By Amanda Pine, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
When I was serving as a Youth Director in my first ministry position, I remember having an extremely frustrating conversation with our senior Pastor about office hours. I insisted that I needed to spend more time outside of the office with the youth than inside the office staring at my e-mail queue waiting for something to happen. He disagreed. He said that if he used the model of ministry I was proposing, and spend more time out of his office than in, the church would collapse around him. He advocated that I spend more time inside the office. I chose to largely ignore that directive, and I am glad that I did.
Andrew Zirschky, in his book Beyond the Screen: Youth Ministry for the Connected but Alone Generation, argues for a model of ministry that is relational, present, and persistent. I love the use of his phrasing “persistent,” because that is how I have always felt ministry should be. Ministry, in all of its forms, should be inseparable from any other interaction that happens daily. It should be a practice in which faith inexplicably merges with real life to create authentic relationships that are grounded in a mutual desire to be in communion with each other.
Once, while I was serving the above church, I picked two of my youth up for a coffee date after school. As we were driving to Starbucks (I know, contributing to the caffination of a minor AND supporting a large corporation, I was a terrible Youth Director), one of the girls turned to me and said: “I told my friend that I was coming out to coffee with you. She asked how I knew you and I said you were my Youth Director. She said that she only sees her Youth Director on Sundays.” The beauty of a networked community is that ministry can transcend Sunday mornings and evenings.
Phones are the bane of most youth worker’s existence, however, they can be great tools for connectional ministry. Zirschky suggests that in the networked culture that we are a part of, phones and other connectional technology are a tool for connection. Mobile communication helps teens connect to those around them and “hangout” when they are otherwise unable to do so. We too can use such tools to hangout with our youth.
Social media can be used to engage in face-to-face relationships, even while the individuals are not physically face-to-face. This morning, I snapchatted a few of my very favorite people to wish them a good morning and tell them I hoped they had an awesome day. One of my former youth snapped a picture back of her dance class saying “If school counts as awesome then yeah.” This told me, without very many words, that she had already had an early, busy morning and that she was not looking forward to school today. I responded with a snap of my office saying that I missed her and was thinking of her always. There is so much opportunity to dwell with our youth in their every day lives, and all it takes is a quick snapchat, Instagram post, facebook message, or text.
We are all created in the image of a God who embodies presence in the very nature of the trinity. Is it any wonder that our teenagers crave presence? Zirschky says: “…members of communion can be described as being in mutual embrace and fully present with, for, and within one another even as they stand open to the world.” Our challenge in ministry, is to stand in communion with those around us. Let us rise to the challenge.