t conform to the image of your youth group culture. Can they do that in your youth group and be accepted?
Pray For The YL Clubs In Your Area
Most youth pastors want their youth to grow to a point where they are impacting their schools, reaching their friends with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it happens, but a lot of times the reaching is being done by people like our Young Life leaders. If the goal is to see youth transformed by the gospel of Jesus, then it doesn’t matter who is doing the reaching. The Church needs to be praying for those on the front lines. Pray for the leaders, clubs, and Campaigner groups that go on all around your local church.
I know there are other ways to partner together; these six ideas aren’t even new ideas, I’m sure. We’re all members of the Church, we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. We want the same thing for our kids so let’s work together to make it happen!
Please leave your comments for David below. If you would like to write a Guest Post on this topic or others, please submit via email to YL1941 at gmail dot com.