presence in youth ministry (part 3)

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.

goalsGoal 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?

6 thoughts on “presence in youth ministry (part 3)”

  1. Marko – I’ve enjoyed this blog series. I will say my initial response is to try to ‘discuss.’ I want to be present to what you’re saying and less quick to debate. So let me attempt to dialog. Would you say the idea of ‘presence’ is just as important for ministry specifically to ‘adults’?

  2. Hey Ryan – well, in one hand, to say this is a youth ministry issue is ridiculous. It’s a people ministry issue. On the other hand, two things: 1. My observation is that youth workers have often been some of the most driven people on a church staff. And 2. The white hot call for belonging from teenagers makes question of presence particularly appropos.

  3. LOVE this series of posts, Marko. I actually had a super duper long reply that I just deleted only because it made it sound like I really disagree with you, which I don’t. I mostly agree!

    I’ll simply say that I hope we don’t do young youth workers a disservice by trying to get them to swing the pendulum too far in a new direction when the people they are accountable to aren’t (yet anyway) on the same page. You and I have way more freedom to operate outside the institutional norms than our young friends.

    I’m sticking to my idea that there is a time to be driven….and that’s okay. And there’s a time to be present. And those two traits compliment each other very well.

  4. yeah, i think you’re right that you and i would agree on this stuff MUCH more than not, kurt. when i posted, i hoped you wouldn’t take a couple lines in there as shots at you/your church – they weren’t, at all.

    and far be it from me to either “swing a pendulum” (not interested in that, and rarely think pendulum swinging is helpful), or encourage young youth workers to ignore the expectations of those to whom they’re accountable.

  5. i love this line… Over and over again, Jesus pushes the pause button and leans into flexibility, in order to be present… nice! i been pondering this for awhile and the idea of being present, not only in youth ministry, but in life…really came home to me after i completed the Present Hope Tour on my first bike ride from Joplin thru Tuscaloosa to Catalyst in Atlanta. As we rode through those areas of destruction and met with the victims of the tornadoes the idea of “being present” really settled in to my own journey and my practice in ministry and the obvious…when we are present to others….sometimes if not most times in the “storms” of life that wreck us it is and can be huge kingdom moving things that can happen. great series of posts…good stuff.

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