Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Balance

Posted on by YFC Seattle

By Warren Mainard, CORE & Youth Ministry Network Director

Practice Three: Finding the Balance between Relevance and Fun and Spiritual Depth and Theology.

All you need is rubber chickens.

A few years back, I was getting to know another Youth Pastor in town who was new to his church.  Excitedly, he told me about how he had bought a box full of rubber chickens and how they would be his secret weapon for generating excitement, fun and a crowd for his youth ministry.  It struck me as an interesting approach to youth ministry, but I appreciated his enthusiasm.  A few months later, I was with this same youth pastor and he was a little more somber.  He said, “Hey, can I ask you a question… how do come up with things to teach about in youth group?”  I asked him what he meant and he replied, “Well, I’ve already talked about dating, sex, friendship and getting along with your parents.  I am not really sure where to go from here.”  Trying not to sound judgmental or condescending, I humbly encouraged him to consider going through a book of the Bible, studying a series of Bible characters, or teaching on a series of key doctrines.  He seemed to appreciate the guidance and began to implement a few of those suggestions.

On another occasion, I was speaking with a brand new Youth Pastor who could not wait to take his small youth group through a rigorous study of the 5 points of Calvinism.  I probably should have told him that was probably not the best subject for 7th grade boys, but again, I didn’t have the heart to curb his enthusiasm.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he was preparing his lesson for the kids or for his seminary professor.

We are all wired differently and certainly, we all have different passions, convictions and giftings in ministry.  When it comes to finding a balance between fun/relevance and spiritual depth/theology in our Youth Ministries, it would be wise to find a middle ground.  There should definitely be a place in your youth ministry for silliness, laughter, lightheartedness and fun.  If you can find a way to make your lesson memorable with a funny meme, a reference to the Avengers, or a rubber chicken, by all means go for it! Similarly, students should have plenty of opportunities to wrestle with deep truth, be inspired toward greater obedience and express their struggles in an authentic community.  As you strive to find the right balance, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Alternate Sermon/Lesson Series Between Topical and Exegetical: For every “Love, Sex & Dating” series you offer, consider doing a series through a portion of scripture.  A few years ago, we did a series through Psalm 80-89 entitled- “Remember the 80’s.”  Each week, we had different games, activities and challenges based on pop culture from the 1980’s, all the while challenging students to go deeper in relationship with God through the Bible study.
  2. Provide Different Opportunities for Middle School and High School: Even if you do not have separate ministries, it’s still a good idea to offer some events and opportunities that are more specific to their level of maturity.  For instance, you may want to do a Mario Kart night for Middle School boys, and a discover your SHAPE leadership retreat for your Junior and Seniors.  Unique opportunities allow you to cater the depth and the fun more to the maturity level of the students in that age group.
  3. Ask Your Students and Parents To Weigh In On Your Event and Teaching Calendar:  Give your students the freedom to tell you what they really think about your teaching… and the games and activities you do each week.  You can’t please everyone all the time, but you may discover that your students are more ready to go deeper than you anticipated.  Or, you may learn that they need to come up for air and engage in some subjects that are more relatable to their current issues.  As you reach out to parents, express to them the importance of both theological and scriptural teaching as well as allowing the students to build relationships through fun and camaraderie.  Be sure to listen to them as they express what they are seeing in the lives of their own teens.

Whether you have rubber chickens or Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary in the back of your Subaru, remember that you have been called into the life of young people who are no longer children, yet not fully adults.  Embrace the fun and frivolity of working with teens without neglecting the call to disciple them into the maturity and fullness of Christ.

Other Posts in this Series:

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Teamwork

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Parental Guidance

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Mentorship

Your First 2 Years in Youth Ministry - 7 Best Practices: Be, Know, Do

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