I was halfway through my fifth year of serving as the staffed youth minister of very small church. For the first time we began to see numerical growth in the Wednesday night youth group. This was an encouraging surprise since we had just put an end to our outreach ministry program called the “Hang-out” at the beginning of Summer.
It was heartbreaking to have to stop the “Hang-out” youth outreach program. God had blessed the ministry with more students that did not know Jesus than we could really handle. There were weeks when we would have two or three students at Wednesday youth group and roughly thirty students at the “Hang-out”. We had the wonderful problem of trying to find enough staff to responsibly be able to put on the ministry. I even had to call in favors from trusted and willing friends from other churches to help.
In one of the clearest acts of God I had ever witnessed, He brought students from the community through the doors of our church. There was really nothing to draw the students there other than God providing them. Sure, I would set up my guitars, basses, and let them use the drums and piano, we shared a meal with them, and we had board games that they never chose to play. These students were not coming because of anything we were doing. God created a community of young people out of nothing.
For a time, we were able to foster relationships with the students and the ministry program grew. Though I was only working as a youth minister part time, God was providing a window into the student’s lives.
After a couple years, I found a secular job to support me while I ministered part-time at the church. As much of a blessing finding the new job was for me, it meant trouble for this ministry program.
I was no longer able to be there for the doors to open. I had to set up the best I could the night before. I also had to line up additional leaders to cover for me until I got off work and was able to get there.
We struggled through the next year to be able to continue the program. We had to cancel at times because we could not get enough staff for the event. I truly believe that we also had problems because we did not have time before the program started to get together to pray and to focus on the purpose of the program like we did the first few years of the program. Though we had to end the program, God was faithful.
Per the design of the “Hang-out” program, we had fostered relationships with many of the students. As a result of these relationships, a number of students began attending the Wednesday night youth group program. I praise God for the opportunity He created for many of these students to hear the Word of God for the first time!
But, a frustration began to grow in the portion of the church that was involved with the youth ministry. These feelings started at the “Hang-out” before it ended. An Many of the students that came to Wednesday night youth group as a result of the “Hang-out” program were difficult to handle. If I am to be perfectly honest, as amazing as it was to watch God draw students in ways that I couldn’t explain, there were many times the limits of my patience were tested as well.
The truth is that many of the students that God provided us were not housebroken.
There were times when I feel that we were able to show love and grace to these difficult students. But there were also times when we did not represent Christ’s with loving patience. Praise God that He has grace for us when we fail.
We live in a post Christian culture. That means that there are little-to-no culturally Christian values in the young people that do not have families at all. The students did not come with any of the normal pre-programmed behaviors that one could expect the general population to understand. The students were completely and utterly worldly in every sense of the word.
The kids did not know basic respectful etiquette such as not talking loudly while the group they are a part of is praying, or that it is not ok to constantly interrupt the lesson to offer counterpoints and try to convert the group to their secular humanist philosophy (yes, that really happened). We had to be wary of certain activities that had the potential for students to be out of the leaders sight to avoid make-out sessions, drug sales, and bullying. They cussed like sailors and delighted in their sin.
As frustrating as working with students such as these was, I was thrilled with the opportunity it presented us. We had the opportunity to show God’s love to these students despite themselves as a community. We had the opportunity to present the Love of Christ to them in a way that they would not likely ever be shown again.
I think we get impatient with the pace that God likes to work in the lives of individuals. We are much more comfortable loving and spending time with the students that already love the Lord and know how to behave. God, at times, likes to move slowly.
We are called to witness and love people. We must put our faith in the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of unbelievers through the Word of God. I believe that God’s Word will not return void.
So my question is: How well is your church prepared to minister to people who are not housebroken to Christian values?
Is your church prepared to make disciples of people who do not behave like Christians already?
I would love to hear any stories of people ministering to people who made it difficult to love them. Especially if the story ends with the person putting their faith in what Christ has done for them.
I pray that God works mightily in the hearts of people that do not know Him. I pray that God gives his people patience, understanding, and direction to minister to those who are not easy to minister to. Never let us forget that we are all sinners in need of God’s Grace just as much as the people God has put into our lives.
Tyler Somers has a passion for serving Christ by serving His people. Christ has led him on a unique path of ministry. He has worn many different hats including training among pastors and missionaries at the Lutheran Brethren Seminary, serving as a youth minister, serving as a trustee, serving on church councils and boards, and serving Christ in any capacity as the Lord leads.