Laughing in the face of disaster

One of the hardest things about being in youth ministry is meeting the dual expectations of parents.

On the one hand, Christian parents want to see their children grow into adults, and to develop in their faith, hope and love. On the other hand, these same parents want their kids to have fun, and to see them laugh and enjoy life.

Both of these things are excellent. But it’s not always right to expect both to happen at the same time.

Now it may seem sacrilege to many youth ministry stakeholders to suggest this, but it is vital to remember that the number one aim of youth ministry is not to entertain the students and leaders.

It is in these times of widespread global disaster that this is most true.

As we deal with the disaster fatigue that comes from our 24-hour exposure to news coverage, we tend to seek refuge from this through finding fun. The pagans seek to “eat, drink and be merry”, and we in youth ministry are often tempted to follow a similar strategy.

Yet, the right thing for us to do in our youth groups right now is to lead our kids through a sober reflection on the global crises facing us, and to show the students how to respond appropriately to these events.

I remember running youth group in the days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It would have been tempting to help the kids ‘let down their hair’ and to try and escape the constant barrage of fear and sadness.

But, instead, I spend the night encouraging the youth to share openly about their feelings, to hear from God in his word, and to respond in prayer and praise.

To do this, I displayed a series of confronting PowerPoint slides of the week’s events set to music, and then asked the group to speak about their reflections. Then I encouraged them from God’s word to trust in him “even though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea”. We finished this with an encouraging time of prayer for us and for the world.

If my job was to try and create fun, then I failed. If my job was to try and instil in the kids a proper perspective on what God is doing in this world he created and loves, then I succeeded, to his glory.

Don’t get me wrong. This kind of youth gathering will captivate the hearts and minds of the kids. In a sense they will be ‘entertained’. Yet, it will be nothing like the typical ‘fun’ that is often expected in youth ministry.

Maybe next time I send my kids off to youth group, I won’t say “have fun”. Maybe I’ll say “glorify God!”

What is your youth group going to do this weekend in the light of the Japanese disaster?

Jodie McNeill is the Executive Director of Youthworks Outdoors

Jodie is the Senior Minister at Oak Flats Anglican Church

Comments (1)

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  • Colin Murdoch
    March 14, 11 - 11:38pm
    In my 10 years professional Youth Ministry experience, serving Parishes in local Church Ministry as a Youth Minister, on local City Councils, at a State and National level on various strategic Denominational committees, it can be an easy option to have the social fun aspect take precedence in any program or ministry to junior and senior youth.

    I decided very early on, to meet the "expectation question" head on...For me, it was not only about the "expectations of parents," but also about my responsibilities as a Youth Minister to God and the wider Kingdom of God, the Church, and the competing demands and expectations of the parents and youth.

    So, I introduced initially some solid Relational Christian teaching material once a month on a Saturday evening.It was not received well by some. However, I persisted and that paid off!

    Later, as Youth Minister in a Parish with over 500 members and 4 distinct worshipping congregations in a beautiful seaside affluent area with many distractions, I did the same with junior and senior youth, then pioneered a young adults ministry, who not only received social fun and spiritual input, but I handpicked some for leadership of the youth, young adult ministries.
    Both Senior Youth and Young Adults Ministry had a fortnightly fun social event followed by a fortnightly spiritual growth groups.Hunger,spiritual, social,leadership growth made these ministries a success for I stayed true to Gods call on my life in a balanced healthy manner.