This Guest Post comes from Eric Hoskins, YL Area Director in Birmingham, Alabama. Eric has been a YL leader for 17 years, 9 years on staff. He is currently exploring different strategies for partnering with local churches in Birmingham. Under his alias of "The Desire," Eric was previously featured on the YLLB last month.
How Can Young Life & The Church Better Partner Together?
I approached this question a bit apprehensively, not supposing that I understand all the obstacles facing us as we seek to build partnerships with local churches. Despite working at developing healthy partnerships with two local churches (and with varying degrees of “success”), I admittedly enter this discussion with far more questions than answers. However, as I’ve read with great interest the reflections written in this series, and as I’ve weighed the opinions offered here against my personal experience, it becomes clear to me that there is no shortage of answers to this one question. Good answers. Great answers, even. But if I am honest, I have to wonder if there are so many answers that there is no real answer.
I have no question that this suggestion may not settle well with many of you. Some of us are desperate to develop healthy relationships with our local churches and we need answers. Some of us have failed repeatedly to feel accepted by or build relationships with local churches, and we just need someone to tell us how to do it. Some of us have even been wildly successful in developing these partnerships, and therefore think we have the answer. But while some of us may have “an” answer, it is arrogant to think that we have “the” answer.
With thousands of Young Life areas across the world, employing thousands of staff and tens of thousands of volunteers, there are a nearly limitless number of contexts in which we ask this question. And this is why one answer, or five answers, or 500 answers cannot adequately explain how YL can partner better with the Church.
So, without a clear answer to give, I’d love to instead offer suggestions to those of you wrestling with the question, and wrestling with making partnerships work in your communities. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but is hopefully helpful nonetheless.
1. Understand Young Life’s relationship with the Church.
We need to understand clearly that the Church is God’s intended Disciple-making entity in the world, and that the Church is always primary in our relationship. As has already been discussed in previous posts, we get into trouble when we think or believe that we have to step in because the Church has not done its job. We need to check ourselves if we begin to see ourselves as the “experts” and the Church as somehow subservient to Young Life. As disciples of Christ, we are first and foremost called to be together with believers in the presence of Christ (church) and are then sent out into ministry (which can also be the church, but I presume that most of us are doing this through Young Life.) If we ever elevate Young Life to the level of the church, we are practicing heresy. Church is not a tool in our toolbox. We are a tool in the church’s toolbox.
2. Understand the reservations the Global Church has with parachurch ministries.
For several great articles on this subject, check out www.9marks.org and enter “parachurch” into the search bar. The wealth of resources there is impressive.
3. Understand the reservations your local church may have with parachurch ministries.
As has been discussed, there are several churches and pastors with valid hesitations about these partnerships, and this reticence often has more to do with the mistakes of parachurches than the ignorance of the church. What makes your church hesitant?
4. Understand how a partnership will benefit your local church.
Do we approach a potential partnership with our churches only seeking an answer to “how will this partnership benefit Young Life?” (Again, if we are placing our mission or our best interests ahead of the Church’s, we are in danger of becoming heretics.) I believe that if the church does its job well, by God’s grace their church will grow. And if I do my job well, by God’ grace, their church will grow. I’m not a believer that if they or I do our jobs well that Young Life should necessarily grow.
5. Understand how a partnership will benefit your Young Life area.
I think sometimes we want a partnership with churches because they will pray for us, or they will support us financially. But if these are our motivations, we have missed the point. Partnering with the church allows us to serve Christ by serving His bride. This really is our greatest benefit.
How can your YL area better partner with the Church? I don’t know. With that said, I hope you hear me when I say that this is an essential question to continue asking, and one that I pray we are asking the Lord, our Committees, staff and leaders, and to the staff of our local churches. I pray that we are seeking the unique answers required to partner with multiple churches in our communities. And I pray that we’d all see the Glory of God expressed in kids and in churches throughout our communities!
Please leave comments for Eric below.