Youth ministry is a lot of fun. I know that’s not an earth-shattering statement, but it’s worth a reminder. It’s a blast to get to spend time with energetic and creative young people. It seems like they’re always coming up with some new way to make each other laugh and enjoy life, even if sometimes those laughs come at a cost!
If our ministry with young guys stops with video games and paintball wars (which are both great, don’t get me wrong), then we miss a lot of opportunities to facilitate their growth. They don’t just need us to play games with them; they need us to work with them. Some of the deepest connections I’ve ever had with my students have grown out of the soil of the hard work we’ve done side by side. (This doesn’t have to mean physical labor, but it often does.)
We’ve dug out the front end of an old BelAir from the backyard of a house on the reservation with a good friend who works with 3:18 Ministries. We’ve mowed down the most overgrown yard outside of Jumanji. We’ve shingled my own house. We’ve even knocked down a wall in the old church auditorium (constructively!); and we’ve grown together through each project (and many others). There is something about completing a job together that connects us in a very real and powerful way.
Subtly, this has shifted my boys’ thinking. When they think about our student ministry now, they don’t just think about what I can do — they’ve begun to dream about what we can accomplish together. They’d never imagined they’d be able to build walls and buildings and clear huge thickets and roof houses, until we did. In addition to the raw skills they picked up along the way (who knew you actually do have to teach a guy how to use a shovel the right way?) the students have learned that we can accomplish a lot more than any one of us can alone.
Even more importantly, they’ve learned God may use them beyond what they thought was their capacity. We all have boundaries we think we need to break through in life, but we also grow up with certain barriers we don’t ever think we’ll overcome. As we help our students understand that together we can do what we can’t do alone, we open the door to “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” They can begin to see themselves as a part of the body, not necessarily responsible for some big world changing action, but for their own small part in His world changing mission. Gather together a bunch of boys who are finding their place in and willing to work toward His mission, and watch Him do the real hard work — the work that only He can do.
Mike Andrews is a youth minister with WestWay Christian Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He also serves on the board of 3:18 Ministries of Globe, Ariz., where he has learned much about the power of touching lives through hard work.