In a pastoral-sharing article published on Chinese Coordination Centre on World Evangelism (CCCOWE)'s website, a youth pastor ministering at a Chinese-American church based in San Francisco wrote the key to ministering the youth is relationship-building.
In the article, Rev. Yea-chen Wang, assistant pastor at River of Life Bread of Life Church, said that youth and grown-ups often times have a communication barrier, in which both sides do not understand each other. He said that ministering to the youth is like doing intercultural ministry.
Just as Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Philippians on becoming like those of different backgrounds in order to win them to Christ, those ministering to youths must also set aside their past experiences and seniority attitudes in serving them, he said. You may even treat them as if they are foreign guests from other countries.
Wang stated in his letter that the grown-up culture is self-satisfying, but everything of the youth culture is based upon relationships. “If you build a friendship with the young people, then you can bear much fruits in Sunday Schools and discipleship-trainings”, said the youth pastor. “On the contrary, if you don’t build friendship with them, then even if you turn the entire Bible into a music video, honestly speaking, they will just ignore you.”
Numerous churches use undecidedly Sunday Schools or discipleship trainings, but which is better? Wang said that discipleship-training is relationship-based, so the youths welcome it more than the model of Sunday Schools.
Wang, nevertheless, emphasized that both discipleship-trainings and Sunday Schools are only outward structures. The important factors are understanding of the youths, the attitudes towards the youth, and the relationship changes towards the youth. These will produce genuine results for the ministry. Otherwise, no matter how much changes you make, it is like just changing the soup but not the medicine.
Comparing Sunday Schools to a “big pot of rice”, Wang said that the contents of the Sunday Schools are generally catered to the adult’s culture in the church, which causes difficulties for the youth to apply the Sunday Schools lessons in their daily lives. In addition, Sunday Schools do not emphasize on relationship-building, which also makes it difficult for the youths. He encourages the Sunday Schools teachers to visit the youth fellowships and build relationships with their students.
While discipleship-trainings is advantageous in being relationship-based and can definitely increase the bond between the students and the teachers, it is difficult to implement when there are lack of staffs and low leadership qualities, he said. The first condition, therefore, is to training the discipleship-training leaders.
In summary, Wang emphasized again the importance of understanding the youth cultures and ministering and expressing concerns according to the youths’ needs. There is no short-cut.