Thursday, July 18, 2013

Youth Ministry Values (Part 3): Being Present to God, to Others, and to My Own Soul

Everyone has values. Whether they're clearly articulated or tacitly underlying every action we take, our lives are defined by them. Ministries have values too. Two years ago, I created a set of ministry values that have stuck with me and my ministry. Some of them have been refined or matured, but all remain the core DNA and ethos of the ministry I want to embody. This blog series will unpack each value in the following way: where the value comes from, why it's important, and how it's practiced in my ministry.

The third value: Being present to the Spirit, to others, and to my own soul.
Instead of being overly defined by the past or overly driven by the future, this is about allowing stillness and space to hear God’s voice and the seeing the reality of others and ourselves, seeking the Spirit's guidance in every moment. This requires silence, stillness, and Sabbath rest.
Where the value comes from: For the longest time, I had a youth group program that was full. There were games and announcements and worship songs and preaching and discussion. At the end of each youth group, I felt exhausted, but content that God was using our driven program for a purpose. Yet the more I observed in myself and others, the most significant moments for ministry and discipleship were happening before and after the program. These meaningful and transformative conversations occurred in the space where there was no agenda. People couldn't be with and for others, because they were thrust into a busy, noisy environment, just like all the other busy/noisy places in their life. I noticed that there was a time for everything...except for rest.

I began to ask myself some questions: What if our youth ministries and churches were beacons of hope and rest for people in the midst of their busyness? What if the church community was a place that valued slowing down, giving time to pray and read and reflect? What if the overly-rushed and hurried youth in our school and neighbourhoods could find a community of peace and quiet? What if there was space for us to be present to God, listening for His quiet and reassuring voice, present to our own souls and the souls of others?

What if we were less purpose- and program-driven and more prayerful, peaceful, and present?

Why it's important: In a world of noise, busyness, and distraction, being fully present is a gift. Instead of being constantly thinking about the last thing that happened, or the next thing coming up, what a joy to simply be. Be with God. Be with others. Be still.

How it's practiced: Here are two ways we're trying to create space to be present to God and others. First, I love that our church is going to try a Spirit-led experiment this next fall: for one week, every other month, we're canceling all of our mid-week programs. All of 'em. No children's ministry. No youth group. No Alpha course or marriage courses or Bible studies or small groups. Instead, we'll gather together for one night and simply pray. We'll listen for the voice of the Lord in community, together, no other agenda, nothing else on the calendar. Second, I strive to model the Sabbath rest and presence in my own life, choosing to take time off to just be still before the Lord and listen for the stirrings of the Spirit in my heart. I don't always succeed, but it's a personal discipline I'm trying to pursue. Here are some practical ways to be present with your own family.

Questions to ask: How is my soul doing? Does our ministry structure promote busyness or peace? When was the last time I was still and quiet before the Lord?

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