Messy Spirituality in Youth Ministry

By Dan Marotta

The term “Youth Ministry” is a bit of a misnomer. Unlike specialized ministries that are focused on the isolated needs of individuals, such as ministries to orphans, widows, or AIDS patients; “Youth” ministries, if they are to be successful, must be focused not only on the particular teenager that happens to walk through the doors of the church, but on the family surrounding that young boy or girl as well. For the most part, teenagers have a mother or a father (hopefully both). They probably have brothers or sisters. No young person (in the U.S.) lives in total isolation. These people, who teenagers share their lives with, have a profound influence on the development of their mind, body, and soul. Therefore, to minister to a teenager must include, to some extent, the ministry to the family of that teen.

This would seem a necessity too obvious to overlook, but how often do youth ministries seem to reflect the opposite? Churches these days seem to have a divide and conquer mentality when it comes to ministering to people of different generations; providing the teenagers with their own worship, teaching, missions, and social events.

Enter the Trinity Fellows. They are young, single, full of energy (at least most of the time), fun, and some of the best of their generation. Would it not make perfect sense to have these thirteen bright young adults spending every last minute of their time mentoring and discipling the teenagers of the church? Not quite. Instead the Trinity Fellows Program assigns these men and women to a much more difficult, but much more beneficial task (both for them and for the church). The fellows are required to not only be involved in the lives of the young people in the church, but also in the lives of their families. They get to know seventeen-year-old David as well as his father, Doug. They spend time with thirteen-year-old Alyse and her Mom, Susie. The fellows get into the lives of the families that make up the congregation and everyone benefits. Moms and Dads watch a 23-year-old fellow encourage their son or daughter to respect his or her parents. Kids look up to the fellow that takes the time to have lunch with them and talk about life as a teenager. The fellows get to see Christian parenting in action and experience the body of Christ raising the next generation of believers.

Is it flawless? Does the system run like a well-oiled machine? Heck no. They are just ordinary people trying to live out the Gospel with an extraordinary God. Thankfully Jesus shows up and carries us. The Fellows, during the few months that they are involved in the youth ministry here at Trinity church, have the unique opportunity to be immersed in the multi-generational life of a congregation. It is an experience that blesses those families they serve and hopefully will benefit the fellows for the rest of their lives as we all strive to advance God’s kingdom together.

Dan Marotta is a graduate of William and Mary and current youth director at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville. Dan, in addition to being a challenging and relational person, longs to see students take ownership of their faith and live out of that paradigm.

Another piece of the fellows program, involves members of the Fellows Class serving in some aspect of the youth ministry (children to college students) at Trinity. Fellows learn that ministering out of our true nature involves relying on someone greater than yourself to show up for the building of His Kingdom