Right now I am finishing up a youth ministry class at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. I wrote this essay to present a community care partnership model of youth ministry. My inspiration for sharing this model comes through a few different relationships I have made, ministry and theology books I have read, and networks that I have formed over the past year. Locally, I have been looking for opportunities to reach out to schools through my church, participated in the New Wine, New Wineskins’ ministry at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, and developed a habit of being in relationship with friends and families through eating meals and sharing life’s joys and frustrations together. I also have been intentionally networking with people outside of Portland through blogging about youth culture and outreach paradigms, participated in The Justice Conference in 2012 and 2013, and connected with people from different churches and community development programs. One example was meeting Jeremy Chia, Community Care Pastor, from Willow Creek Church in Chicago. His ministry consists of reaching the vulnerable and needy through the Care Center they operate. Books that have contributed to my development of this model are Consuming Jesus by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, Sticky Faith by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark, Mae Elise Cannon’s book Social Justice Handbook, and Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma. I hope to present sustainable core values and application goals for moving people into awareness of issues impacting their community, ministry and biblical training, and getting people to put their faith into action.
First, in my involvement with youth ministry the typical core values of evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry that are communicated have an origin in Saddleback’s Purpose Driven Church movement, and Doug Fields’ book The Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry. In my proposal for a community care partnership youth ministry model I am not saying that these core values are not important, but that the shape and application might be slightly different. I would also add that in order for this model to work it needs to be fostered in a church environment whose culture is united by a multi-generational and multiethnic community of believers because that is a prophetic picture of Christ’s reconciling power to the world (Eph. 2:11-22).
The reason a multi-generational and multi-ethnic community is important is because it provides different voices as safeguards for the ministry of the church. The multi-generational aspect brings older people with godly wisdom, life experience, and resources to disciple the younger, energetic, and more often sporadic members into developing their theology, spiritual gifts, and wisdom for discernment of God’s calling in their life. The multi-ethnic aspect is important because it doesn’t allow us (typical white Evangelicals) to use homogeneous language that is dangerous to commodifying others instead of developing relationships with people outside of our comfort zones. The language I am referencing is the habit of talking about the “target audience” instead of neighbors, and “those people over there” instead of specific cultural, ethnic, and religious groups that we intentionally want to develop relationships with locally and globally.
Second, community care partnerships begin with awareness of the issues that effect our community such as homelessness, substance abuse, fatherlessness, educational problems, bullying, violence, pollution, and hunger. Developing awareness should involve the whole family, especially parents. Dr. Christian Smith, a sociologist from the University of Notre Dame reported, “Most teenagers and their parents may not realize it, but a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents” (Powell & Clark).
Communicating with parents about their students and scheduled events, meeting with them on a regular basis, and inviting them on missions trips and service projects with the youth group are all ways that they will be exposed and hopefully buy into your ministry goals.
One way that I think would work to create awareness is to have a monthly movie night where a documentary or movie on a particular issue is shown, questions and concerns are discussed afterwords, and our hearts are bathed in prayer in order to seek God’s heart on how we can love our neighbors. It is my experience that it is not hard for people to want to help others, but it is hard to get people together that want to help people in the same way. For example, I am passionate about educational concerns in public schools, but I have friends who are highly involved in homeless ministry. Our mutual concern for people and love for Christ can fuel encouragement, prayer, and sharing needs with one another and we might cross paths in various ways.
We have to guard against competing for resources and people. We need to have a mutual interconnectedness of sharing resources, volunteers, and event spaces to engage the community holistically. While it might be easy to engage one particular issue because it is popular to do it, I remember the words of Dr. Paul Louis Metzger at The Justice Conference, “Justice is not a technique or tool or photo op, but a way of life; it must be sustained by way of biblical convictions and our heart’s attitude. The justice race is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Third, before we can put faith into action we must give the youth staff and students we are working with training for ministry skills and biblical truth in order for them to grow mentally and spiritually in a discipleship relationship. Using your regular meetings on Sunday, youth group nights, and even small groups can provide opportunities for this. Teaching on James, Nehemiah, or Psalms would be good.
