I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace. (1 Timothy 1:2)
I recall a conversation with a youth pastor in a provincial city whose young people would at times attend other larger, more exciting youth groups in the city. They loved the larger meetings with the loud worship music and charismatic speakers. While some stopped coming to his youth group others would be gone for a couple of weeks but would always come back.
When he asked why it was they kept coming even though it seemed they could not compete with what was on offer nearby, the answer was simple: "family".
Effective youth ministry is relational youth ministry. It's about developing a culture of family where everyone is loved and accepted just as they are. This culture doesn't happen by accident. It is modelled by the leaders who believe that God welcomes and accepts all.
While it's true that being a leader can mean planning programmes, leading Bible studies and running games, your primary role is to love young people and introduce them to God's love, You can't be a Christian leader and not get close to people.
Timothy was a young man whom Paul was mentoring. It's likely he had in mind that one day Timothy would replace him.
But Timothy was so much more than an apprentice - a key leader in waiting. To Paul, he was a "true son in the faith" and whenever he spoke of him he did so with great affection. Paul regarded him as "family".
As you look back over your own experiences in church and youth group what are the memories that come to mind in relation to those who were leaders? More than the messages and the Bible studies, I suspect it was that they made time for you, they listened to you, and they loved you.
To what extent does your youth group feel like "family"? Are the young people you lead like sons and daughters to you - or just people in a programme? What is one practical thing you can you do to get closer to any on the fringe who perhaps don't sense love and acceptance?
First published on http://youth.cccnz.nz/blog