Lasting influence and transformation in youth ministry all flow through a relational “funnel”—and that means everyday ministry to teenagers is fraught with risk, because redemptive influence in relationships is a dicey proposition. I love what my friend Justin Mayo has learned about the power of risk as leader of RedEye (redeye.org), the international ministry he founded that connects “young creatives and influencers” in the entertainment world with needy people in their communities. Justin and his “crew” live by a creed that frees them to face down the risks that relational ministry requires. The creed is built on seven imperatives—and all seven are in play for my wife and I as we’ve launched ourselves into a new adventure.
A couple of months ago we kicked off a Sunday afternoon small group for high school freshmen in our home—we’ve been doing this off and on for a year or so, but now we’re committed to a bi-weekly cadence. The “meat” of what we’re doing is based on the prototype version of our new “weekly, ready-to-go youth ministry experience” called Simply Youth Group (Learn more about it here!). This is a “turnkey” approach to sparking great conversations that camp in the intersection between everyday life and a growing intimacy with Jesus. It’s designed to tee-up fascinating topics that lead to in-depth conversations. For my wife, a newbie youth ministry volunteer, this small group of 10 kids is simultaneously a dream and a nightmare—she’s learning both the joy of ministry to teenagers (making a real impact in the lives of hungry kids) and its terrible risks (planning an extra gathering that no one shows up for, for example). Together, we’ve revisited Justin’s RedEye creed over and over again…
1. “Embrace Inconvenience”—Justin says, “Often the most divine moments happen at the most inconvenient times.” We’re called to inconvenient acts of love carried out at inconvenient times with inconvenient people. To borrow Jesus’ parable, the “99” sheep live in the land of convenience, but the “1” He goes after is caught up in the brambles of inconvenience.
2. “Embrace Rejection”—When we put ourselves out there relationally, we’re unwittingly sending out “sonar” signals at the same time, designed to gauge our “attractional power.” It’s better to make friends with rejection, rather spend our energy trying to avoid it. Justin says, “I believe God’s not out to hurt our pride; he’s out to kill it.”
3. “Prepare for Unknown Variables”—In Justin’s work with a crazy-unpredictable “people group,” survival requires a loose hold on set plans. That means he lives with an open posture to changing circumstances, and that gives him entry into people and situations he’d never get to access if he was overly married to his expectations.
4. “Remember That God Uses Small Things to Do Big Things”—I think Justin nails it when he says, “We’re often too focused on what’s big, but God uses the small.” After our first “regular” small group meeting my wife asked me, with a worried look on her face, if I thought it had gone well. I told her it was off-the-charts fantastic. She followed that with a list of “buts” that were the source of her worry. I stopped her mid-“but” and said: “Bev, we just had a vibrant 90-minute conversation with teenagers about facing their fears and drawing near to Jesus—it doesn’t get any better than that.” She’s learning that small things leverage big things.
5. “Work Hard, But Play Harder”—It’s a subtle form of Gnosticism to categorize work as “spiritual” and play as “shallow.” Those who’ve eschewed play as beneath their Christian discipline are going to be flabbergasted by the level and popularity of play in heaven. Justin says, “You can have an incredible work ethic, but don’t be afraid to enjoy life’s journey.” Laughter, games, and fun are the backbeat of a life freed from the captivity of sin.
6. “Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable”—The truth is, unlike most of my neighbors, Sunday is a busy day for my family—by the time we get home from church I’m tired, and I’d love to do a whole lot of nothing for a few hours. As volunteer youth leaders, we had to think long and hard about this Sunday afternoon gathering. In the end, I’ve simply embraced and given-in to something Justin says all the time—“It’s not going to be easy.”
7. “Be More to a Few, Rather Than Less to Many”—Justin says, “Sometimes people go for quantity over quality, but a lot of people just want one real friend. They don’t need another huge event. By empowering those strategic few we can make a positive ripple effect that impacts our whole youth and young adult culture.” Our small group is just 10 high school freshmen, but Bev and I know we can be their “more.”
Jesus brought impact through relationships, because that’s all He knows—the Trinity does everything in the context of relationship. And that means Jesus is the greatest risk-taker in the history of the world. Justin’s seven-point creed is not only a survival plan for relational ministry, it’s a pretty fair description of Jesus’ ministry strategy.
One more note: If you’d like to read my GROUP Magazine interview with Justin Mayo, Click Here.