Networking the Kingdom
Two current waves in youth ministry are the ³healthy wave² and the ³family wave². We need to focus on the health of our ministries and not just the flash factor. We also need to broaden our ministries to better incorporate the nuclear family and church family in our service to students. These two waves are both biblical and necessary, however, something is missing. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary has written, ³How much in the evangelical church continues to exist because no one cares to find a better way? We are often confronted by a mania of mediocrity, rather than the challenge of change. The question is, Is that what we want? Every person called and used of God in every generation did not just keep on doing what he or she had always been doing. They altered their thinking and action, and the results were radical.²
The better way in youth ministry involves building healthy relationships with the broader family of believers, or networking. Many people hear ³networking² and they think of a multilevel marketing salesman. Networking is not schmoozing, neither is it using people to accomplish your will. Networking is seeking unity in what we can and offering freedom in our differences. Networking seeks to advance the cause of Christ in a way that individual churches can not. Networking can help you and the people that you connect with in many ways. Networking with other youth pastors is beneficial for everyone involved.
I have been involved with three different youth ministry networks. The first one would be considered normal, the second one could be labeled a ³mega-network² and the third one is currently being resurrected. The first one consisted of four to six youth pastors that met monthly. When the ³mega-network² celebrated its two year anniversary over one hundred and twenty youth pastors ate and worshiped together for a Christmas party! The third one is trying to get off the ground after a two year hiatus.
The first two groups, though different, succeeded because they focused on two things: Minister To Each Other and Minister With Each Other.
We must minister to each other before we can effectively minister with each other. Ministering to each other requires the following:
1. SEEK UNITY WITHOUT DEMANDING UNIFORMITY.
This is not a call for a politically correct ecumenical faith. Effective networking must ³major in the majorıs² and ³minor in the minors². Each person will have different convictions of what this means. Follow your convictions but allow God to stretch you in your understanding of what the Body of Christ looks like.
2. SEEK TO CARE FOR OTHERS AND NOT TO BE CARED FOR.
Everyone is busy and everyone is too busy to care for others unless it becomes a priority. When I joined my first network as a rookie I wanted the other youth workers to call me and check in on me. I realized after a short time that it wasnıt going to happen. So I began treating them like I wanted to be treated. I would call them to check in on them and their ministry. As I did, I discovered that the simple friendship and pastoral care I gave was being returned from my new friends.
3. REJOICE WITH EACH OTHER
John Stott captured the nature of our tendency to avoid networking when he wrote, ³Personal ambition and empire building are hindering the spread of the gospel.² Too often, youth workers are concerned with our individual church and not the corporate church. There is too much comparison done in youth ministry circles. The shallow level of comparison involves attendance, budgets, and even service projects. The deeper level involves years in ministry, formal education, and our apparent lack of success when compared with nationally known ministries. Comparison is a comparing sin. We must rejoice with each other and be excited about what God is doing within the entire body of Christ.
4. LEARN FROM EACH OTHER
One of the greatest things about being involved in a network is learning from veteran youth workers. One friend has been in youth ministry for over twenty years. Heıs done it all, volunteer only, part-time staff, full time staff, small church, medium church, mega-church and even handled the administrative side of a large youth ministry. Iıve been able to audit a course in Youth Ministry Hard Knocks by having Barry as my friend. Perhaps, though, you are the veteran. If so, you have an obligation to help other youth workers learn more about this glorious calling labeled ³youth work².
5. ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER
Most youth workers donıt hear from their supervisor unless a seventh grader broke something or a youth worker broke a seventh grader before the juvenile had a chance to break something. Who better understands your struggles, hopes and dreams than someone who is passionate about youth ministry? You are not alone in your trials and heartaches regarding youth ministry. Mark Twain observed, ³The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.² You can rejoice with someone and remain quiet, encouragement involves building someone up with your words and actions. My goal has been to call one other youth pastor each week. I often fail but I encourage more youth workers now than I would have if I didnıt have that goal.
6. PRAY FOR EACH OTHER
Iıve found that as I pray for the person with whom I disagree with I stop seeing the differences and begin seeing Jesus in their life. At your meetings commit to pray for at least one other person for the month. In the smaller network we would just pray for each other because we knew everyone. In the ³mega-network² we have traded business cards, prayed for table mates, and even randomly grabbed each other.
7. PRAY WITH EACH OTHER
We donıt need more ideas. We can buy books with ideas but we canıt buy spiritual power or guidance. These only come through prayer. I canıt explain it but I know that the more you pray with someone the less you see their differences and the more you see Jesus in them. Whether you see skin color, denominational stereotypes, gender or any other sort of bias, as you pray with someone you see what you have in common versus the differences.
Ministry to each other is the foundation which allows ministry with each other to succeed.
MINISTER WITH EACH OTHER
Small Scale Events: If this is a new concept for you start small. Team up with a church in your own tradition and host a simple event together. A friend and I brought our groups together for a lock-in. It was fun even though it wasnıt easy. The students didnıt interact well with each other initially. The host church had more students at the event so my students felt more like guests than partners. However, they all liked the idea of crossing denominational lines to display Christian love to each other.
Medium Scale Events: A friend of mine from the ³mega-network² teamed up with four other churches in his area of town for a lock-in. It was exciting to hear him talk about how theyıve all been involved with planning the event. Next year they want to invite youth workers who arenıt involved with the network to get involved with this event and then have them join the network.
Large Scale Events: Networking with like-minded friends and churches can bring results that you would never accomplish alone. My first church was in Princeton, New Jersey. Our network of four to five guys teamed up with a network from northern New Jersey to sponsor an event that reached over nine hundred students and attracted churches from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Not one church involved could have done this alone, but together it was surprisingly easy.
Prayer Focused Events: One of the highlights of my ministry life occurred last year when eighty students gathered, representing six different churches gathered for an event. It didnıt involve any stupid games, prizes or even pizza. Rather it was for a two hour concert of prayer and it didnıt involve See You At The Pole! Itıs a beautiful thing to see fifteen year olds intercede for their friends with students they just met.
Worship Events: A good friend of mine began talking with another youth pastor about canceling their Sunday night program once a month and having a joint worship time. They decided to do it and began inviting others to join them. Their very first worship night involved twenty-one churches and over eight hundred students. Some people think that it was a matter of timing and location and thatıs part of it but the most important part was an individual who had been praying for something like that for over two years. Begin where you should, on your knees.
Service Events: The network in San Antonio decided to help a urban ministry sponsor a Thanksgiving dinner for the residents of a large housing project. In under a month, thirty churches became involved and they provided over one hundred turkeys, brought over three hundred volunteers and fed fifteen hundred people. While people ate musicians sang and some one shared his testimony. People were saved that day because churches and youth workers laid aside their differences to advance the kingdom.
Though you are often on your own, you donıt have to be alone in ministry. If you are in a network get more involved and encourage others to become involved. If you are not in a network find one and get involved. If you are uncomfortable meeting new people, take a volunteer or someone else with you. If there isnıt a network, start one. If you meet with one other youth worker regularly consider yourself a network.
Iım starting over again at a new church and with a new network. This network, too, will flourish if we remember that our priority is to minister to each other and then weıll be able to see God bless our ministry with each other.
By Len Evans
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