How to relate to young people… ish

Quick note:

I gave a training night a few days ago on ‘Relational Youth Ministry’ mainly ripping off Mark Yaconelli’s brilliant book, ‘Contemplative Youth Ministry.’

Mark outlines the premise to his book in the phrase “young people are not blank slates, and Christianity is not words” and hints at the tendency we have to try and fill one with the other. He boils down the issue that leaves us with said tendency in the following three statements:

“We don’t know how to be with our kids,
We don’t  know how to be with ourselves,
We don’t know how to be with God.”

What he makes clear is the symbiotic relationship between the three, and how systematically one effects the other, and effects the other, dominoing into a swirling votex of bad relationships.

We know how to entertain, test, market to, and judge kids; how to make our own lives about jobs, roles, stuff, and busyness; and we know how to talk about, sing to, debate, and defend God. However we don’t know how to hang out with, find space for, or just take time to be with any one of them.

If I planned my marriage day by day, hour by hour around romantic activity and left no room for spontaneity, silence, or simply being agenda-less with my wife then we simply wouldn’t have a marriage.

Now there’s a lot of material out there on ‘how to relate to young people’ and some of it’s pretty good too! However, learning how to relate to young people is like learning just how to put ketchup on a hotdog without learning how to make it first. All you’ve got is a messy hand!

There is a causal relationship between relating to God, relating to ourselves, and relating to young people; one overflows into the over which overflows into the other. You can’t start pouring half way and hope for the best, even if you do manage to ‘successfully’ relate to young people you can guarantee you’ll be shattered by the end of the week and be heading for a spiritual sink hole.

There’s lots we can say about this (and indeed did at the training evening!) but for now with only a couple of minutes of battery left I’ll leave you with the absolute, ultimate, golden rule on relating with young people. Are you listening? Shhh it’s a secret… … …


If you want your relationships with young people to thrive, be purposeful, and have a lasting impact on their lives then put your energy into your relationship with God. Period. It starts with him! Draw near to God and He will draw near to you… and you’ll both draw near to young people.

If you want to be an effective youth worker, you must be a personal, powerful, and passionate disciple of Jesus Christ. It really is that simple. The more I experience youth work, learn about youth ministry theory, and read youth pastor books and blogs the more I know how little it all counts without a personal and whole-hearted commitment to draw near to God.

Relating to young people is smoke. You can’t learn to make smoke. Your relationship to God is fire. Fire makes smoke.

Battery… nearly… gone…

end note.