A vision for neighborhood youth ministry

Confession: because of a lot of exciting projects I am in the middle of, I had decided to take April off from the blogging game.

Confession #2: I’m going to fail at that un-resolution. In addition to the knee-jerk response I wrote after the Boston Marathon bombings, I wrote a newsletter piece for Ravenswood Covenant, the church that I work at, that I think those of you who like what I write here might appreciate.

Confession #3: I am really, really excited for May. Stay tuned.

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Mark 4:30-32

The imagery of a mustard seed parable has been helpful for me when it comes to understanding the sort of kingdom work that has been taking place among Ravenswood Student Ministries, work that has taken place not just over the past year but also before I came on as program coordinator.

I came to Ravenswood with my youth ministry background being almost entirely in camping ministry. Camp is a unique environment for spiritual formation – kids are there for a week or more, all distractions from the outside world are cut off, and a large and focused staff work to create a big experience. From this big experience comes the big stories of conviction, conversion and commitment.

Things are different at the corner of Damen and Ainslie. At best, youth come for a couple hours a week, but sometimes we see them only once or so a month. The outside world makes itself known, as we spend Thursday nights talking about the week’s highs and lows. Instead of an army of college students who have taken what often is a convenient summer job, we have a crew of 5th Quarter tutors and Thursday night leaders who all have to make certain sacrifices to be there consistently.

But because our presence is felt year-round, because our conversations are rooted in day-to-day issues, and because our love is so sacrificial, we have been effective in a way that (at the very least) complements the camp experience. If from camp comes big stories, then I believe here at Ravenswood Covenant that God has entrusted us with the small stories.

Small stories like the one night the kids actually listened to me talk about finding their identity in Christ. Or the 5th Quarter student who is learning to express himself musically for the first time. Or the Thursday night regular who is turning in her application to be a part of North Side Youth Collision’s discipleship program. Or the fifth grader who can’t wait till next year to join Ravenswood Student Ministries.

Some of the small stories are so small, they go unnoticed by myself and the student ministries team. But that’s because there is mustard seed logic at work here: we have faith in a kingdom that grows and becomes like the largest of all the garden plants. We do not know when these small stories will come to fruition: maybe it will be at camp, or maybe it will be when one of these students is in their mid-twenties and has hit rock bottom and all they can remember is that one happy time when a church cared unconditionally for them.

Perhaps then too, they will become part of a project so big that the birds can perch in its shade.

A vision for neighborhood youth ministry

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