Mike Yaconelli was the co-founder of Youth Specialties. He spent 43 years of his life in ministry to youth, and 20 years as a pastor of a small church in Yreka, California. He was known for challenging convention and was an inspiration to many on youth ministry. The following article is his, and should be read and considered by us. He passed away in October of 2003 in an automobile accident.
The “Trouble” With Youth Ministry
(From the March 2001 YouthWorker Journal)
Youth ministry is dangerous. When you and I are trying to follow Jesus we’re going to get into trouble. Trouble making is what discipleship looks like. Our role is not to create nice, compliant American citizens ready to get a good job and have 2.4 kids. Our job is to introduce young people to the life-ruining Jesus who causes nothing but trouble.
Listen…if your church doesn’t have a rule made just because of your youth ministry (no soccer in the sanctuary, no orange punch in fellowship hall), you aren’t letting Jesus be first place in your ministry. Trouble is the youth worker’s middle name. Remember, all they can do is fire you.
A youth worker in our town was recently fired because he was reaching the "wrong kind of kid." I thought the wrong kind of kid was the right kind of kid. The elders insisted that youth ministry was not about bringing in the "riff raff" off the streets but working with the kids that were already Christians. I thought we were all riff raff.
A church where the ethnic mix was changing hired a young woman to work with gang members, who after a few weeks was successful in gathering a few gang members for a Bible study. She actually talked them into coming to the church building for the study. One night she was talking about Matthew 6:33 (But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…) and explaining that if you want to be a disciple of Jesus, nothing can be more important than him. Her words were, "if the gang is more important than Jesus, then the gang has to go. If your girlfriend is more important than Jesus, then she has to go." One of the gang members was so into what she was saying that after those words he reacted violently by throwing his arms back and saying, "Sh*t! It’s hard to be a disciple!" When he swung his arm back he broke a window set in the wall. The church leadership found out and was very upset at having to pay $26 to fix the window. They actually put the gang members on restriction and told them they couldn’t meet in the church room for a week.
I’m thinking to myself, "WHAT? WAS THIS CHURCH CRAZY? Any leader who can teach the gospel so well that a group of gang members understand exactly what Jesus meant is one heck of a teacher! I want what she’s got. But it gets worse. A few weeks later, the pastor accidentally interrupted one of the gang Bible studies. He sat down and spent a few minutes talking with the gang members. After he left one of the guys said, "Hey, I like that guy. Let’s go to church this Sunday." The youth worker decided to have the gang members sit in the balcony rather than with the congregation downstairs. When the minister came out and announced the giving of the peace, one of the gang members stood up and yelled, "Hey, dude, you are cool!" The entire congregation turned around in shock. After the service the youth worker was told not to bring the gang members to church until they learned how to behave.
Again I’m thinking, "WHAT?" The entire congregation should have turned around, stood on their feet and yelled, "Hey, you guys are cool! Come on down here. You could really help us since none of us can see or hear!" Then they should have given the youth worker a raise. They didn’t. She was fired.
Unfortunately, many people in the church are more concerned about rules, policies, and procedures than they are about the unbelievable, miraculous, spectacular, unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime event that occurs when someone starts to get well. When people get well, it exposes the sickness of those around them. Rather than getting mad, there should have been a celebration because a group of gang members miraculously desired to be part of the Church.
Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t easier for rocks to cry out in the presence of Jesus than it is for some church members to celebrate the "trouble" genuine youth ministry causes.