Urban Youth Ministry: Lessons From The Trenches

By: Elita Fung - Outreach Worker in St. James Town

(Gingerhouse building just before Christmas) click on picture for more images

I've been involved with youth ministry for a while now at TCM. As someone who did not grow up going to church youth programs, I had much to learn when I began. Now, years later, I realize I still have much to learn (!) but along the way, I have picked up a few things that I have found important for my work.

Pointing Teens To Christ
It is often a temptation, in youth ministry, to try to be a charismatic, fun leader who grabs the attention of all the participants. I've tried to be that leader. Unfortunately, I'm just not that fun or charismatic. Is there still room for me in youth ministry? Absolutely. It's not wrong to be fun or charismatic, but in the end, we are here to point our teens to Christ. This involves several elements:

  1. It means we are there to journey with the teens. The focus is on them, not our own personality and shiny leadership style. It could mean less talking and more listening from us. It means we don't fill the void so much that when we're gone, there's nothing there, not even Christ.
  2. It means not being afraid to challenge the teens to connect with Christ personally. Many of our teens don't know how to do that. They may not be taught in their current surroundings what it means to have a relationship with Christ, or how to read His word and pray, or how to listen and discern. We're not here to spoon feed. In fact, we need to get out of the way so these teens encounter Christ for themselves! Get those Bibles out, ask teens to pray, to reflect. Sure, they may make theological mistakes here or there, but so do we. Let's trust God's Spirit and word to work. These teens are more than able to practice spiritual disciplines and they always rise to the occasion.

Praying for a Lasting Community
Perhaps it is a unique situation in St. James Town, but when I first started working here, I had a few teens come to Christ. Yet because their larger circle of friends were uninterested in the gospel, these Christian teens had a hard time allowing for God's transformation in their lives. Everyone else around them expected them to live the old way- it was hard to change! With that in mind, we began praying for teens to come to Christ as whole social groups. We've been extremely blessed by a local church and its vibrant youth group. Our teens are getting plugged into that group - not just as individuals, but often as a whole grade. As these friends meet more youth, they become surrounded by peers who understand and encourage them as they live out their Christian convictions.

Our continual prayer is that these teens are plugged into a church community. Often as teens leave us after highschool, their faith is swallowed up by the busy-ness of student life. While campus ministries are wonderful opportunities, it just prolongs the inevitable: a lack of community post-school and a declining spiritual interest. But churches are there for life.

So we ask you to join us in praying for our teens,

  1. First to have an interest in Christ
  2. Second to encounter Christ
  3. Third, to have a lasting faith built by a strong Christian peer group and church community