All my previous times with youth was in a church culture with church kids (I was reminded of this Saturday when I saw my old church’s youth go off to their annual camp retreat). But now I’m in a completely different situation where most of these kids aren’t believers. And I’m loving this opportunity because I feel like this is the missional edge we are called to as the Church.
I’ve often said that youth pastors in our cities should view these neighborhood kids as their youth group, instead of just those who go to their church programs. It’s a practical way of working out that old idea that the neighborhood your church is in is your parish. A parish mentality begins with the belief that all those located around your church meeting place is of concern, whether or not they attend your church, whether or not they are believers. But typically, a youth worker is hired to take care of the kids who come to church first and then maybe try and attract more kids to go to their group (like the picture implies).
This attractional model of youth ministry (“build something great and they will come”) won’t die out anytime soon. And I know firsthand that most churches won’t sign on to a completely “missional” model if it doesn’t benefit the church kids and the youth group program. I also know that many church kids are nominal at best, and that we can’t assume they are all followers of Jesus. We all know the tensions and perils of youth ministry.
But if Jesus came to “seek and save the lost,” couldn’t we write in the job description of each youth pastor or worker something that reflects that same heart Jesus had for the lost? Volunteer at the Boys and Girls club? Mentor an at-risk student? Teach ESL to the low-income immigrant students at Mark Keppel? Let’s not leave outreach and mission to some summer trip or camp or think that it’s up to the kids in the youth group. Leadership has to…..well, lead the way!