With my family in Maryland, hers in Indiana and no extended family west of the Mississippi we were most definitely striking out on our own.
Though we initially felt “lonely” we were quickly embraced by a loving congregation and friends in an apartment complex. We were invited to be in a small group with three other couples. Weekly we ate and studied together. One couple eventually moved away and the rest of us began having kids. Before long the little group of six grew to a group of 14, including parents and children.
The other couples also had no extended family in California. In time we made the prayerful and intentional decision to be family for each other. We decided to “live life” together.
The longer I have been a youth pastor the more I realize the importance of “living life” with students. Yes, it is our role to equip and lead them. In this we are able to help build a foundation and plant a seed but when asked what they remember most about their time with us, the consistent answer is almost always about a leader who took them out to eat or invited them to hang out or traveled with them. The quantity of time spent produces the quality and depth we seek.
How to do this?
1) FOCUS – One youth pastor/director cannot “live life” with an entire youth ministry so other adult leaders must understand their need to be more than a “chaperone,” “counselor” or leader. Encouraging leaders to invest in two to three youth gives them the time to go a little deeper.
2) BE PRACTICAL – Youth and adults have limited time. Find ways to merge your normal life with their normal life and invite them to join. Some moms take students along with them to go shopping. Some guys invite youth to go do errands with them or fix something. One of my own youth leaders was asked by some Jr. High girls if she could “hang out.” The leader was short on time but invited the girls to come over and watch her iron clothes. I still have the funny picture of three girls sitting on the other side of an ironing board chatting with the leader. This was one teaching time they will likely never forget.
How are you living life with youth and helping them to grow in their faith?