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Spirituality for Youth Leaders

Do you feel overrun by your demanding schedule, yet miss the time to pray? Does it seem like you read the Bible as a psychological 101 on teenagers and their problems, yet you long for a deeper sense of faith from the Word of Life? Feeling like you share and give the life of Christ to youths, yet you hunger for more of your own personal intimacy with Christ? Maybe it is time to step back and reflect on your own personal spirituality in combination with your work as a youth leader.

Among leaders in the church there is a tendency towards activism and youth leaders are no exception. Doing programs, organising meetings, fixing problems, it seems like sometimes the work never ends. If only you could make a clone of yourself in order to do more! In the process we lose track of something that we feel is important, but our schedule asks for commitment to other issues.

Pastoral triangle

This nagging feeling that we are missing something important is reminding us of nothing more than some basic activities of the Christian life: prayer, reading scripture, and spiritual guidance. These three subjects are described by Eugene Peterson as the Pastoral Triangle. In his helpful book Working the Angles Peterson describes prayer, reading scripture and spiritual direction as the fundamental angles that make up the triangle, which forms the basis of pastoral work (1).

These activities form the basis of our relationship with God and are important sustenance for our own personal faith. But it’s these activities that suffer when we are called upon for help and our other activities ask for attention. This needs not to be so.

This four part series on Spirituality for youth leaders is a short introduction to the work of Eugene Peterson, who saw the need for spirituality in our work as (youth) pastors. Hopefully it will be a helpful guide to lead you away from the temptation of activism and help you work on the angles of your pastoral triangle. In the next three instalments we will look into these basic activities of the triangle, but before we do I’d like to make something else clear.

Invest in personal spirituality

We need to make a conscious choice, a deliberate choice to invest serious time in prayer, scripture and spiritual direction, even if it seems that these activities will not help in directly reaching the teens or students you’re responsible for. Let me give you some arguments why you should consider this seriously:

  • First of all, it is God who reaches youths and who build the church for that matter. It is not up to us. What young people need is someone who prays for them and places their lives before God and puts them in His hands. Because someone who has his or hers personal intimacy with God, who is attentive and listens to Gods voice, can intercede on their behalf.
  • We are called into community with God through Christ, to be transformed into His likeness by the Spirit. This process needs time and attention, through prayer and scripture, so that we can be fully conformed to the mind of Christ. It is not our own activities that we seek, but Gods plans and work for us.
  • We need Gods comfort and strength to cope with all the successes and all the failures we make. To express our emotions before His Face and find healing for our souls. We are not perfect and feelings like pride and selfishness, anger and hatred can ruin our ministry. They need to be dealt with and brought in to the Light.
  • We need to teach our youths to live a spiritual life of their own. To guide them on their spiritual journey in such a way that they find intimacy with Christ. To be an authentic example of someone who knows what it means to live with Christ.

For these reasons it is imperative that you guard your time, and make sure you plan to work on prayer, scripture and spiritual direction. In the next part of these series I will discuss prayer, to help you develop your own prayer time.

Do you recognize this? Does your personal spirituality suffer from your busyness and activities?

This guest post was written by Nathánaël Brandsma, a young Dutch pastor who has just finished his Bachelor Degree in Theology. Nathánaël is a former student of mine in my youth ministry and he’s a a wonderful guy with a deep passion for God and His church. He’s engaged to be married to his Moldavian bride-to-be Marina.

(1) Peterson, Eugene H.; Working the Angles, the shape of pastoral integrity; (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company); 1993; p. 192