Youth ministry has a lot in common with my pile of rocks
By Joe L. Brown
Every year the Pacific District Conference Board of Youth Ministry sponsors a retreat at Lake Mead in Nevada. It’s a great opportunity to grow in friendships, relax and recharge. Every year I go into the hills and stack rocks as an altar to God, sometimes working on an altar still standing from a previous year, other times building a new one. Recently I asked God why. His reply: “You’re building a youth ministry.”
Why would God compare youth ministry to an altar—a pile of rocks?
An altar requires a location that is a fairly flat and open space with plenty of rocks nearby. It’s really nice if it’s a shady, comfortable spot with a gentle breeze. But that’s not always where God leads. Sometimes he leads to a place where I’ll have to hunt for rocks, even digging some out of the dirt. Other times I find myself in a desolate spot with flies or mosquitos all around tempting me to find a better place. I have to constantly remind myself that this place is exactly where God wants me.
Youth ministry also needs a proper location. While God sometimes leads us into comfortable settings with plenty of encouragement, he more often leads us into difficult situations where kids are dirty and hard to attract and where no one seems to understand what we’re doing. Again, the best thing to do is to persevere and trust in him.
When building an altar, rocks need to be placed strategically and intentionally. I first lay a circle of larger, square rocks as a base. Then I look for other shapes and sizes, stacking one upon another, higher and higher. Sometimes even small rocks are perfect for certain places. I find that it’s good to take time to observe and know what is needed and then to take time to find the rocks that will fit.
In order to build a youth ministry you need to take time to identify specific needs, then determine which students and volunteers will best fit those needs. One student might be just right for leading worship while another might be just right for setting up chairs. Strategically placing the right people in the right places will build a great ministry.
Finally, the altar ought to stand on its own and last a long time. Altars made by saints of old stood for ages, testifying of God’s power and guidance from generation to generation. However, sometimes as I place the final rocks, the whole thing tumbles to the ground. Many times I dismantle and start over. It might end up looking very different than the first or second attempt. Those who are willing to persevere build the best altars.
Youth ministries should also outlast tough times and stormy weather. We must be willing to remain, rebuild and reinforce. And multiple generations should remember how God met them at this youth group. Only those who persevere will build a ministry for the ages.
After 30-plus years I frequently see former students, and they often tell me that youth group made the single most significant impact in their lives. Ministries are monuments to the glory of God. They are significant markers in the story of God and his plan, highlighting where we’ve been and providing direction for where we’re going.
And it seems like just a pile of rocks.
Joe L. Brown is the youth pastor at Heritage Bible Church in Bakersfield, Calif.