I often get emails like this one:
I’m a youth pastor and need some advice. I know you are both a youth pastor and on staff with Young Life, so I thought you could maybe help me. I feel like I’m always competing with Young Life in our town, rather than working on the same team and I’m not sure how to navigate it moving forward. Lots of kids from our church have stopped being involved in our youth group and now they just do Young Life. How can Young Life and the church better partner together?
Discouraged Youth Pastor
Below are some thoughts for both Youth Pastors and Young Life leaders.
How can Young Life and the church better partner together?
FOR YOUTH PASTORS
Build genuine friendships with the Young Life staff and volunteers in your community.
- Making friends takes time. Be patient and persistent.
- One of the best ways to make friends is by serving others. Ask the Young Life leaders how you can serve them, with no strings attached.
- Consider providing a space for leadership meetings.
- Or pre-club leader meals.
- Do people who attend your church work at the school where YL does ministry? Can you connect them?
Know the needs/details of Young Life in your area.
- Where and when is the area going to camp?
- Who is on the Young Life committee?
- What is the vision for growth in the area- are there schools or ministries that you could potentially help Young Life start?
Invite them to use their gifts to partner with you in ministry.
- What if your church asked Young Life leaders to do program for larger youth events?
- What if you asked an Area Director to come help train your church staff in evangelism?
- Have you considered asking a YL leader/staff person to preach/speak?
Find ways to serve and connect.
- Host a table of folks from your church at the YL banquet.
- Ask the YL staff if it would be helpful if you invited kids from your youth group to come help clean up after the banquet or to serve in some hands-on way.
- Consider partnering with Young Life financially, either personally or from your church.
- Ask if they need extra leaders for weekend camp.
- Consider being or bringing Adult Guests to come to weekend camps and get a front-row seat to watch God work!
- Are there any kids in your youth group who might serve on Work Crew for a month at a Young Life summer camp?
- Connect the ministries of your church to partner with specific Young Life ministries. Are there Young Lives teen moms who could use extra support from the church? Like collecting baby clothes? Are there folks in your church who know sign language and could help interpret for the deaf at club?
Pray for them.
- Now don’t just skip this one because it sounds spiritual. Really pray for them. Just like you, they also are on the front lines of ministry and often feel “in the line of fire.” The Lord changes our hearts as we pray for others.
- Ask for a list of kids going to camp that you can pray for.
- Ask for a list of leaders at the school closest to your church.
- Considering partnering in prayer and doing prayer walks at school campuses.
Create a safe environment for kids who are “new” to church.
- Share with the Young Life leaders your church’s plan for assimilating new believers into the life of the church. Reassure them that kids don’t need to look or speak a certain way in order to be accepted.
- Cast vision for the “insider” kids who already “belong” at your youth group to be a welcoming community that celebrates “outsiders.”
Talk with leaders about specific kids.
- I’ve had high schoolers in our church’s youth group grow deeper in their faith and feel called to partner with Young Life. It’s been a fantastic way for them to share their faith in their school. It’s important that the church be open-handed with sending kids “out” of the church.
- I’ve also known spiritually immature kids who have been pulled out of the church and fallen away from the Lord as they’ve gotten more involved with Young Life.
- Talk/Pray with the Young Life leaders about what is best for specific kids. Meet with the kids as a united front and cast a vision over them together.
Ask hard questions and practice self-reflection.
- Is there anything that we are doing as a church staff that is selfishly motivated and not in a spirit of unity?
- Are we creating a culture of competition with Young Life or are we humbly seeking to lock arms together in ministry?
FOR YOUNG LIFE LEADERS
Become a member of a local church body.
- We need to be in community with people who are different than us, older than us, and those who can help form us in our walks with Christ.
- We need to be taught the entirety of Scripture, and not just the gospels.
- We need to be under pastoral authority and have accountability.
- Young Life leaders need to be members in a local church.
Be intentional about reaching out to the pastor/youth pastor in your church, expressing your desire to partner together.
- If you have any feelings of competition or raw “church wounds” in your heart, be transparent with the church about where you are in that journey.
- Visit your church’s youth group and ask if there’s any way you can serve.
Ask if your church would “send you out” as a local missionary.
- I was involved with a Young Life area that required leaders to be members of a local church. They also asked that leaders be commissioned by their church as missionaries to the local schools. The churches were asked to treat them similarly to foreign missionaries- supporting them in prayer, financially, and offering encouragement to their ministry.
Connect your Campaigner kids to a local church.
- If a kid starts a relationship with Jesus, and is not already connected to a local church, it will be super helpful for them to have a church family to walk alongside them. If their family is already connected to a church, encourage them to get plugged in deeper there!
- Don’t just bring them on a Sunday morning, but help them get involved and to use their gifts to serve.
- If they’re just sitting in a back pew for an hour on a Sunday morning, that’s called “attending” a church. Help them learn to belong and to serve.
- Pray with your Campaigners groups for their local churches, their youth groups, and their youth pastors by name. Help them value and care about the church.
- Encourage Campaigner kids to share with their youth groups and churches their testimonies about how they have seen God move in their schools through Young Life.
Focus on the kids who are not already plugged into a church.
- Follow the Apostle Paul’s approach as seen in Romans 15:20, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”
- There are likely some great churches in your community that are already helping kids grow in their faith. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of kids that no one has ever told about Jesus- GO and tell them!
Help youth pastors connect with the local schools and meet new kids.
- This is a Young Life leader’s area of expertise. You likely know lots of kids that have never been to church. What would it look like to invite a youth pastor to walk around with you at a football game?
Ask hard questions and practice self-reflection.
- Is there anything that we are doing as Young Life staff and volunteers that is causing young people not to get plugged in with a local church?
The best solution for this tension is not a strategy, it’s a relationship. It’s the same kind of relationship that youth pastors and Young Life leaders both want to have with kids. It’s a friendship defined by grace and characterized by humility. A friendship with no strings attached.
Let’s ask the Lord to unify us and approach all of these conversations with our eyes fixed on Christ and others, more than on ourselves.
Our best way to move FORWARD in taking kids DEEPER in Christ is to do it TOGETHER.
If you have questions or ideas regarding how Young Life and the church can better partner together, email Drew here.
Special thanks to Paul Deschamps, Director of Student Ministry at Christ the King in Raleigh, NC, for sharing helpful insights from a youth pastor’s perspective!