Laughing in the face of disaster

Jodie McNeill

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

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