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Youth Ministry Phenomenology: Observing God’s Activity In Youth Group

Phenomenology studies “that which appears” from the first person point of view.

When I entered youth ministry, I promised myself that I would take a long and hard look (aka observation and assessment) on what phenomenas were transpiring in the youth ministry in which I was serving.  I would do this observation and assessment by simply asking:  What seems to be automatically showing up in my youth ministry without my intentional and programmatic effort?  I would greatly benefit from this reflection because it allowed me to better learn the landscape of my student ministry even if it meant I had to change major programmatic pieces.

A youth ministry phenomena is a particular way(s) God is/was appearing in and through your students, youth ministry, and church.  Self observation and ministry assessment help lead youth pastors to discern what is appearing in their youth ministry. If ministry assessment and self observation are not practiced, youth pastors will never know how and where God is organically moving.

Assessment exposes what is really happening, which encourages the youth pastor to either change the course or continue on the course. All throughout the Bible God is always “appearing” (John 20, 21, Matthew 1, Exodus 3, 1 John 3.2-3, Luke 24, Genesis 18, Mark 16, 1 Kings 19, Numbers 16, Exodus 24, and Joshua 5) in obscure places.  For example:  burning bush, top of a mountain, on side roads, Bethlehem, weddings, and Samaria.  So does this mean God is appearing in weird places in our youth ministry?

My assumption: God is appearing in our youth ministries.

My question: But where exactly is He appearing?

There is no specific scientific hypothesis to test if God is working or appearing in and through your youth ministry.  There is no set model that can promise God will appear and reveal himself to our students, which means youth pastors have to quarterly schedule a time to observe how and where God is moving in their youth ministry.  The beauty about the philosophical idea of phenomenology is that it highly encourages student pastors to take a honest first hand look on how God is appearing or showing up in their youth ministry.

My fear: Our youth ministries are so inherently busy and programmatic we are NOT observing where God is appearing in our youth ministries which only leaves God to work on the outskirts.

My theory: The more and more I thought about how God appeared and worked in my youth ministry context, the more and more I realized that God was predominantly working on the fringes of my youth ministry context.  God was showing up on the outside edges of my youth ministry. It is difficult to admit God is working on the perimeter because “apparently” the action is always suppose to happen in the center.  But in my experience God was not always front and center but rather revealing Himself on the borders of my youth group.

As I studied Jesus’ 3 years of high action packed ministry, I concluded Jesus FIRST went directly to the outskirts of Jerusalem to perform His most powerful redemptive miracles.  Then towards the later portion of His ministry, Jesus traveled into Jerusalem to make His final statement–that He is the Son of God.  So does this mean God may be highly working on the sidelines in our youth ministries?

My questions to youth pastors:

How are we overlooking God’s activity in our youth ministry?

Would you agree that God is more likely to work on the fringes than being in the “obvious and predictable” places?  Why or why not?

How do we honor God’s work in our youth group?

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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2 comments

  1. I sense that most of our preaching environments are from the center, pointing students towards the fringes…but our discipleship environments need to be on the fringes where we’re counting the cost and changing lives. Great insights, Jeremy!

  2. How are we overlooking God’s activity in our youth ministry?

    I think an easy answer to this question is that we tend to get caught up in doing way too much programming. For example every detail of the service has to be perfect in order for God to move in the hearts of the students. I feel that some student ministries do this and miss out. I am not saying that having this stuff is bad but when it is more technical-driven than spirit-driven then there can be the overlooking in the ministry setting.

    Would you agree that God is more likely to work on the fringes than being in the “obvious and predictable” places? Why or why not?

    I would say “yes” to both areas. I think that God is working even when we are not in the midst of our students. I think we would like God to do an amazing “peter moment” and tons of students come to know Jesus in our services but that just doesn’t happen that way. But I do feel that God does work in their lives when we are not around because we pray for students hearts to be open and it may take them leaving the ministry setting and getting back home that night before it actually sinks in or maybe the following day when they have an opportunity to make the right choice because of what was talked about the night before.

    How do we honor God’s work in our youth group?

    I think we honor God’s work in the aspect that He is working even when we don’t feel like He is. I can help with this because recently I felt like nothing was moving or our students were not getting it, but that very night 3 students accepted Jesus. I think at times we feel like we are not honoring God because students are not accepting Jesus. So I think that a constant understanding that God is working in the lives of your students is a great way to honor Him. Even though we may not see the changes going on underneath the skin of the students, God is still moving and working on their hearts. Plus, helping students see that God is moving in the ministry by announcing cool things or life decisions to the group so that the students see how God is working. Point out things in the church that are taking place. Pointing them to God and showing them He is real and wants to use them to do the same things help create an atmosphere of belief in the hearts of the students.

    I hope that these answers make sense.

    AMS

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