in part 1 of this series, i wrote about the North American churches obsession with copying. and teased out the idea of being driven. in part 2, i unpacked the idea of presence.
this is the final part of the series:
The Enemies of Presence
In our driven youth ministry lives, there are many enemies of presence. But let’s quickly look at three of them.
Goal Obsession. Goals have their place. For instance, if I didn’t ever have goals, I would stand no chance of getting my immense to-do list completed. But our churches, and, as a result, our youth ministries, have become goal obsessed. This obsession is more of a reflection of the process of strategic planning being imported into the church than it is a reflection of biblical values.
I heard Rob Bell refer to this once. He said that most of us have a “destination” view of life instead of a “journey” view of life. If all we focus on is the destination, we stand to completely miss out on the joy and blessing of the journey. But if we live with the journey, all we need think about is the next step, our next move toward Jesus, our next opportunity to embody and embrace love.
Inflexibility. An unfortunate cousin to goal obsession is inflexibility. I regularly miss out on being present to others, present to Jesus, and present to the Spirit’s nudging in my life because of my natural inflexibility. When I have a plan in place, it always feels like a significant and unacceptable compromise to readjust and redirect.
Jesus was the master of flexibility. Watch him on the extremely important and politically valuable way to heal the daughter of an important government official, when he stops to have a life-altering conversation with the bleeding woman (Luke 8:42b – 48, as well as accounts in Matthew and Mark). Check him out when he stops teaching to address the faith of the dudes who lowered their friend through a hole in the roof on a mat (Luke 5:17 – 26, as well as an account in Mark). Over and over again, Jesus pushes the pause button and leans into flexibility, in order to be present.
Confidence. Confidence is a good thing, right? Sure, when our confidence is in Christ. But confidence can easily turn on us and devour presence. When I’m sure I’m right, and you’re wrong, I forfeit the opportunity to be present. When I tighten the grip of my plan, my knowledge, my whatever, I rip myself off; and I walk right past – charge on past, really – any hope of seeing God in another, or sensing the presence of God, or hearing the still small, re-directing voice of God.
Why Presence Matters In Youth Ministry
No need to draw this out, as I’m sure, by now, this is very clear to you. Our calling is not about programs. Our calling is about people – particularly, teenagers. And teenagers, being created in the image of God, are wired for belonging. Here me on this: teenagers do not experience belonging because of our wonderful programs; they experience belonging when someone is present to them. Then, they get an appetizer for the belonging they can experience through the presence of Christ. And, ultimately, isn’t that what we long for? Isn’t that what our calling is all about?