Contact work may be the one thing in Young Life that doesn’t take a lot of talent to do — you simply show up. And yet, as I sit down to write this article, wishing I could offer something profound or new, it’s contact work I always come back to.
I come back here because this is what Young Life was uniquely created to be: a community of people, in mission, showing up in the spaces where young people hang out. Of course, each and every time I showed up, I was shaking nervously, wondering how I would be received, perceived, looked at, talked to (or not talked to). I like to think Jesus felt that way as well, as did the men and women throughout church history who came after Him. If Jesus was fully human, like me, and felt what we felt and went through what we went through, then He probably overcame the uncomfortable as He approached new people.
Luke 5:27-28 tells us the moment when Jesus first called Levi, a tax collector, “sitting in his tax office.” I imagine Jesus walking into Levi’s small office where Levi may have been unfairly demanding taxes and caring mostly about what he could get from others. The Scripture doesn’t describe any more of the conversation, but I imagine Jesus looking into Levi’s eyes, as He did so often, full of love, making it virtually impossible for Levi not to be drawn in. So when Jesus says, “Follow me,” Levi couldn’t resist his curiosity of what life could be like. He gets up and leaves everything in his office behind.
In the same way Jesus entered into Levi’s tax office, we are called to enter into the spaces where kids are. We go, we go, we go and we keep going. We leave our offices behind because we are a mission that goes. As we transport our offices to the lunchroom at our schools, prayer walks on campuses or football games and cross-country meets, we can take encouragement in Acts 8:26-35 to remember our “how.”
Phillip, one of Jesus’ early friends, is led by the Holy Spirit to an Ethiopian man reading Isaiah 53:7-8. Phillip asks the man: “Do you understand what you’re reading?” The Ethiopian man responds, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” The Ethiopian man shares the passage and asks Phillip a question. We then learn that Phillip “proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.”
Phillip does three important things in this passage:
- He trusts the Holy Spirit’s lead and goes to meet the next person.
- He asks questions and listens. He lets his curiosity in the person proceed his purpose. (This makes me think of darts and Ted Lasso every time I hear this word.)
- He shares the good news of Jesus from the man’s exact starting place. He learns where the man is at, and then Phillip invites him to take his next steps in following Jesus.
It’s these three things we model as we lean in and ask God about reaching the next kid on our campus. When you don’t know what to do, go to the places kids hang out. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. Go and meet the next kid, the next student. Be curious about their life and get to know them without assuming anything. And in God’s perfect timing, as we know that kid and love them exactly where they are, we invite them to take their next steps in following Jesus.This is the true meaning of adding that kid to our Kids Known by Name list. This is more than seeing our club numbers regain momentum after a long and hard year of ministry. This is about responding to the calling Jesus has placed on our lives as Young Life leaders.
Contact work is the heart of what we do, but it doesn’t always come naturally. It’s OK to get scared, fail (whatever that means) and try again. We can indeed get better at refining our craft! If you’re doubting yourself today in confidence, gifting or calling, only read a little farther in Luke 5:32 for Jesus’ response to the Pharisees as He reclines at the dinner table with His newfound disciple Levi and their tax collector friends:
“It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”