A young man who I had never met before came to our church camp with a football jersey on. I asked if he played football and a big smile came across his face. I knew I had found his passion. I asked him to show me his tackling form. Boy did he, he hit me full speed with great form and I happened to be standing in front of a freshly cut tree stump. I went over the stump and scraped the crap out of the back of my leg. I did my best to ignore the pain and play it off but our relationship didn’t exactly have a smooth start.
Trying to connect with students is almost always awkward and in this case it can be painful. Every weekend I think I struggle to connect with young people, but I brave it out because I know if we can connect with the students in a genuine way they will stick around and listen to what we have to say about Jesus. Our ability to connect with students is paramount to succeeding in youth ministry. I find I can only really connect with about three students per event so the whole youth ministry team must be on board.
Identifying what they care about and asking questions about their passion is the easiest way into a relationship. A slogan my good friend Pastor Dan Franz uses is, “build a bridge of friendship and let Jesus walk over it”. I ask the same three or four questions every time I am introduced to a student trying to find out something they are interested in and then I drill deeper if they are open.
I spent my pre-Christian years being afraid of being found out as a fraud and I’m sure many of our young people feel the same way. When I encountered Christ and found out He loved me in spite of my flaws I was blown away with this type of love. Because of my security in Christ I am able to openly share my insecurities and when young people find out about them it gives them the confidence to be open about their personal struggles. Placing yourself in a position of vulnerability is a great way to start a relationship because the students will know you are safe.
If you become a safe person in someone’s life they will begin to open up and give you access to the things that are troubling them. This opening provides us an opportunity to minister to them and get them connected to the One who can truly make a difference in their life – Jesus! My ministry model is this simple – love people and connect them to Jesus.
So what happened with my young friend who tackled me over the stump? He got connected to Jesus and we are friends to this day. I officiated his wedding 3 years ago and he is expecting his first child. I’d say the little scrape I had with the tree stump pales in comparison to the value of our long lasting friendship. My advice would be in any relationship be willing to take “the hit” in the beginning and leave God with the results!