Youth ministry during the corona virus pandemic

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An open letter to other youth ministry leaders during corona virus pandemic

Written by Arek O’Connell

During this corona virus pandemic, God has been faithful in challenging me as a youth ministry director. At my church, Hillside Community Church, the ministry directors are currently going through a book called “Growing Young.” It’s a book that is challenging us to listen to our congregation well in an effort to implement practices that make the church attractive and ‘home’ to all generations, but especially young people. Each week we meet and discuss a new chapter. This week, as we sat 6-feet apart from one another, a providential question was asked from the books curriculum.

“If our church moved out of this neighborhood, for what would we be missed?
Who would miss us most?
What does this tell us?”

I’ve considered this hypothetical question on a number of occasions in my life. However, this time the hypothetical nature has been somewhat removed. If we follow CDC guidelines, we won’t be able to meet for at least 8 more weeks. So for the next couple of months, we’re going to get as close to experiencing “our church moving out of the neighborhood” as we’ll get before actually moving out. We’re going to have to adjust and pivot the fundamental way we connect to and with people.

Youth workers, what about your ministry will be missed by your students as you’re forced to not meet over the next two months? Maybe a better, albeit a harder question to ask, will your ministry be missed? What impact are you currently making? What relationships are you developing? As a result of your inability to meet, are your students missing out on vital discipleship opportunities?

In a very interesting way, this pandemic is an opportunity for us who are discipling young people to seriously reconsider and evaluate how we’re leading our young people. What are we teaching them? How are we pointing them to God in every arena of their life?

Personally, I’ve found myself lamenting at times how much I’ve failed to hope in Jesus during this crazy season. I’ve had the onset symptoms of a panic attack concerning a shortage of sanitizer and Lysol wipes at my local Meijer store. I’ve found myself either finding great hope or harboring great concern after each daily press conference. I’ve spent far too much time reading articles on FB rather than turning to God’s word.

As youth workers, a common point of wisdom we hear often is ‘you can’t lead students to a place you are not at or not willing to go.’

If this wisdom rings true, I can’t be in a position to be bummed at my students at all if they haven’t found their ultimate hope in Jesus either. As I’ve taken my own time to reflect during this time off, as I’ve prayed and listened to God’s direction, something I’ve realized is that I don’t talk about our future hope in Christ nearly as much as I ought to with my students.

Our hope is not in a vaccine or in a restocked shelf of bread and hand sanitizer. Our hope is not in medical doctors or their technology. Our hope is not in our local or federal government.

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Our hope yesterday, today, and tomorrow is the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen”-2 Cor. 4:17-18

How many of us need to be reminded of this truth? How much more do our students need to hear it? They don’t need to only hear it during a pandemic, but they need to hear it when they get a bad grade, when they’re cut from the sports team, when a friendship ends, when anxiety and depression cripple them, when they lose someone or something they deeply love.

In all our attempts to remain relevant and connect with our students, the reality is that there is no greater lesson we can teach them than to place their faith and hope in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and return of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

This is what God has placed on my heart during this pandemic. Our hope must remain in Jesus and Jesus alone. We need to hear it, we need to teach it, and we need to repeat it as long as we have breath in our lungs.

When’s the last time you’ve had two unexpected months off? I know it’s a first for me. As a youth worker take this time to do something:

  • Review your vision and mission for your ministry and ask if you’re accomplishing what you’ve set out to do.
  • Use the time you’d normally give to creating and planning a game to talk to one of your students. Ask them how your ministry is discipling them, equipping and empowering them in our world today.
  • Call some parents of your students. Ask them what they’ve noticed and observed during their new role as a homeschool teacher. Ask them what spiritual opportunities await for us when they return.
  • Pray, and then pray some more. Ask God for direction in your ministry. Our plans for the rest of the year have been thrown to the wayside, what better time to ask God what His plan is?
  • Read a book on youth ministry and/or youth culture. Go check out CPYU.org and do some research on the world our students are living in.
  • Honestly ask yourself, “what am I sharing with my students that’s worthy of being missed?”

The truth of the matter is I don’t know how much my students are missing our ministry right now (I hope it’s more than I think). But I do know one thing, if we’re not being missed maybe we have to re-evaluate if we’re constantly sharing a message that’s worthy of being missed.

Take this time to pursue Jesus and learn from him where your new normal might be when we’re able to return to group based ministry.