I am a firm believer that students should be up front and lead as much as possible. Jim Burns and Mike Devries offer these three components for effective peer-to-peer ministry: 1) spiritual accountability, 2) ministry skills, and 3) hands-on ministry.
Youth leaders need to keep students accountable to keep integrity and purity as goals in nurturing spiritual formation through studying God’s word and prayer. Serving together will help students develop ministry skills and for them to lead their peers into hands-on ministry. “Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life” (Nouwen).
Key theological components for community care is to realize the triune God’s heart for the lost to come to salvation and have an abundant life in Jesus Christ (Jn. 10:10), recognizing all people as inherently valuable and created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and social justice as an act of worship in the lifestyle of daily surrender to God, downward mobility, and concern for the poor, orphan, widow, and foreigners in our midst (Rom. 12:1-2; Mk. 8:34-35; Deut. 10:17-19; Jas. 2:14-17; Mic. 6:8).
“Justice, goodness, unity, and grace are all words that describe the harmony God desires. They are His musical notes, melody, rests, and crescendos- the music He has written for His creation. We are meant to participate in concert, dynamically, with God’s plan” (Wytsma).
Fourth, mobilizing people to put their faith in action is the culmination of a long and tedious process that involves networking with existing ministries or meeting a need organically by inviting people into your church. Partnerships with existing ministries and community organizations can show a willingness to work toward the common good together. If a group chooses to partner with a secular organization then both sides must understand that we are working towards a common goal and we must accept the differences we have. Most likely though, especially in youth ministry, it is more realistic to believe that a youth group will partner with a Christian organization such as a rescue mission, food bank, or missions group in order to have common unity in faith and vision to reach others with the love of Christ.
Action steps could include many practical and complex solutions. The most important issue is to be consistent in whatever it is that you do whether that is 5 days a week, once a week, or once a month. Here are some ideas that I have heard of or been a part of: providing free or cheap child care one evening so parents could go shopping or on a date, giving free coffee or hot chocolate at a local bus stop, visiting a senior center in the community, doing an after-school tutoring and mentoring program, collecting food for a food bank, or doing yard work for people with physical limitations. Another important aspect of doing these projects is to constantly remind people involved that the reason we do this is to create relationships with others, connect the community with faces and stories from their local church, share the gospel, and seek to be the change we want to see in the world by the love of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of Christ.
“The Christian religion is not an opiate to the masses; rather, it offers energizing hope that mobilizes the church to become downwardly mobile and to partner with the downtrodden to take action and do something about their oppressive circumstances. The church is to live in the present in light of God’s future, which has already dawned in Christ’s mighty act on its behalf in history” (Metzger).
When discussing the development and application of a community care partnership youth ministry model the goal is to create a sustainable movement and passion amongst students and people in the church to engage and minister to the individuals and structures of the community around them. The important things to remember are to keep constantly seeking the heart of God to empower you for the work of justice, get the voices of people from different generations and ethnicities in order to have wisdom and trust of people in the church, create awareness through family involvement in your youth ministry, disciple students and give them an opportunity to use their gifts with their peers, and be consistent in your engagement of the community care partnership that you develop.
Powell, Kara E. and Chap Clark. “Sticky Faith.” Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2011. 24.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger. The Justice Conference pre-workshop “How to sustain a justice movement.” Presented on 2/22/13 in Philadelphia, PA.
Burns, Jim and Mike Devries. Uncommon Youth Ministry: Your Onramp to Launching an Extraordinary Youth Ministry. Ventura. Regal Books. 2001. 137.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. In the name of Jesus: reflections on Christian leadership. New York. Crossroad Publishing. 1989. 61.
Wytsma, Ken. Pursuing Justice: The call to live and die for bigger things. Nashville. Thomas Nelson. 2013. 26.
Metzger, Paul Louis. Consuming Jesus: beyond race and class divisions in a consumer church. Grand Rapids. WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2007. 86.