Building Community for Youth Ministry – A Reflection on time with MDUMC College Staff

Yesterday I had the joy of being with the incoming group of college staff at MDUMC, my church ‘alma mater.’ The college staff is a group of about twenty college students who dedicate their summer to hanging out with high-school and middle-school kids. I was asked to share my thoughts on the importance of being vulnerable with youth as a college staff member.

2014 Staff sharing their stories about MDUMC.
2014 Staff sharing their stories about MDUMC.

Here’s an abbreviated summary of what I offered to the college staff.

Often when we think about ministry we think about what we do, in your case, “be there” for the youth. However, from my experience meaningful ministry, what I call transformative ministry, cannot just focus on what we give. Transformative ministry, one that changes the way we see ourselves and the way we act in the world comes out of our personal experience of God.

This summer is more than making sure you are ‘there’ for the youth, it is an opportunity for you all to know more fully the love of God – only then do you have something real to offer. 

From what I can tell, an experience of God’s love happens most powerfully in what I call Sacred Community. In Sacred Community we are expected, at our best to model the example of Christ but we are accepted, loved, treasured when we miss the mark. It’s a place where you get to bring yourself, all of you and know you will be celebrated, no matter what. Yet, at the same time it’s a place where you feel challenged to express God fully and that’s what transforms us. 

So, it’s your job not just to provide that space for the youth but first, to make it for yourselves by turning this into a Sacred Community. There are a lot of ways we can create sacred community but one of the best ways I know is to share our stories.”  

I then asked the staffers to get into pairs and share their stories of why they love MDUMC. We talked about how stories are challenges, choices and outcomes – a story cannot be a story without all three. So the ask was not just to share what you loved about MDUMC but why you loved that, what challenge were you facing that made MDUMC so attractive.

Photo of my summer staff in 2003.
Photo of my summer staff in 2003.

Everything was on track until my lovely younger sister (a member of summer staff) prompted me to share my story.

I began by sharing about how when I was younger MDUMC was my place because it gave me a place to shine. I wasn’t that good at anything in high school – I was in theatre but not on stage, on track but didn’t place at meets, on pep squad but not a cheerleader. However, I was good at church and for what it’s worth my love of God gave younger girls a place to learn about God and I was recognized for that. I felt seen at MDUMC. I then turned to my adult story and, with a little crack in my voice, began to share how this moving lifestyle can be exhausting and that at times it seems no one knows all of me but that when I come back to MDUMC I feel fully known and fully loved. They know me as Natalie who made out with boys at church, who ‘knows it all,’ who stayed up all night talking and still, they love me.

Then it hit me. MDUMC is my original Sacred Community and, it turns out, that’s not just my story. During our debrief the group buzzed about how they felt loved and known at MDUMC. I asked why they thought the youth group was like that and Taylor responded, “We can be real because the leaders are real.”  Hannah chimed in about how Steve, Mark, Sedonia, Carrie, Lynell, Kim and so many more have shared stories about themselves in ways that make them approachable and human… kind of like Jesus did.

At times in those mentioned, ‘know it all years,’ I used to long for a more Biblical youth group with altar calls and accountability groups but yesterday I saw something more powerful. I saw a place where youth were transforming, where they were getting to know the holy that exists in us all and that experience was powerful enough to motivate twenty college students to give up a summer of partying for a summer of working at church and as far as I’m concerned … that’s salvation.

Sawa Tu,

Natalie

A visual drawing of Jesus's teaching on Sacred Community.
A visual drawing of Jesus’s teaching on Sacred Community.

 

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