"I thought it was so cool to see your kids out here!"- Some Thoughts on Innovation and Inter-Generational Youth Ministry
This past Saturday I was out on one of my "Mowtown Teen Lawn Care" job sites spreading 8 cubic yards of mulch with 2 high school students as a part of my work/jobs based youth ministry project. As usual, the students did a great job. We talked about hard work, a bit about faith, and also about efficiency and communication on any job. But the best part of the whole day was my 6 year old and 3 year old daughters joining us.
Clara and Maggie hung out and played...and asked a million questions...and worked, for 5 straight hours. And what made it special was that near the end of the day our customer came out and she said, "I thought it was so cool to see your kids out here!" At first, I thought she meant the two teenagers I was with. But what she really meant was my two children. This particular customer has a wheel chair and she proceeded to hang out in the outside area with us. She engaged my teenagers in conversation about school and played with my kids for about an hour. She let my girls control the wheel chair, tossed a rugby ball with them, and explained to them why she needed a wheel chair when my 3 year old asked. Work stopped for about 20 minutes and it was the best possible pause that we could have asked for. I think the gospel often tries to get us to realize that all our stuff needs to stop for a moment so that life can rise up. Often that Divine invitation takes the form of people and sadly we often bypass those moments keeping only the destination or work schedule (in my case) in mind.
What grabbed me in all of this was the fact that I have been at my church for going on 6 years and we have been working really hard to try to get out of doing "normal" youth ministry where teenagers are generationally siloed into their respective programmatic Tupperware. We have done a ton of great stuff in this direction by creating a bunch of multi-generational opportunities. And yet, it was this somewhat unrelated youth ministry project that caused this multi-generational moment to happen. There I was mentoring students without the "benefit" of an awkwardly prescribed discipleship destination. And yet I could hear my student's and my children's souls growing, being stretched and expanded as gradually and methodically as some of the trees and lawns that we tend to on the job. My students were being exposed to me parenting small kids which is also good for them to see. My students were teaching my children things and meeting someone in their church family that they would never interact with usually. And the woman who owned the home was teaching my kids about the abilities of people with disabilities, and expressing her own longing to re-connect with her faith community. And all of this had come through a little bit of lawn care, some youth ministry innovation, and the Spirit's work.
No amount of planning on my part could have created this kind of situation. Don't get me wrong, we aren't going to sit around and wait for a inter-generational church to just materialize, but I am learning that most of the movement forward in ministry tends to come when we take a risk in a new direction. These gangling stutters forward tend to happen when something new and creative is birthed in the life of us as individuals and as churches. Work/Jobs based youth ministry has sprung better conversations with my students about life and being fully alive (which I believe is the goal of the good news) in the 2 years I have been tinkering with it than anything else I have ever done in youth ministry except maybe student mission trips. I am consistently amazed by what is being revealed and obliterated in my thinking about life and ministry as I struggle to bring this innovation to life. I am washed in overwhelming thankfulness.