Doing Ministry just outside of Boston is often just how you’d imagine it would be. I’ve often joked with my wife that sometimes I wish I could be a Youth Pastor in someplace like Michigan or Arkansas, where you just announce the time of Youth Group and kids show up, because they know what Youth Group is (No offense to those of you in those two states, I know it’s a wild exaggeration).
In our context, inviting someone to church is a bigger deal than simply inviting someone to church, we have students who have lost friends when they turned out to be “Jesus Freaks” for wanting to invite them to youth group. It’s easy to want to tell the student they weren’t a real friend anyways, and I know that that isn’t exclusive to Boston or even just the post-christian cultures in our country, but it doesn’t make it any better for the student who goes through that. Worse, they begin to close off that aspect of their lives to their friends.
So it becomes this constant reminder for myself that Youth Group needs to be about more, and as I close out my time in ministry here in Boston to go where ever God leads us next, it’s a lesson a reminder I hope to remember.
COMPEL THEM TO COME IN
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 14 about a rich man throwing a banquet that no one shows up to, and I can’t help but think of Youth Group when I read this. I’ve been that Youth Pastor in the past that watches the minutes go by when Youth Group is supposed to start and none of the students who said they were coming are there (though once, I had just forgotten to unlock the door). So as I read this story about the invitee’s all having better things to do, I resonate with it as a Youth Pastor trying to get students into the banquet.
But the line that has stuck with me throughout the last few years in my ministry is when the Master eventually commands “Go out to the Highways and to the hedges, and Compel them to come in!”
MORE THAN ENTERTAINMENT
For me, as I read this story and think about it in relation to Youth Ministry, I read it as explaining a foundational issue. What is so great about this party that people should be coming? Because evidently, the guests who were invited don’t see it as any different from any other party they’ve been to. There are parties that can change your life, but then there are mundane rituals that get old and boring, and they want more than meaningless entertainment.
Years ago, I heard a statement by a Youth Pastor that I loved at the time, that basically said that Your Youth Ministry services should be so awesome that your students are going to go to school the next day and all their friends would feel like they missed out on something. I took that to heart and have tried to always plan our Youth Services to be excellent. But as much as I think that can be a good ideal to strive for, it also comes up short of what Youth Ministry is all about. Missing out on an experience is a compelling reason to want to be somewhere, but only for so long. The guests to this great banquet no longer felt that entertainment alone was worth it.
THE HOST, NOT THE PARTY HE THROWS
I read the last few verses of this parable and view it as though the Master wills to say that people should be in his House because he is in his house, they should know who he is. I picture it as a story where the real prize isn’t the great banquet, but the company of the Master.
Deep down, I believe every Youth Pastor knows that this is true in Youth Ministry as well, that as great as the flashy lights and great prizes, and dumb games are, Youth Group isn’t about experiencing those things at all, but rather, it’s all about Jesus. But it’s so much easier to fine tune the things we can show off about Youth Group than get students in our communities to desire to be in the presence of God.
But I believe that’s what God desires.
I’m not saying God desires for us to get rid of the flashy lights or any of that, but simply that we remember those things won’t be enough to keep students, to draw students closer, to grow students.
We’ve got to Compel students to want to be in the presence of God, and we’ve got to show that in our lives.
Don’t just attract students to a party, Attract them to Jesus.