In October we ran a series of posts addressing how Young Life can better partner with the local church entitled “The 7th C: Church.”This guest post continues this series and was written by long time Young Lifer Stacy Davis. Stacy is a full time mom to her daughter Eva Claire, however she has been involved in the lives of high schoolers for the past 16 years. She currently helps lead the youth at a church in Sumter, SC where her husband serves as the youth and children’s minister. For the previous fifteen years she has served in various roles with Young Life including full time staff in Greenville, NC, a church partner in Spartanburg, SC, and training college student leaders in Myrtle Beach, SC.
If you have served with Young Life for any length of time at all, you have likely noticed that parts of the relationship between YL and the local church can at times be tense, competitive, and uncomfortable.
Sometimes the origin of the tension is kids.
Sometimes it is leadership (in either ministry).
Sometimes it is due to competition between numbers or over the same kids.
Sometimes it is due to lack of understanding.
Sometimes it is due to pride.
Sometimes it is due to comparison.
Yet, whatever the issue, I know if your heart is to honor Christ, you are sighing and thinking, “Why does it have to be this way? Don’t we all love Jesus?”
I remember one time when I was working in my Young Life church partnership job, a co-worker sat down with a local youth minister. My co-worker was trying to help ease this youth minister’s frustrations with Young Life. The youth minister felt as if YL was enticing her students away from her church.
My co-worker said to her, “We’re on the same team. Isn’t that all that matters?” She looked at him and said “No we aren’t. I work for my church.”
Let me first say that I agree with my Young Life co-worker; he was right, we are on the same team. Yet on the other hand, I think as Young Life leaders, we have to understand the perspective of that church worker (and let me point out that I am writing to a Young Life audience, so my challenge is to you guys… a church audience’s challenge would be different).
Seeing my husband serve in a church, I understand how that woman youth minister felt. She was likely working tremendously hard to get to know every kid in her church. Her church was comprised of kids from multiple schools, multiple cliques, and she was trying to plan events that would appeal to them all. She probably would have loved to have the “luxury” to outreach, but she knew her first responsibility was to her church “flock.”
This awesome responsibility was made that much harder when she also had parents coming up to her with feedback, complaints, and help on ways to make their youth ministry more appealing to their kid. Then here comes Young Life, who says they are reaching the “un-churched,” and her kids want to go there instead of her event.
I KNOW she was feeling pressure, disappointment, and impending failure. Church workers often feel their pressures differently because they do have a defined, primary group of students to reach. Moreover they sit on Wednesdays, Sundays, and other days right next to people who have a variety of expectations of how they should do ministry and often they are not afraid to let the youth minister know their opinions.
When I worked only for Young Life, I didn’t feel people’s expectations in that way—parents usually saw me as a bonus in their kid’s life and were constantly thanking me. Working for a church, people had all kinds of expectations of me.
After pondering this issue between YL & the local church for quite some time, I’ve concluded that the best “strategy” to solve this problem is not very strategic; it is relationship. It is the same kind of relationship you offer to kids. It is the no-strings-attached, humble, non-defensive, unconditional, it-is-more-important-that-I-understand-you-than-you-understand-me kind of relationship.
So, next time you see that church worker, make the first move, say hello, ask them how their ministry is going, and be a friend. That’s a strategy you’ve already got down. And my prayer is that a relationship like that can bring more of the Gospel into your community…because really, aren’t we all on the same team?
For more thoughts about how Young Life can better partner with the local church, check out the series of posts below entitled “The 7th C: Church.”
Please chime in below in the comments section.